Sorry to See, but there it is!

First let me start with one of my axioms:

Death of a Business……

“First, the business forgets its customer…….

Then, the customer forgets the business.” ……..Mark St.Cyr

Over a year ago, I wrote an article about my experience with a bookstore chain that I had been a “customer” of for years. The experience in my last visits were not only frustrating, but as time past seemed down right comical. Now it’s just a sad tale of squandered business opportunities for the retailers of books. ( Here are the direct links to the original articles… Article Part 1 ….. Article Part 2 )

Today it was announced the book store chain Borders was filing for bankruptcy. Although I’m saddened, I’m not surprised. Are you? Since I wrote the original articles over a year ago I have not been back to visit or buy another book. Not only have I not purchased anything in the store, I have not bought anything online with them either. As a matter of fact, I receive more discounts or coupons that I can use today than when I was an active customer. Not only do I not use them, I no longer even visit their website. I just don’t care. What’s really the final illustration of this point? I’m stating this as I hold a gift card in my wallet that was a gift that I have yet to redeem. I really could care less. Some may be asking themselves “ that shouldn’t make you stop reading?” Point is..I haven’t. I’ve read, and purchased dozens of books since my last visit there, just not with them, and remember, I have a gift card in my wallet.

Say what you want about hard economic times, format changes, changes in taste, changes in what ever. The change that made a great retailer change from profitable to insolvent was the change in strategy from a customer driven focus, to just some policy driven focus.

The glaring lesson to be learned from their story is it looks like they kept the customer service manuals either in the mystery, or science fiction section. But we all know how this thing turns out in the end. To bad it’s now an obituary.

Mark

Consistent Inconsistencies

Say what you will about the economy, say what you will about the stock market, say whatever you like about my warning calls, but what you can’t say is “I have no clue.” Have we now entered Bizarro World, or has everyone lost the ability of critical thinking?

I am stunned at how people will verbally contort themselves into rationalizing what they don’t understand into what they believe must be true. It’s as if 2008 never happened, it’s as if everything is back to normal. They’re acting as if ” only they get it..everyone else is too dumb.” If you pose a question to ask a legitimate point in reference to their statements, you might as well have insulted their mother, because that’s how you’re going to be treated. Lucky for me, I’ve seen this movie before.

Being on the forefront or cutting edge of anything is not for the faint of heart. Having an opinion is one thing, but having or creating plans of advice that are actionable or workable is quite another, and for that you need verifiable data. All this brings me back to a statement I wrote in Harry Potter tongue in cheek fashion. “That which shall not be spoken…The numbers don’t add up!

A few years back I was asked to speak and participate on a panel. Attending were some of the largest companies in the U.S. who were rolling out new marketing ideas and commercials that were to splash across all forms of media nation wide that year. At the time, everyone in attendance was giddy about recent sales and market share. Things looked very compelling from an outside view, however what they were no longer interested in talking about was the doldrums they had been in for years before this event. Before the event many were barely profitable, and even more had closed or gone bankrupt, but all were now convinced the “Good Times” were here again and the past be damned. I thought that was foolish, and said so. The response to my statement? ….(insert cricket chirps here.)

As I have stated over, and over again, I hope the economy is on the right track. I hope that the happy feelings that some are feeling never leave, however I can’t drink the “KoolAid” If all was well then why must the Federal Reserve continue with QE2 or else all Armageddon will happen? (there’s now talk of QE3!)  If everything is just ducky, then why was a drop in unemployment looked upon with skepticism? If all is just grand, why are we worried about Municipal Bonds or States defaulting? Another point to remember is the SEC in their investigation of the so-called Flash Crash found nothing nefarious or mechanically wrong that triggered it, so the possibility of it happening again is still on the table. (most have forgotten or ignored that one.)  All this is just scratching the surface, but it’s falling on deaf ears or worse, closed minds.

No one knows the future, and those who say they do should be viewed with a skeptics eye. But what you can’t ignore is data as if it never happened, that’s just stupid in my book. As for that conference I was asked to speak at? Weeks later their market fell apart, their profits fizzled, and a few made headlines in some of the largest corporate bankruptcies in the U.S.

So much for avoiding the punch bowl I guess.

Mark

Why Leaders Matter, and Followers Just follow

Leading is a hard job. Leading during tough times is even harder. Cross both of those with a leader with vision, and you have rare talent indeed.

Steve Jobs of Apple doesn’t follow, He Leads….Rupert Murdoch of News Corp. doesn’t follow, He Leads. Apple has become the second largest company per market cap in the United States. News Corp. is dominating media market share, and profitability while everyone else is near insolvency, or even worse, irrelevancy. All currently being done in the so-called worst of times to be in business.

The continuous pounding over the air waves and papers of the economy not doing all that well, unemployment high, government actions being scorned in the business world, doesn’t seem to be effecting these two greats like the rest. Want to take a guess why? It’s because…They Lead, They Take Control, They Find a Way or Make one!

Just about everyone on television and around business tables scoffed at the iPad. All fell into that “group think” and laughed about its funny name and how it would be a flop. As some of you that have followed my work know, I was not among them. As I stated right here on this blog back on March 6, 2009, “I believe not only will the iPad not be a flop, but it will be revolutionary!” I also had written a response to some comments from one of my articles in Forbes.com …CEO Network on some complaining about being a CEO in these tough times. I wrote December 6, 2009… “Rupert Murdock the famed business mogul is currently in the so-called “worst of times” when every other business is hoping, and praying that revenues wont fall, or that the turmoil is subsiding enough for them to make the case why they shouldn’t be fired, Mr Murdock is taking the boldest of action stating in no uncertain terms to such juggernauts like Google and others that if you want to carry anything linked to his business, you’ll have to PAY…or stop linking to it…Period!” No other leader had dared make such a declaration.

It is apparent to me today on this February morning 2011 that one of the most important themes dominating business today is, How can we get in on that?

If that’s your most important question, you’re not in the Leader category.

Mark

Wet Blankets…More useful than most think!

Wet blankets can apply to its obvious namesake, but it can also apply to a moniker  such as “That guy is a wet blanket.” Most will avoid the so-called wet blanket like the plague. In most cases I totally agree. There is no sense in hanging around or being influenced by someone who’s nothing more than a doom and gloomer. The caveat that needs to be applied for many is this…are they truly the… Doom and gloom personality type?..or …They counter point everything I say type?

Try this thought experiment, what would happen to a company that was made up of no one else but pure sales people? I can hear many of you saying “YES!” but would it really be as wonderful as we might think? Sales people either by nature or nurture are the most optimistic among us. They have to be, if they weren’t, they would be burned out in a heartbeat. That said, salespeople can also justify using every last resource a company has to make a sale. Sales people can project how they will make it all back on the “next” sale. But would that be good all the time, and unbridled in its usage?

There are times when we need someone to say “lets just think this through”, There are also times when someone needs to say “we’ve already spent enough.” Then there are the important times when someone must say “did we get paid yet, and did the check clear?” All wet blanket statements, all needed at certain times for the good of everyone.

Keeping the flame lit in the go-getters heart is important for both a company, and the person. Letting a flame turn into an uncontrolled wild-fire that threatens to consume every last resource is not in anyones best interest. It’s always been a balancing act, it’ll always be a balancing act. Without proper controls, burnout happens both with people and with resources.

Stoke the fire, keep the precautions handy, you’ll need both.

Mark

When Things You May Need…becomes…The Clutter You Keep

Unless you’re a devout follower of the minimalist lifestyle, I’ll bet…you’ve got some.

Let me be the first to put my hand up… Hello, my name is Mark…and I have a hard time getting rid of anything I believe can come in handy, ever! All joking aside, there comes a time when the move from being thrifty or prepared moves to the realm of hording junk. Trust me, I can look at the twist tie that came on my loaf of bread and think, hmm I might need that to hold some cables together. Yep, just being thrifty…not!

I’m one who takes pride in being prepared. I enjoy the feeling that if I need something in an emergency that I have something  I can work with till I’m able to get what I really need. (My wife calls me Boy Scout) But at some point it can become counter productive, here’s an example…

Years back I had a conversation with a coworker who said “I bet you’re one of those guys who has cans of saved nuts and bolts.” I replied..yes I do. In which he returned with “I bet I can go to the hardware store and get the exact one I need in less time than it takes you to sift through all your saved ones, and mine will be brand new.” I had to admit it’s a good point. However I said to myself, what happens when the stores are closed, and you need it now? I chalked one up for me, but when I returned home his words were still ringing in my head. Just how “right” was he I asked myself. My conclusion, 90/10 because what I did was discard 90% of the saved items and kept 10% for the “just in case” day. In reality that was all I really needed. It cleared valuable shelf space, allowed me to quantify what I truly had on hand, and also made the space look a lot more spiffy, and I was still prepared for an emergency. Not too shabby I thought to myself.

Many of us keep clutter around that makes us less productive than we notice. We purchase another file drawer to hold papers that we will never need. We hold onto older laptops because “you never know.” We have desk drawers full of things that one has to rummage through like a prospector mining for gold. Last but not least, how many useless email addresses, computer files, discontinued or broken bookmark links and alike are sitting on your machine right now at this moment?

Clean up the clutter, give away the older mp3 players that you’ve stuck in the drawer, give away the 2 laptops that are sitting in the other room unused. Donate the books you’ve read that you know you’ll never read again. There’s nothing more freeing than getting clutter out of your life, but you only realize the benefit after you’ve cleaned house.

So what are you waiting for?

Mark

Thinking Aloud… Episode 4 “Customer Service”

Thinking Aloud is a new addition that features spontaneous insights (or rants) hosted by Mark on current events. They’ll be posted here once or twice a week. Maybe more…maybe less, but for those who’ve asked, “I wonder what Mark thinks?” well..here’s the place to find out. These are short, poignant off the cuff podcasts, or vidcasts that are delivered in typical Mark fashion. No holds barred, no retakes, just … “Mr. Engineer….Please Hit Record!”

https://markstcyr.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/thinking-aloud-customer-service-01_24_2011.m4a

Free Today…Gone Tomorrow?

When I’m speaking with someone either at a conference, or strategy session, I’m always stunned on how business plans are thrown out in willy-nilly type fashion. Most businesses don’t plan 3 months in advance never mind a longer view, but what really catches my attention is when they state the foundation of their business model is using what is now “free” on the web, or what is the newest “fad.” Then an assertion will come that not only will the “free” aspect become even better because of increasing usage from the market place, but will always be assessable for their use. From my perspective, all this leads to pie in the sky pricing where fixed costs, revenue generation, and functionality becomes not a “business plan” but a fairy tale.

At the time that I’m writing this the newest craze of course Facebook. Everyone is running, and dashing to build their new business based on it. It’s quite possible that some will build great business models, however, what happens if it goes away tomorrow, what then? Crazy you say? It’s a fair point so I’ll offer the example of MySpace. I know..MyWho? And that’s my point. Remember when MySpace was the “Facebook” at its inception. It was revolutionizing that segment of the web, but now it’s rumored to be on the verge of shutting down. It’s as relevant as that other great never to be toppled  juggernaut AOL. There were many businesses, and entrepreneurs that based their whole structure on using these platforms as their foundation. As they withered away, so too did most of them.

What many fail to remember is what they now take for granted as “free” is all based on speculation that at some point it can become profitable on its own. All the hoopla one hears across the media is more akin to tabloid reporting. MySpace was backed with billions in resources via Rupert Murdoch’s vast holdings. Time Warner and AOL joined forces to become one of the largest media deals ever. Both are now unprofitable, and irrelevant. MySpace never became profitable, Facebook is still in the “we’ll see” category. If at some point investors become disillusioned, or don’t see the “big payday” coming soon, they’ll take their investment capital and move on. At that point most adjunct business models are left along the side with a pile of AOL spam cd’s that are also worthless.

Using these platforms to enhance your real business model is well worth the effort. There are new, and ever-changing things going on right now that can be leveraged in ways that were inconceivable just a few years ago. The trick is, if it’s an enhancement then you are in control, or at least to the highest degree one can be, but if these models are the very basis of your business foundation, then not planning for possible disruptions or alternatives just might leave you out of business.

Music stores never saw iTunes, classifies ads never saw Ebay, AOL never saw Yahoo, Microsoft never saw Google, book stores never saw Amazon, and none of them saw Facebook,or Groupon. Who knows what we could see next.

Most of the above happened in less time than it takes a landlord to terminate your stores lease to rent out to a higher bidder, but you at least thought about that in your business plan…didn’t you?

Mark

What?……..Me Worry?

There are times I just can’t help myself. I feel that I am once again dealing with groundhog day. So in the spirit of this time-tested pseudo holiday. I would just like to place on the record once more a little something that everyone (and I mean Everyone!) seems to have forgotten. It’s an oldie from the past. It was a real bell-ringer when it first aired, but now it seems it can’t get the listener line to ring anymore.

It’s a recording from way back in 2010, May 6th I believe was the date, alas I have a hard time remembering. I wrote about it back in the day. It’s quite possible I might be able to get it to play on this post, however I’ll make no promises. I am dealing with much older technology, were talking 8 months ago, I mean c’mon.

For those who like the classics the link is posted below. I’ll also post a link to the original article for those who like working with ancient text. (at least it’s not hieroglyphs) Back then, we heard the same things they’re saying now. “Don’t Worry, be Happy!”

I believe that is from a much earlier time, maybe even pre-GaGarasic or something.

Mark

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mC4tu1NhUA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below is the link to my original post….

http://tinyurl.com/62qf7ua


Thinking Aloud… Episode 3 “The Best Laid Plans”

Thinking Aloud is a new addition that features spontaneous insights (or rants) hosted by Mark on current events. They’ll be posted here once or twice a week. Maybe more…maybe less, but for those who’ve asked, “I wonder what Mark thinks?” well..here’s the place to find out. These are short, poignant off the cuff podcasts, or vidcasts that are delivered in typical Mark fashion. No holds barred, no retakes, just …

“Mr. Engineer….Please Hit Record!”https://markstcyr.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/thinking-aloud-01_11_2011.m4a

Making Sense from the Nonsense!

Sometimes you can’t help but shake your head. At other times you just want to scream. Then there are the times you just have to walk away. I feel this is once again one of those times.

As many of you know I have both written, and spoke on the so-called “Smart Crowd.” (for anyone new here’s an archive link) and why I believe it’s  hazardous if you take your cues from them. Television, radio, and print hold some of them at such lofty levels that all should be wearing oxygen masks. Personally, I have now donned a gas mask, because it’s not the lack of air I’m having trouble with.

If you have been following the stock market as of late, all looks just fantastic, but there’s a hidden more sinister side lurking, and none of these talking heads will mention it. It’s reminiscent of a Harry Potter plot. That which can not be spoken. (The numbers just don’t add up!)

Every Financial outlet I read or watch is using stats, reports, numbers, data points, and many other references to bolster their argument why the stock market not only wont go lower, but it can’t because it’s smooth sailing from here on out. That in my delicate way of putting things is just drivel. The market has been going up for many reasons, but I counter, not for the reasons most are citing. Here’s how I respond when I’m speaking with someone who uses the media as their reference material.

“That does sound great, it might be that the worst is behind us, and you would think that by just looking at the stock market today, however. What troubles me is that all are now calling for not only higher gains, but new records to be set, possibly this year. The old records set just 2 years ago were with…

  1. Unemployment under 5%
  2. If you were breathing..you could get a loan. (and that was optional)
  3. Houses had morphed into personal ATM machines with no limit
  4. Overseas growth in emerging markets would never slow.
  5. Europe was turning back into a juggernaut.
  6. America had its financial house somewhat in check. (at least we hoped.)

I could list more, but just those would need to be inline once again to warrant such lofty targets, would it not?” That’s when the blank stare, glazed eyes come back into focus with a response that would rival an elementary schoolyard fight…”Well…that’s what they’re saying on TV, and if they’re on TV they must be smart, right?”

The economy may be on the road to recovery, it also might not. It’s quite possible we could fall right back to where we were back in 2008 in the blink of an eye. It’s also possible that the worst is behind us. Either way for all of you, neither matters because you will prosper no matter what the circumstances because you are the doers…and with that comes the intrinsic value of self-reliance. Look through the data, make decisions, chart new courses, make new goals. Use both good information, and bad information to your advantage.

You are the movers, and shakers. You have no time for nonsense.

Mark