Thursday, August 18, 2016

Sic Semper Sears

Don't you think that the first clue should have been fairly obvious? Barnes and Noble plucked their CEO from the management of Sears Canada, and I could swear I'd heard that Sears was dying a slow death.

Ron Boire came in last year as the great saviour of Barnes and Noble. He had the expertise to turn the struggling book vendor around, to boost online sales and get the Nook buzzing and bring people in to the bricks and mortar stores. None of it happened, but should anyone be surprised? Someone ruling over a failing enterprise can't be expected to succeed at doing something in a different location that he couldn't do in his original spot.

Mr. Boire was let go from Barnes and Noble after a brief tenure in which the bottom line of the book store chain continued to sink. Whatever ideas he might have put into action did not result in the desired outcome, and so the great experiment failed. Little wonder, when he came from a culture of dinosaurs.

Sears was once a mighty retailer, but the climate changed and Sears could not keep up. It had become too big and unwieldly to turn around, and now it is shedding real estate and shuttering stores as it succumbs to its failures. Mr. Boire was part of that very environment.

Maybe if he had more time to let his new ideas grow and blossom, the financial picture might have become rosy enough to save his job. He had a limited amount of time, after all, because Barnes and Noble is bleeding cash and the corporation was quite short on time. The decision to go back to the company's roots, to focus some attention on the physical stores, has yet to show what promise there could be. Perhaps it will take a few years to get people to go back to the stores, to discover what Harry Selfridge promoted in his grand venture. Shopping was once recreation, it was seen as a fun activity, but that means a store has to offer that which is not to be found in every other shop.

What would that be in a bookstore? What could Barnes and Noble offer to get people to buy their books from them instead of using the internet and Amazon?

There is the element of personal attention that has saved the independent book vendor, to an extent. It's no easy matter for a chain of shops to offer personal attention, to ensure that the staff is knowledgeable in the latest books and can recommend something based on a client's general description of their interests. That kind of study is usually done by a motivated store owner, not a low-level employee toiling for minimum wage.

Publishers see nothing but turmoil at Barnes and Noble in the coming months, a period of time that includes the all-important holiday shopping season.

Sears. Barnes and Noble. Too big to turn around?

No comments: