The Wrong Side of History

I am writing this blog on my way back from the PopStats 2014 Conference in Austin.

PopStats is a small but important conference mainly focused on the topic of retail site selection and it is filled with the leaders in the industry. While my assigned seat was in the back of the room, I was front row to the fear that seems to precede every disruptive change.

At the conference, Lorie Williams of Family Dollar presented on the topic of Family Dollar’s implementation of our TAS Unity system throughout the real estate department. In the presentation, she showed how Family Dollar’s real estate managers were getting a lot more work done in a lot less time with better information and superior results. I must admit that I was proud.

But the audience’s response was fascinating. In spite of the improvements in productivity that no one on the room disputed, the overarching response was “You let the real estate people edit your data???” To understand this response you have to understand that while retail researchers prize their data, the fact is that the data they use is not usually very good. Things change quickly on the ground – stores open and close, etc. – so it is rare that the data they buy is extremely accurate to start with as there is only so much a data vendor can do without becoming too expensive for the market. So part of Family Dollar’s solution was to employ TAS Unity to allow their real estate people – the people who really know what’s out there – to fix the data so everyone in the company is using good market intelligence.

Lorie admitted that this was scary prospect for her team. They come from the same place as other retail research people. But the Market Strategy group at Family Dollar had opened their eyes to what the real estate process was really like and how broken it really was. They took the leap and are reaping the rewards that only go to visionaries – tripled productivity and therefore, competitive advantage.

Now I want to be clear that I get it. This is a scary prospect for research people. The belief is that retail real estate reps have many talents, but attention to the kind of detail it takes to improve data quality is not one of them. But the truth is that history is full of stories where disruptive change was too scary. Polaroid was afraid to implement digital photography because they sold film. Blockbuster was afraid of a limitless rental period for movies because they made money on late fees. But the reality is that just because it’s scary doesn’t mean it’s going away.

Everything in the world now is about connecting people together, about benefiting from the collective wisdom and knowledge of people using online and mobile technology. Retail real estate is not going to be an exception. The real estate reps know more about their markets than anyone else in the company. And most important decisions made by retailers involve the locations of their stores, their competitors, or their customers. This is why the visionary companies are making market intelligence data available everywhere in the enterprise.

People that are too afraid to connect their organizations together are on the wrong side of history. One day an executive will pick up the phone and ask “Why aren’t we doing this?” “It was too scary,” is not likely to be a good answer.

Author
Joe Rando
Chairman