When The Unnatural Becomes Natural

high-jump-athletes-womenwebSometimes doing something unnatural generates remarkable results. I appreciate the story of Dick Fosbury. He’s the guy that invented the “Fosbury Flop”. Up until the mid 1960’s, doing a feet-first, scissor-kick over the high-bar was the way everyone jumped the Olympic high bar. Seems natural enough. You see a high bar, run up to it, hop into the air, do a fancy little scissor kick, and ta-da you’ve jumped over it.

Dick Fosbury did something completely different and it was at least partly because he had bad feet from years of jumping feet first over the high bar. Dick decided it might be better to jump over the bar backwards. It certainly was easier on his feet. Why not take a couple steps, jump, turn your body, and drive through the jump head first and backwards? Coaches and friends told him to stop, but guess what? He got a gold medal and set an Olympic record in 1968. What’s more, the “Fosbury Flop” is how literally all high-jumpers have jumped ever since. Hindsight being 20/20, we now realize through science that the “Fosbury Flop” is highly efficient use of body dynamics and gravity. The feet-first approach, on the other hand, was as efficient as dragging a whale over dry pavement. What was initially very unnatural, is highly effective and now normal.

Brands and retailers have to start doing some unnatural things if they want to become relevant again. Maybe we’ll create a “PreeLine Pounce” at our company. The fact is sales are sputtering, consumers are disappearing, and margins are eroding. The natural tendency is to create more products, buy more inventory, use deeper discounts, and wreak more havoc. In other words–jump over an increasingly higher bar feet-first. Do any brands or retailers recognize how bad their feet hurt from all the pushing and promoting they do? The industry is practically hobbling, yet it continues to jump feet first with a cute little scissor kick, face forward—and SPLAT!

The unnatural thing to do would be to focus on fewer products, buy less inventory, and stop using deep discounts to sell your products. It can be done. And it would have a tremendously positive impact on your business, customers, employees, shareholders, and factories, as well as our environment. The truth is we have access to unprecedented insight with modern technologies. Consumers are social and mobile. Instead of allocating inventory to a store, as is the natural way to plan inventory, we should be planning products to the consumer. Let’s shoot for n-of-1. Know the customer, not the average.

Test, Engage, Ignite.

I am committed to inverting the process known as B2C. It needs to be done. It’s what the team at PreeLine does day in, day out because it a tremendous solve for a very big problem.

When you have the chance, do something unnatural. It’s how we grow. It’s how we learn. And it’s often how we advance ourselves.

As a closing note, be sure to tweet some good names and thoughts for versions of the “PreeLine Pounce” to me @dmlamer

IT’S NOT THE PRODUCT, IT’S THE THINKING

Einstein-FrameIt’s been another challenging year for retailers, department stores, and brands. Mall traffic was down 10.7% this holiday season according to RetailNext. That decrease is on top of the high-single digit decrease last year, and mid-single digits decrease the year before that. But hey, digital is up. And guess what–all told, sales this holiday season were ok.

Macy’s reported comp store sales down almost 5% November and December and attributed 80% of that decrease to unseasonable weather conditions. According to a WSJ article, Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren said “although consumer spending seemed healthy, people were buying items that department stores don’t sell, such as cars, electronic gadgets and home improvement projects.”

So fewer people are going to malls and department stores, and more consumers are buying items not available in those stores. Is this a matter of people not wanting those products or is it more a matter of brands not adapting to the new consumer?

A lot of effort is being done to try to figure out how to better utilize digital tools and fuse them with brick-and-mortar businesses. Brands are trying out Snapchat, jumping all over Instagram, and ultimately trying every promotion possible to get people to buy their goods.

So in this regard, it appears new ideas are being attempted. But aren’t these all really just iterations of the same? Aren’t they all just repackaged push-marketing strategies designed to sell consumers products already bought, made, and delivered into thousands of stores across the country?

The truth is the industry still produces products with long lead-times and then pushes those products to consumers. No one has yet come to the realization that maybe the problem isn’t the creativity, marketing, and product, but rather the massive amounts of inventory being bought and produced with virtually no involvement from the customer before hand. Maybe it’s not a problem of WHAT, but rather of problem of HOW MUCH to WHOM.

In 2010 the global apparel industry produced over 150 billion garments. Should I say that again? More than 150 BILLION GARMENTS ARE PRODUCED EACH YEAR, and it’s growing. The question we need to ask is FOR WHOM ARE THESE 150 BILLION GARMENTS BEING MADE?

There are only around 7 billion people on this planet now, which is more than 20 garments for every man, woman and child on Earth. Seems like a lot to me! But lets also keep in mind that roughly two-thirds of the population isn’t a consuming class of people. Fewer than 2.5 billion people do virtually all the consumption on this planet. There are 1 billion people still not able to get good drinking water. Let’s face it, most people don’t have the means, wants, or needs to consume anywhere near the amount you and I do.

So who’s buying 150 billion garments each year? The answer surely is not all the people on planet earth. And whether one wants to argue about the impact of this excess production in terms of what goes into landfills, how much is lost in profits, or how this destroys brands, it’s a clear indicator of how saturated the industry is with inventory. It’s not the product, it’s the thinking.

I think most brands and retailers would find similarly startling results if they were to look at UNITS PRODUCED COMPARED TO UNITS BOUGHT BY CUSTOMERS at viable margin.

Retailers, department store, fashion and specialty store businesses have to pivot their thinking. It’s what we’re doing at PreeLine by building a platform that engages modern consumers so we can learn what they want, when they want it, and how to get it to them efficiently. We think the solution to building a brand isn’t more products, higher inventory levels, and deeper discounts. It’s not more stores, more advertising, and more messaging. Those efforts have been done over and over again. And to Einstein’s point on insanity, the results aren’t even staying the same—they’re getting worse. We’re past being insane, doing these things over and over again is delusional at best and criminal at worst.

Product differentiation at this point is negligible. Literally all the products at stores like Macy’s are iterations of what is, was, or has been. Marketing through new social media channels is a given–you’re supposed to do that. The pivot is how you approach managing the millions or billions of dollars in inventory.