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Flash Over Substance Fails in Retail

By Flora Delaney
  • Retail
  • Flash Over Substance Fails in Retail

Guest post written by our friend and retail consultant, Flora Delaney

It was March 2015, and my client needed help. The home improvement and major appliance retail chain was looking for a buyer, but sales trends were unattractive. They needed a new business to prove that there was upward market share potential to get the price the owner wanted for the chain. In short, they needed a shot in the arm.

What did they need to make this happen? Good question.

They needed experts who would guide them to decisions that would translate across every store location. Designers who were thinking about economies of scale more than luxurious finishes and vendors who were thinking through smart decisions for the long haul and not a quarterly bonus. They needed true partners.

Instead, they hired an expensive design firm that redesigned the flagship store to shoehorn a new kitchenware department into the middle of the floor. The project ran behind schedule. The prototype fixtures were expedited and incredibly expensive. Before opening, the sales team attended rigorous training sessions and every light fixture and doorknob was polished or replaced. Even the parking lot was re-striped. The marketing team invested in highway billboards and unique Sunday paper inserts. In all, it was a full-court press.

It cost millions. And it posted good — but not remarkable — sales.

The executive team tried to put a positive spin on it. Their quarterly analyst calls talked about “failing fast to learn fast.” They tried to look confident.

But the truth was, the project was so expensive and unsustainable that it could not possibly be repeated across the chain. So, what did they really learn? That with enough time and effort and resources that the chain could pull off the impossible to attain mediocre results? We had to expand the project to more stores to find a new buyer. But the cost and the effort of the project was unrepeatable.

My client learned a tough lesson about innovating at scale. They selected a design firm they could not afford who created a one-of-a-kind store experience that could not be repurposed across the chain. They lost the capability to learn from the first store and adapt their findings into a full-chain rollout.

How did it end? They never rolled out the kitchenware department on their own. Instead they signed a leasing agreement with a heritage kitchenware retailer for a standard store-within-a-store. All the money and resources were never recouped.

But they eventually sold the company. And that new owner never did business with the design firm again.

If you’d like to read more about innovating at scale, check out Miller Zell’s ebook that outlines five key principles to do it right, "The 5 Rs of Innovating at Scale" or contact them today. 

Flora Delaney is a retail consultant, expert and author of the book Retail: The Second-Oldest Profession - 7 Timeless Principles to Win in Retail Today. Flora  brings her passion for creating new customer experiences with sound retail fundamentals to her readers. Her book is available on Amazon and for all devices and paperback.




Guest writer, Flora Delaney, is a retail business expert with over 20 years of multi-channel, cross-functional experience. She and her team have consistently delivered strategic projects through merchandising insight, change leadership, process design, team mentorship, and IT partnership.