Why Do They Call it "Black Friday" Anyway?

on Monday, December 2, 2013

Why? Because that is the day of the year when sales should be so strong that retailers move out of the "red" and into the "black" - PROFIT.  So now that "Black Friday", at least in the traditional shopping sense, is becoming a thing of the past as competition and a desire to maximize sales has driven opening times all the way into Thursday - could "Black Friday" in the accounting sense also become a thing of the past?

After 20 years of working through Black Fridays, there is still no question that that day still reigns supreme as the largest shopping day of the year, but this year I was finally forced to ask myself , "Are we spending too much to make this happen?"  Malls across the country witnessed something that I have never seen in my 20 years - ZERO lines from around 3am until almost 11am.  A middle of the night slow down was no surprise to anyone, but the fact that malls were as empty as a Tuesday afternoon in June was a little scary and totally unpredictable.  Retailers everywhere were stuck in an extremely overstaffed position while managers were hesitant to cut down hours thinking every little business spurt was the start of the next rush.  Being extremely overstaffed while running deep discounts that generate lower margins is never a winning combination!  

Naturally, I think the next question is - Where is the sweet spot?  Since I participated in my first "Midnight Madness", I thought that was it.  All the fluctuations in traffic were relatively predictable and stores were busy.  But opening on Thursday has now made me believe that "Black Friday" needs to go back to being on Fri-DAY! People definitely do NOT want to shop in the middle of the night or overly early in the morning, which is why midnight openings seemed to work and logically lead to Thursday night openings.  Unfortunately, stores stayed open during the hours customers do not like to shop, which also happens with midnight openings costing stores incredible amounts of unnecessary payroll.  It is now my opinion that 5am is the sweet spot.  People will get up at that time to scoop up the best deals and Friday will return to a nonstop shopping frenzy.  I also believe this will return business to the weekend as traffic and shopping habits balance out.  Business coming in vs the cost to do that business can be maximized at every hour = SWEET SPOT! 

All weekend I read articles discussing the strong sales retailers were reporting for Friday, only to wake up today to the completely unsurprising headlines that read something like this -  "Weekend Sales Lag after Strong Black Friday Showing".  In listening to consumers year round, their is a growing frustration that retail is pushing holidays too soon.  In all other regards retailers seem to be picking up on the need to make genuine connections with their customers - an easy way to do that, is to let them have the time that is meant for them and their families and in return, they will be loyal and happy to shop with you.

Is "Black Friday" Gone Forever?

on Tuesday, November 12, 2013

It's official - Holiday shopping is here!! Malls have decked their halls, retailers are playing one of over a hundred versions of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus", and the retail heavyweights are announcing their "Black Friday" plans....errr dare I say "Black Thursday"?!  WalMart confirmed their earliest Black Friday specials won't be found on Friday at all, but at 6pm on Thanksgiving day, with many others following at 8pm.

For me, this will mark my 20th retail holiday season.  Watching how this time has evolved through the years has been very interesting.  When I started, I thought people would eat their Thanksgiving dinners early so they could induce their tryptophan coma early enough to wake up in time for the early bird specials - at 6am Friday morning.  Then online shopping offered an alternative to risking your life in the malls for shopping safely from your couch - now we have "Cyber Monday" (insiders tip - most retailers still post their best online specials on Friday!) And now, Black Friday has steadily crept into Thursday as retailers open earlier and earlier to capture as many sales as possible.  Competition has made this almost ridiculous, and at this current pace of corporate one-upsmanship,by 2020, we will be announcing Black Friday sometime around Halloween.

Now, if you have read my blog, you know I am a huge advocate of competition and doing whatever it takes to capture your customers.  But, in this case, I believe the retail industry has fallen into a trap that doesn't appear to have a point of return.  While I don't have hard numbers to share, I can say that Black Friday remains as the largest shopping day of the year, but it is the weekend that follows that no longer seems to be much more than a normal busy Saturday and Sunday.  Adding hours on the front end of Friday, seems to be killing the sales on the back end.  

Thanksgiving starts the holiday shopping season as the holiday filled with humanity - family, friends, food, and charity are all things that get people in the "spirit" of the holiday season.  Taking away from that day is a slippery slope that I think will take a monumental stand by one of retails largest heavyweights to course correct.  I believe a company like Macy's is the perfect company that should do this.  They are one of the most symbolic retailers of the holiday season.  A simple corporate statement could have a profound impact on the retail landscape for the holidays, and it would read something like this -

At this time of year we realize the importance of the relationships we share with those around us.  The holiday season is meant to spread joy and kindness to everyone, and that starts in the home with our families and loved ones.  That is why this year, we insist you spend your Thanksgiving holiday with those most special to you, as we do the same.  We will open our doors early at 5am on Friday and will offer the same great savings on the gifts you want most,  but don't fret if you are not an early bird as we will continue to offer many specials throughout the weekend.  From our family to yours - Happy Holidays
The chances of someone taking this leap are probably pretty slim.  I do believe though, that the response would be overwhelmingly positive.  Until then, i would not be surprised to see Thanksgiving eliminated as a "day-off" in the retail industry, as malls are not far off from simply opening altogether on that Thursday.

Power Executives Show Us How It's Done

on Sunday, May 19, 2013

Is it just me, or does it seem that CEO's of today are everywhere?!  I can't recall such a time when CEO's have been such public figures.  The headlines have moved out of the financial pages and into mainstream news.  Power players like Mark Zuckerberg, Howard Schultz, Jeff Bezos, James Sinegal, Tim Cook, and Yahoo's new dynamo Marissa Mayer, have turned the front page into the business page!

The greatest thing about this, is we have a glimpse like never before into the business and culture savvy these mega-executives possess.  Zuckerberg proved he is much more than a lucky (and very intelligent) college kid in a hoody, when he successfully navigated into the mobile space before his initial investors had to decide to bail on him in Q1.  Howard Schultz, has many wondering if there is a political future in store for him (he continues to strongly deny) when he decided to rally other business leaders against the indecision and fiscal irresponsibility of our elected officials, all the while strategically positioning Starbucks for growth in a niche many people thought was nearing it's cap.  Tim Cook has had probably the toughest year as Apple stock has tumbled to unforeseen lows as their products seem to have lost their "mojo".  Unfortunately for him, he is attempting to fill the shoes of one of the worlds greatest ever innovators, and the comparisons are simply not fair.  Then there is Yahoo's Marissa Mayer....

Yahoo, was becoming and afterthought, if not a joke.  They were crumbling beside the exponential growth  of Google, and then having Facebook successfully emerge as competition didn't help anything for them either.  Then there was the internal strife.  The ousting of her short-lived predecessor for allegedly fabricating his resume had even Yahoo's employees wondering how much longer the company could survive.  Then the young Marissa Mayer took over.  Somewhat of a recluse as far as today's CEO's go, Mayer has continuously made headlines that show she is for real!  Her business savvy has been on full display, whether it be through strategic acquisitions (that some analysts deemed foolish), or her shocking decision to bring her "at-home" workers back to the office for an "all hands on deck" approach to turning Yahoo around (supported by a productivity analysis).  What strikes me most about Mayer, is her fearlessness in taking over a position that came with an extremely high level of scrutiny.  Her willingness to fail in order to win under those conditions is amazing.  She also has appeared to have won over a once skeptical board of directors by reportedly gaining approval for a $1.1billion purchase of Tumblr, with the official announcement expected tomorrow.  

With all this corporate leadership muscle on display, it only makes me want to give my leadership skills a serious workout!  The tenacity, foresight, confidence, focus, and passion these leaders show on a daily basis is inspiring.  They are all willing to fail or make the unpopular choice in a place where their every move is questioned.  In the end, their vision is clear, the results are undeniable, and the employees share the confidence of their leaders. 

"Humility Time"

on Friday, March 15, 2013

Yesterday I took part in a TweetChat presented by the #bealeader community.  The topic for the chat was the importance of self-awareness for a successful leader.  One of the questions posed was "How does one keep self awareness from becoming the less desirable self involved?".   I responded with a concept that I had been taught very early in my career that I have since dubbed "humility time".  I had a few responses that unfortunately, the 140 limit of Twitter made very difficult to properly respond to.

Very early in my career, I worked off the premise that knowledge was power.  At the time, I had all the knowledge, and assumed that granted me all the power.  My team very quickly delivered me a very harsh reality check in letting me know that was not going to be the case.  My manager at the time explained the importance of self-awareness.  She recommended I mentally schedule time for myself to intentionally be the guy "that does not have all the answers".  That meant not only admitting that I didn't have all the knowledge, but it also made me learn how to ask questions I did not have the answers for, and recognize those that did.

Over the next several years, I experienced very rapid success and growth in my career.  Each step of the way I reminded myself to always set aside this time "to not have all the answers" - Humility Time.  I became a very energetic and passionate leader.  I believed that I was someone that could teach others how to achieve more.  Every step of the way, I never stopped this practice.

Towards the end of yesterday's chat, the host (@gingerconsult) asked me if I felt I needed this time to stay connected to my teams.  That comment really made me think (also the primary reason I want to share this).  I have always felt that I had a very strong connection with my teams.  Because this practice had become so second nature to me over the years, I did not think that it was responsible for the bonds I had built.  The reality though, is yes, this practice is largely responsible for the connection I have with my teams.  I believe my manager back then (still a very trusted mentor) recognized my penchant for letting my passion allow me to race ahead without turning around to see if others were still following.  This practice, although much evolved, over the years has allowed me to always remember that a leader does not exist without a follower.  It made me learn, that in the Leader-Follower relationship that it is the follower that is most important.  The followers will mold their leaders with the qualities they desire.  By continuously asking questions, I nurture that relationship in a way that helps me quickly identify ways to be better, and reinforces in them their decision to follow.

I did however consider a potential pitfall to permanently adopting this practice.  Anything on a schedule, especially a repeated item, becomes a chore.  As long as you feel you are maintaining personal and professional growth, and never feel you are acting to "cross something off your list", this can be a very powerful tool.

Thank you to +Jen Olney  and your #bealeader community.  I learned a lot in your chat, and even just by writing this article!!

Bringing the Mojo Back!!

on Monday, March 11, 2013

Every retail leader has had those employees that have simply seemed to have "lost their mojo".  Is it better to move them out before they contaminate your team with their "funk", or should you find out where their mojo went, and give it back to them?

Strictly from a cost perspective, hiring and training a replacement can be expensive.  I will always advise in the direction of getting your rockstar back on track.  People fall into a funk usually from one of two things.  First, they have repeatedly felt under-appreciated for the work they feel they are doing.  Or second, the appreciation is always there, but the challenge is not.  The common denominator is pride, which in your business translates to ownership and performance.

Lack of Appreciation - Appreciation can come in so many forms.  The easiest is a simple "thank-you".  If you really want to turbo charge that thank you, use your employees name and actually tell them specifically what you are thanking them for!

"Hey, thanks for all your hard work today!" How many times have you said that thinking you were being the appreciative leader?  Now try:
"Hey Susie, thanks for cleaning out the cashwrap today, it looks awesome!"

More often though, when your employee has lost their mojo, that simple thank you is too little too late.  These employees need involvement.  Involving your employees either through continuous education, or bringing them in on key decisions shows appreciation for who they are and what they bring to the business.  Let them see that their input lead to positive results.  The turbo charged thank you after that will have a much greater impact on them, and potentially the rest of your team.  

Lack of Challenge - Do you ever hear your employees say things like, "I don't get paid enough for this"?  That is usually the first sign that they are no longer challenged.  It might sound backwards that they would want more responsibility while complaining they don't make enough for the work they are already doing, but when the job itself stops rewarding you, there is nothing left to complain about than the financial rewards.  This is where you, as a leader, can really make a huge difference, and give them back their mojo like never before!  Work with your employee and dig to find what they are passionate about.  Ask what is happening that frustrates them more than anything.  Take those frustrations, and use the skills they are passionate about and let them make the difference.  If they are frustrated by having a lack of skill or knowledge, don't keep it away from them! Be their mentor and watch them grow way beyond the rockstar they were before!

I once had a mentor that equivocated my employees attitude towards me and their job with a bank account. When you first train an employee you are building up their balance.  Every action, or lack thereof, will result in a deposit or a withdrawal.  As with any account, withdrawals are necessary, and can come in the form of an undesirable schedule to specific critical feedback.  Having employees "with large bank accounts" will not only make them incredibly productive, happy, and receptive, but you will never hear that dreaded phrase "I don't get paid enough for this" again!!