Change Doesn’t Discriminate

5 09 2011

I remember all the great stores growing up that couldn’t differentiate themselves enough to survive in our ever changing world.  Stores like Grants, Save-Mart, Kresge, Grandpa’s, Venture, Mohr Value, HQ, Circuit City and Bel-Scot.  If you grew up in the Belleville, Collinsville and/or Fairview Heights, IL area, you are familiar with all these names.

It is pretty ironic as I sit here on Labor Day and write about the demise of yet another chain store – Borders/Walden Books.  A chain that put little to no labor in making the most of what they had.  A BIG BOX store with all the potential in the world, but didn’t adapt to the changing times.

I absolutely LOVED Borders and grew up frequenting Walden Books inside St. Clair Square.  An avid reader who’s prized possession is my rather large book collection.

But I must tell you, Borders trained me to join their book club and never shop them unless I had a 40% off coupon.  Did that run them out of business?  Heavens no!  The amount of mark up in selling books barely caused them to blink an eye at this amount of reduction.

In my opinion, there were several things that led to their demise.

1.  Their on-line shopping experience lacked depth and was no match to Amazon.

2.  They had HUGE square footage in their stores.  This is what really kills me about the fall of the mighty Borders!  With all those think tanks they had to have working for them, why didn’t they utilize their space in a creative way that would make people frequent them more often to be entertained?  Sure, they had a coffee bar and some book signings, but boy oh boy did they miss the boat!  Borders could have made the atmosphere a bit livelier with LIVE music playing in their coffee bars, or a destination for book-group discussions.  What about putting in kitchens and having cooking demostrations around new cookbook releases?  What about having a local chef come in and create a recipe or two in front of a room of time-starved moms?  Same could be said for a small fitness class in the back corner where they could have capitalized on all the bigness of Yoga and Pilates.   Let’s not discount the fact that they were big into BlueRay and they weren’t giving those DVD’s away.  Why not set up a room with surround sound where customers could preview these movies before buying them?

3.  Did they ever get to know their customers?  Obviously not!  Had they have spent more time building that one-on-one relationship with their customers, things might have been different.  I certainly would have been more than happy to participate in a focus group on how to make my Borders experience better.

4.  Did they entrench themselves into their community?  No!  I have worked in the advertising industry for 12 years.  On at least a dozen occasions I approached Borders to partner with me (radio) and a couple other non-competing businesses for events, in-store tie-ins, etc…  All I ever got were deer in headlight looks and Marketing Directors who never had the autonomy to pull the trigger.

4.  They didn’t change with technology.  They sold the one thing (e-readers) that helped seal their fate.  I’m not saying they shouldn’t be in the e-reader business because that is how I and millions of people are consuming  media and books/magazines these days.  What I am saying is they should have insulated themselves by pushing digital downloads and their partnership with Kobo way before 2009.  I have been downloading books and publications since 2002 and I know several years before that you could do it.

I must admit, I haven’t stepped into a Borders for over a year until the last days of their liquidation sale where I purchased several books (souveniers) at 80% off. When I first converted over to 100% digital downloads, I felt like I was cheating on them and it felt good.  Unfortunately, there were millions of others that enjoyed the ease of buying and the experience that apps and digital devices offered much more than trapsing to a boring big box of books.

So long Borders…I truly believe that there could have been a happier ending to this book.

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