Another Escalator Abandoned

My kids are going to be devastated. What could be more fun than to ride the escalators at one of the nation’s largest bookstores after an exhausting day hopping museums in downtown Chicago?

This morning I opened the trades to read that Borders has “stunned” Chicago by announcing the ailing company’s plans to close the Windy City’s flagship Borders store.

The “Magnificient Mile” Michigan Avenue store, which opened in 1995, at just under 50,000 square feet of retail space, is not only the largest Borders store in the Chicago area, it’s the largest Borders in the US (the average Borders store is 27,000 Sq. Ft.).

I have to scratch my head and ask, did this really “stun” anyone? I mean, other than my children who will no longer be able to entertain themselves on the moving stairs while I carefully choreograph my movement from the business to the parenting section?

In a statement released by Borders, Steve Davis, Borders Group senior v-p, stated, “It’s a difficult decision to close a store and we’ve done all that we can to keep this location open. Therefore, we have no choice but to close the store in 2010.”

This store has not been profitable for a long time, if ever. At 49,881 Sq. Ft., was it just an ego location to begin with? Sitting ever so proudly right across from Water Tower Place, was the location alone supposed to shelter it from the storm that is raking the publishing industry, or any other industry for that matter?

Freakin’ Genius Marketing is the strategic marketing agency for several published authors who hired Freakin’ Genius to make up for the lack of marketing prowess from their book publishers. Highly respected book agents are left hounding the downsized staff at what used to be 5-Star publishing companies for any novel or even substandard marketing support. Many of the publishing companies are "modeling" marketing and even distribution plans around the results of previously published pieces, not even of the same author, and in most cases, not even in the same category. Does that make sense? What makes sense is self publishing and taking on the weight of the marketing and distribution challenge a la "Chicken Soup for the Soul" author Jack Canfield who's self professed "out of the trunk of my car" distribution method made him his eventual millions.

It’s an interesting industry. For an author, one might assume “paydirt” upon having an agent call and tell you that a major company has chosen to publish you. But more and more, the publishing companies are modeling books’ future sales by other books’ performance in similar categories. What modeling doesn’t take into consideration with authors and published matter, is that everyone has their own voice. A book on Heart Disease is not a book on Dieting or Cancer or Wellness for that matter. A book written by a nurse is not necessarily only of interest to nurses, but might be a seriously overlooked mainstream book because of the modeling by the publisher. Success could be realized with something as simple as a categorization of the book in multiple areas. Or, it might be realized with alternative channels of distribution, or in conjunction with integrated marketing through other media venues. Lastly, it could be as basic as unique merchandising once the book makes it to the shelf.

Walk into that store on Michigan Avenue…heck, walk into any Borders or any of the chains and be amazed as I always am- being an (as yet) unpublished book author, at the sheer volume of books. The shelves towering above you with opinion, essays, fiction, biographies, non-fiction – all works that the authors were as passionate about as Mozart at the keyboard. So much to read, so little time! So much to market and so many ways to do it, and so much goes undone. And before an author knows it, their passionate work lands on the $2 sale table in the lobby and the store puts up a For Lease sign.

As a consumer, you probably don’t spend too much time thinking of the proverbial food chain of how a book lands in your hands as you lay on the couch on a quiet weekend day, but as a marketing strategist who is NOT “stunned” by the shuttering of the flagship Borders Store in Chicago, I can tell you that the erosion started just after the author got the glorious call from the book agent.

It’s not that anyone specifically is to blame. It’s more the process that is flawed.

I fully support that modeling and profiling customers and markets is integral to growing ones base of customers. It is integral to knowing who a CORE CUSTOMER is and all those who could be CORE CUSTOMERS. However, modeling to template results is counterintuitive to the whole process, especially if the model being templated is only moderately successful to begin with.

In my humble opinion, Borders has many other issues at stake which I won’t begin to try to assess here. Their original selling proposition was that they carried MUSIC and BOOKS. When everyone else caught on to that, well, then it was just a matter of their loyalty programs, how fair their return policy was, and how good the coffee they serve was.

I, for one, will miss the escalators along with my kids. The experience of the flagship store in Chicago is one of awe for any book-loving human. To me, second only to walking up the glorious stairs of the New York Public Library, past the lions and into famed home of the written word.

“Stunned” I am not. Saddened is more like it. Saddened by the lack of insight into the marketing of the written word and all of the selling propositions each individual author creates. For fully engaged marketers who are charged with finding each book a place in the hands of its perfect owner, on the couch, on a quiet weekend day, this is a very challenging time. But, fully engaged marketers love a challenge, don’t we?

Difficult times call for unique measures and messages

On Friday, February 6th I pulled away from the Sign Advantage with my sassy persona all over my ride.

I have to admit, as excited as I was to get my company name all over town (literally) I was caught a little off guard at the staring and the pointing and the responses my sassy cow gets in traffic, at lights, and even as I stroll down lone residential streets looking for the houses of my children's playdates.

On Monday, Febuary 9th I was visiting a few clients when I received a voice mail from a newspaper reporter who had seen my car, looked up my website, located my phone number and was calling to interview me on social marketing and networking and to discuss my novel approach to marketing in a tough economy. I told her my philosophy is based on only having one opportunity to make a first impression, and that as she could see from the way she had found me, I practiced what I preached.

The article she was writing has yet to be published but was an interesting investigation on the role of virtual networking and social network marketing in business today.

I have enjoyed many opportunities as a result of networking sites like Linked-in and Facebook, but expressed that my fear of people utilizing them the wrong way will eventually compromise their overall value and fewer people will use them as a result. For example, last week I received a Linked-In email from someone who had searched me out under the term GOLF. I serve as the outsourced Chief Marketing Officer for Natural Golf and this is on my profile, so they used the Company and Topic search strategy to locate me (novel and tenacious...I like this in a salesperson!). This person was interested in discussing some golf related marketing opportunities he had relative to the PGA and LPGA. I wrote him back almost immediately. I try to be responsive and respectful to everyone who emails me as I find Linked-In a valuable tool and am glad people are finding me there. So...I wrote him that at this time, Natural Golf is not looking at any new marketing opportunities and is busily holding tight during a rough and tumble economic downturn. I thanked him politely but was clear with my message that at this time, I was not in a position to look at any new marketing tactics for them. I was surprised to see him in my email box again just 5 minutes later when he responded having completely ignored my response with more specifics and pricing. This was a clearcut misuse of a Virtual Network Marketing "touch" and made me wince to think that he might be part of a growing group of Linked-In users who could use a little Virtual Marketing Etiquette 101 class.

I think Social Network Marketing is a viable and targeted means of making new contacts. Business practice is business practice though and one needs to be respectful of other's time. As for making that first takes a lot to make that first impression in a world where anything new hasn't been tried before. The way I see it, to add vitality to ones Branding and develop a Unique Selling Proposition depends entirely on creativity and messaging that plays to the buyers needs and interests. It's why I chose to use my FJ as a means to let my community know I am open for business, and it's why I blog til the wee hours professing my passion for unique marketing strategies and tactics. It's why I network with others in Linked-In groups where I have the most in common with others and we share ideas on what works and what doesn't. It's why Facebook is an integral part of my marketing because I can let everyone who knows me tap into what my business is doing and gather bits and pieces of marketing advice off the Freakin' Genius Marketing blog.

I sent an email off right away to my Sign guru as a testimonial to his work! Less than 6 hours into my first business day with my mobile Freakin' Genius Billboard I was being interviewed by a reporter. I think that's one heck of a good ROI!

Lori Gertz is the Chief Freakin' Genius at Freakin' Genius Marketing in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. Lori prides herself on excavating her client's genius and providing strategic momentum for change and growth in small to mid-size companies.

Putting your .02 Cents In!

It's Valentines Day, and with the massive dose of red envelopes in your mailbox comes the annual announcement from the United States Postal Service on the annual rate of increase for postage. Beginning May 11th, we will all being paying an additional .02 cents for a First Class stamp and a penny more for direct mail post cards. Seems incremental at best given the economy...if you are a consumer sending valentines or birthday invitations. But, if you are a business owner who relies on direct response ROI to drive your margin, it's not such a little increase.

In the past 10 years, there has been a 31% increase in the price of a first class stamp affecting the way everyone does business. Of course there is a lot written about how it rises as a reflection of inflation and the price of transportation, gas, you know the dribble. Most of it is true, however, even with the regular increases the service hasn't improved and in fact in spite of the increases, the postal service still threatens to decrease service hours and streamline locations. For business owners, every move the postal service makes affects bottom line. Whether it be delivery times and service for products being shipped, business communication by post (greatly reduced by the efficiency of the now nearly dead fax machine and new fave- EMAIL), or distribution channel management there are more costs to doing anything that involves getting something somewhere in a particular period of time to drive response.

Direct Response driven marketing tactics are turnkey methods of seeing a rise in response if your call to action is right on to your profiled customer! There are still many tricks to getting the post card or newsletter or magalog/magazine into it's desired location and navigate the United States Postal Service to get the best deal. Peter Lineal, President of our sister company, Plum Grove Printers is one of those magicians who is a wizard at navigating the postal service and all of its incremental increases for his customers. He evaluates the message and consults to design the direct mail piece (whatever it might be) to the size and shape that is the most efficient for mailing. Ok, it's .02 cents first class, bringing that stamp up to .44 a letter. But what if, like a number of businesses, you are mailing out 1000 pieces of mail weekly. And as it relates to the direct mail postcard, a penny higher at .28 a piece, if you are mailing out 10,000 pieces at a time, 3-4X a month with multiple calls to action, it has to be accounted for in your ROI. So what do you do? Increase the price of your product to make up for the increase in the cost to market it?

The slippery slope of increases everywhere we turn has to be navigated carefully. There will surely be increases in nearly everything a business owner has in overhead relating to the cost of transportion, or the cost of utilities, or the cost of healthcare. The cost of postage, as incremental as it seems, can be the cherry on the sundae...or worse, the straw that breaks the camels back. There are many strategic methods for navigating the small stuff....never be afraid to ask your direct mailer, printer, or agency for support in this area. It should be integral to the service they offer you - effectiveness and efficiency! Staying ahead of the next .02 increase is the way to stay above break even in a business of any size in any economy.

Read more info on the postage increase and how it will affect the Direct Mail Industry, When you click HERE (DM News 2/16/09 issue)

The World of Business as we knew it, NO LONGER EXISTS!

Ok folks, if this isn't proof of why it's time for Plan B, then I'll be darned if I know what is. Americans are shopping down. What does that mean? Well, profile your customer. Who do you think your customer is? Now...sit back and ask yourself, did you make an assumption when you answered that question that your customer is the same customer from January 2008?

Let me tell you, you still may have customers...but they are different. People are shopping differently and many of your profiled customers have had to adjust their spending and are shopping elsewhere. Someone elses customers may be shopping you... but somewhere at some levels some businesses are seeing no customers. None from before and none from other categories or competitors. And trust me, no one is immune - businesses big and small have watched the thinning out of customer loyalty as the recession grips us all.

It's not so much that the relationships weren't there. In our heyday, hell, we all had the best strategies to grow our CRM and increase our ROI by investing through customer service and product guarantee tactics. But now, it's just a matter of consumers having much less in their wallets. Many of them are out of work.

The shuttering of brick and mortar biggies such as Circuit City doesn't pump more volume into Best Buy, in fact, it puts Best Buy in an even worse position to compete with the category busters like Walmart.

It's no different if you are a small to medium size business owner or working for a Fortune 500 Company. If you don't shift gears immediately and assess your customer profile and match your products/services to meet THEIR needs, not your old customer's needs or even worse, your needs, you will soon find yourself with no customers.

Shortly before Christmas I was in TJ Maxx and noted how crowded it was. I actually had to stalk the parking lot for a spot. They had just received a huge shipment of very high-end Italian handbags and the place was jammin'! The bags were flying out of the store but were priced way out of my price range at an whopping $400. I wondered, who is shopping in TJ Maxx that a $400.00 handbag would be flying out the door?My A-HA moment was when I realized that the Neiman Marcus shopper was here scoping out the bags that had originally retailed there for no less than $1,200.00.

So, the Neiman Marcus shopper is shopping TJ's, the TJ shopper is shopping Kohls and Walmart, the Kohls and Walmart shopper is shopping the Dollar Tree and the Dollar Tree profiled customer is either the same or not shopping at all.

The interesting thing to note is that the list of retailers below aren't just the high- end sort of businesses like Neiman Marcus. They are the businesses that didn't have their ducks in a row. They are the businesses that didn't see change in their customer profile.

You want to tell me that with all the news on housing start decreases and layoffs, that Home Depot couldn't see that they were going to get walloped if they didn't restructure their high-end Expo stores to serve more reasonable remodeling projects? The Great Indoors was the first to go...why would Home Depot be any different. And why are biggies like Lowes and Menards safe? Perhaps product or market diversification? I think, a better finger on the pulse of the core, yet wildly changing customer profile.

If I can leave you with any thoughts to muse, it's these: Have you really taken the time to look at who your current customer is? Have you taken the time to assess what your current customer profile's needs are? Does this customer have different needs that you can serve by changing your products or services with a tweak here or a tweak there or perhaps even full-scale changes that will affect your infrastructure but offer strategic insurance for your business?

Total January 2009 layoffs 151,352

This is a list of the total announced layoffs at America's 500 largest public companies as measured by a composite ranking of sales, profits, assets and market value during January 2009.

January 5th

Cigna: reduces workforce by 4% (1,100 jobs).
United States Steel: cuts 50 jobs as it closes production lines in Texas.

January 6th

Alcoa: starts global salary and hiring freeze, plans sale of four non-core businesses and cuts workforce by 13% (13,500 jobs).
Aqua Glass (Masco): pink-slips 30 employees.

January 7th

EMC: fires 2,400 as it reduces 2009 expenses by $350 million.

January 8th

Union Pacific: pink-slips 230 as company struggles; stock down 22% year-to-date.
Bath Iron Works (General Dynamics): dismisses 179 employees.
Eaton: 78 laid off in Iowa.
Walgreen: cuts 1,000 (roughly 9%) from corporate and field manager ranks.

January 9th

Oracle: cuts 500 from U.S. sales and consulting businesses.
Boeing: cuts 4,500 and returns workforce size to what it was in early 2008.
Freeport-McMoRan: cuts workforce in half at Arizona mine; 1,550 workers let go.
Smitfield Foods (Butterball): Fires 75 at Missouri plant.

January 12th

Mosaic: 1,000 employees in Saskatchewan.
Aircraft maker and Textron (Cessna): 2,000 employees fired.
Best Buy: 12.5% of its headquarters staff with 500-employee layoff.
Precision Castparts: dismisses 40 as airline industry continues to struggle.

January 13th

Cummins: freezes salaries for the rest of the year and lets 800 go.
Pfizer: cuts 800 researchers as it lowers cost in the face of poor performance and coming patent losses.

January 14th

Ecolab: restructures and reduces workforce by 4% (1,000 jobs).
Delta Air Lines: gives 2,000 early retirements as part of 8% capacity reduction.
Motorola: lays off 4,000 following a 3,000-worker layoff last year; savings of $700 million a year.
Google: fires 100 hirers cutting back on contract workers and temporary employees.

January 15th

Xerox: cuts 275 jobs in New York region.
MeadWestvaco: fires 2,000 and plans closings or restructurings at up to 14 plants.
Autodesk: expects loss from 2008 fourth quarter; pink-slips 750 (10% of workforce).
Marshall & Ilsley: cuts 8% of staff (830) in ongoing cost-cutting.
General Electric: jet-engine group cuts 1,000 white-collar jobs.

January 16th

ConocoPhillips: trims capital spending by 18%, writes off $34 billion and reduces workforce by 4% (1,300 jobs).
Hertz Global Holdings: sets out for worldwide restructuring in first quarter of 2009; cuts 4,000 jobs.
WellPoint: reduces workforce by 600 and removes 900 open positions.
Advanced Micro Devices: reduces global workforce by 9% (1,100 jobs).

January 20th

Clear Channel Communications: reduces workforce by 9% accounting for 1,850 job losses.
Deere & Company: dismisses 120 at Iowa plant.

January 21st

Burlington Santa Fe: cuts 2,500 workers (5% of workforce).
UAL: fires 1,000 to cut overhead costs.
SPX: attempts to sell a business unit and cuts 400 employees to help endure the downturn.
Intel: closes five manufacturing plants and pink slips 5,000.
Walt Disney: offers voluntary buyouts to 600 theme park executives on poor attendance.
Wynn Resorts: wraps up construction on Las Vegas Strip casino with 53-worker layoff in design and construction affiliate.
Eaton: total workforce reduction since the beginning of last year to 10% with 5,200-worker cut.
Warner Bros. Entertainment (Time Warner): cuts 10% (800) of its jobs.

January 22nd

Microsoft: has first mass layoff in 34-year history; pink slips 5,000.
Huntsman: reduces workforce by 9%; cutting 1,175 regular workers and 490 full-time contractors.

January 23rd

Deere & Company: subsidiary lays off 502 employees.
Abercrombie & Fitch: cuts 50 from headquarters as company leans expenses.
Harley-Davidson: sees 60% drop in profits in fourth quarter of 2008; fires 1,100 (10% of workforce).

January 26th

Lincoln National: posts five quarterly declines in profit; cuts 540 (5% of workforce).
Caterpillar: announces quarterly profit plunge of 32%; fires 20,000.
Pfizer: closes five factories and cuts 15% of total workforce (19,000 workers).
Sprint Nextel: pink-slips 8,000 workers--recording more than $300 million in severance charges but saving $1.2 billion a year in labor costs.
Home Depot: closes high-end home design shops and slims ranks at headquarters; dismisses 7,000.
General Motors:
cuts production at several plants and fires 2,000 in Michigan and Ohio.
Texas Instruments: pink-slips 3,400 (12% of workforce).
IBM: selects 2,800 to participate in its “current resource reduction action.”

January 27th

AOL (Time Warner): reduces workforce by 10% (700 workers) as it fights declining ad revenue.
Merillat (Masco): cuts 20% of workforce (70 workers).

January 28th

Starbucks: organizes closings at 900 stores worldwide and fires 6,700 in the process.
Target: cuts 400 open positions and 600 employees on sagging sales. Source:

Lori Gertz is the Chief Freakin' Genius at Freakin' Genius Marketing in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. Lori prides herself on excavating her client's genius and providing strategic momentum for change and growth in small to mid-size companies.