Bulletin from the Big Easy: Giant Killers

I returned Friday from the Northshore Business Conference, sponsored by the Southeastern Louisiana University Small Business Development Center, where I was privileged to be invited as the keynote speaker. (The event brochure may be downloaded here.)

The event took place Sept. 25 in Slidell, LA, a fast-growing town located north of Lake Pontchartrain, which makes it a bedroom community for both Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The area is enjoying a modest economic boost due in part to the displacement caused by hurricane Katrina a little more than three years ago.

Conference delegates represented regional retail, wholesale, service, finance and other trades. Especially considering the duress some of their businesses had just suffered due to the one-two punch delivered by hurricanes Gustav and Ike, I was grateful for their attendance.

My talk delivered a snapshot of current economic, retail, consumer trends; discussed where they are leading the industry; and proposed how independent retailers – “Giant Killers” – might position themselves for success within that competitive landscape.

Preparing for and attending this conference was a learning experience for me. In particular, I’d like to relate two brief anecdotes about the flexibility and resilience of businesses in Louisiana’s North Shore that are worth at least a second thought.

First is from an area fencing wholesaler who attended the conference and was evidently engaged and enthusiastic throughout. At the break he described how post-Katrina re-development had caused demand for fencing materials to boom. His business had grown considerably and he had expanded his facilities. Some retail competitors were not so lucky, however, so home and business owners were coming in to his warehouse searching for materials and parts which had become harder to find locally.

“We are being pushed into retailing,” he said, expressing some regret that his newly enlarged warehouse did not have a showroom area set aside for the walk-in business. The good news: some of the parts now in greater demand bring higher margins. The bad news: the new direct-to-customer business adds complexity, expands his assortment, and requires longer weekend operating hours. Talking to this energetic and positive business owner, I had little doubt that he would rise to the opportunity.

The second anecdote involves Folse Seafood, a retail and catering business operated by Jerry Folse and his son Jay out of Gonzales, LA. I was impressed by some press coverage I uncovered while researching my talk, and decided to give them a call. The answering machine indicated that the shop was temporarily closed following Gustav and Ike, but gave another number for Jerry, which I dialed.

To my surprise, Jerry answered his cell phone from the cab of an 18-wheeler. He and Jay were caravaning in two rigs toward one of the oil refineries in southwestern Louisiana, on a catering job. It seems the 2,000 workers laboring around the clock to bring the refinery back on line needed to be fed, and Folse Seafood had thousands of pounds of frozen shrimp and house specialty crawfish bisque that could keep the hungry workers nourished.

“Our power was out, and I knew the merchandise in our freezers would eventually go bad,” Jerry told me. “I sent ten emails to contacts I had at the oil refineries and other businesses along the Gulf Coast and six of them responded ‘yes we need you’.”

He booked a month’s worth of catering business at facilities in Louisiana and Texas, closed the retail location, loaded the trucks and hit the road. I asked Jerry if he was worried about the consequences of closing his doors for so long and the certainty of his answer impressed me deeply: “Our customers will come back to us in late October when the new crawfish season begins.”

Both these stories tell us something about the resilience and ingenuity of independent business owners in the face of extraordinary circumstances. I can hardly imagine a chain retailer responding to local challenges with these levels of commitment and creativity. Hats off to these “giant killers” and their peers across the Gulf Coast who are battling their way back to prosperity with grit, smarts and heart.

© Copyright 2008 James Tenser

SCAMP: Five Pillars of Shopper Experience

I had an invitation recently to address an executive summit on Shopper Experience on the subject of In-Store Implementation. Regrettably, the event did not materialize, but the thought process it inspired could not be stopped. I decided to capture some of it here in the Tirades.

But first, are you experienced?

If you have ever shopped, of course you are. Shopper Experience is one of those big ideas that is hard to define because it encompasses everything we encounter in connection with a retail shopping visit. It begins with the traffic on the drive to the store, takes in the sights, sounds and smells of the store environment, and layers on the actions that take place while we are there. It probably even extends to the drive home and the interaction with purchased products.

Wikipedia defines it this way: “Customer experience is the sum of all experiences a customer has with a supplier of goods or services, over the duration of their relationship with that supplier. It can also be used to mean an individual experience over one transaction.”

A large and complex construct, as the consumer behaviorists might say. To my mind, Shopper Experience cries out for a bit of de-construction. I took a crack at it.

As I see it we can break down the shopping experience into five “pillars” or components. Taking each in turn may make the whole concept easier to grasp for purposes of analysis. More importantly, it may lead us toward practical ways to improve the whole shopper experience by optimizing its elements.

My proposed five pillars of Shopper Experience are: Service; Convenience; Ambiance; Merchandising; and Price (SCAMP). I’ve thought about these pretty carefully and I believe this breakdown meets the MECE test. That is, they are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive. Each of the five pillars merits its own definition, and each encompasses much detail. For the purposes of the present post, let’s briefly define each:

Service. People, practices, policies, and the training that enables them. Top performing retailers excel at both hiring the right people and setting service practices that sustain and support their success.

Convenience. Both time-saving and effort-saving. Sometimes the line between time and effort may be blurred with other pillars – as when it takes too much effort to locate a desired product. Is that a merchandising problem?

Ambiance. Physical design of store environment, including lighting, spaciousness and other sensory cues like temperature, odors, and sound. And yes, other patrons figure into this experience pillar – we tend to like to shop with people like ourselves.

Merchandising. The product assortment; their arrangement on shelves or displays; all associated messaging designed to inform and persuade.

Price. Base or every-day pricing and store price positioning, of course, but also promotions and markdowns when they occur. Shoppers tend to form a relative price-value perception or price image for each retailer based on all these cues.

SCAMP is submitted for your consideration. I find it a useful first cut at analyzing Shopper Experience. Of course, each of the five pillars merits much more detailed discussion. That’s an opportunity for future Tirades.

© Copyright 2008 James Tenser

Tirades Again!


After a long unexplained hiatus, here begins the next generation of Tenser’s Tirades.

Tenser’s Tirades is also the title of my first book, published 2001. You can still buy it on Amazon, and there’s a description and sample chapter and link on my business home page (just click on the VSN Strategies logo in the left column).

The original Tirades were a series of essays and commentary about dot-com retailing, written originally for my original e-letter, VStoreNews, and other industry publications. They were right a lot of the time, even when the so-called experts were missing the point in their analyses. This blog aims to extend that legacy, with fresh observations and critiques of current events in retailing and consumer product marketing.

Along the way, we’ll pick apart such phenomena as In-Store Implementation, Shopper Media, Category Management, Loyalty Marketing, Retail Technology, and the ongoing strategic decisions of industry leaders as they continually seek better and more profitable ways to go to market. You’ll be treated to my skewed view of all this, and my unabashed opinions.

Tirade after Tirade.