Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Retail and Baseball

For those of us in retail, we’ve just made it past Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and we’re on a dead sprint to Super Saturday and the close of the holiday season.  Things are crazy right now, and the pressure is the highest it’s been all year.  If retail were baseball, we’d be in the middle of our World Series right now.  The stakes are that high.
In thinking on that further, there are a lot of similarities between baseball and retail.  Don’t think so?  Consider these:
  • Long regular season, then short, high-pressure post-season.  As stated above, we’re in the World Series right now.  Mistakes and heroics are magnified a hundred fold compared to the lazy march through the regular season.  Ultimately, what one did, good or bad, back in May matters very little if your play is peaking and you’re winning games in the critical post-season.
  • One dimensional players don’t stay in the big leagues long.  The hulking Right Fielder that is a monster power hitter, but strikes out a ton, has no defensive range, and a limited arm might make it to The Show.  However, opponents will be able to ultimately work around his one strength, and soon the champ becomes a chump.  The same applies to retailers.  Those that caught lightning in a bottle by retailing the “it” product of the moment can quickly stand atop their competition.  However, without well rounded and diversified retail capabilities, they’ll ultimately find themselves falling out of favor and finding themselves back in the retail “minors.”  
  • Doing the basics impeccably can make you a winner.  In baseball, the basics aren’t sexy.  Getting the full body in front of the ball, using two hands to catch, running out grounders, moving runners over – none of it will make ESPN.  But when done right, over and over during the course of the season, errors are mitigated, or extra bases are taken.  Those events can translate to one or two incremental wins which are incredibly valuable in a tightly contested race.  In retail, always doing standard things like getting the right products to the right place at the right time, pricing impeccably, maximizing endcaps, and facing products won’t guarantee that every game will be won.  However, it will win a couple of games, and in a brutally competitive environment, that can be huge.   
  • It’s all about the metrics.  Baseball is ruled by metrics.  Batting average, WH/IP, ERA, RBI – the list goes on and on.  Furthermore, sabermetricians like Bill James have revolutionized the game by showing how statistical nuances could revolutionize on-field decision making and influence winning.  Retail also has its metrics.  AOV, Conversion, Margin %, Inventory Turn – the list goes on and on there as well.  Those that manage by the metrics, especially those small but meaningful statistical nuances, will be affording themselves the best chance to  win for their organizations.
  • Weather can mess up everything.  An unexpected rainstorm can force a baseball team into a next-day double header.  Schedules and routines are thrown off, and teams need to improvise and overcome or get those two games swept away from them.  Likewise, unseasonal weather can massively disrupt the best laid retail plans, and force retailers to scramble to drive in customers when they’re quite reluctant to shop.  Just like in baseball, those that can mitigate the impacts of adverse weather can have a sizable competitive advantage.
  • You gotta make the fans happy.  Most folks are baseball fans, in some way, shape, or form; especially when the local team is winning.  Those franchises with big fan bases enjoy financial rewards that come with selling out that big old stadium.  Similarly, just about everyone is a shopper.  There are things they like about it, hate about it, brag about, and complain about.  They’re fans of the retail game, and they want to engage with winners.  It is our responsibility as retailers to put the very best team on the field for them that we possibly can.  If we do, we’ll be rewarded, and if we screw up, they’ll find a different "team" to support.

So, retailers, enjoy your World Series.  You’ve worked hard to get here, and the lights don’t get any brighter than right now.   But win, lose or draw, remember one thing – even though the end of the post-season is in sight, the regular season starts up again right behind it.
Play ball!

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