Borders and homemade apple pie

Recently, Borders book stores reported that they were closing their remaining 399 stores, including our local store here in Kalispell, Montana.

The store has about three months, enough time to liquidate their existing stock.

Survival of the fittest demands that some prosper, some get by and some die. Borders was not one of the fittest booksellers around, and few businesses have a chance of getting up after taking a one-two punch from Amazon and Apple.

Still, there are takeaways for the rest of us.

Homemade Apple Pie?

When you go to an online store, you KNOW when they’ve just tossed up a store so they can say they have one, kind of like how your mom knows when a local restaurant makes their own apple pie or serves a food service vendor pie.

In one case, it’s a labor of love. In the other, it seems like it’s just there because it has to be.

It’s not unlike Borders’ technology, eCommerce and eBook efforts. Once they got around to it, they served food service pie.

Who to blame?

They can’t blame Napster and peer-to-peer sharing. The music business can try, but you don’t see music acts starving. The same can’t be said for their the stuck-in-the-50-60-70s music management houses. Ask a Canadian or European about online music listening from US-based services. You won’t hear many kind words. Inertia and lack of vision killed many of them and took the local music store down with them. Napster was simply the messenger and peer-to-peer the medium. There’s no equivalent in the book business.

They can’t blame their store staff. In the Borders stores I’ve visited, the staff is well-trained and eager to help. Maybe reading fans self-select as Borders job applicants. Regardless of how their stores found their front-line employees, I can’t think of one who wasn’t helpful, knowledgeable etc. I can’t ever remember being tempted to write about them due to bizarre or off-kilter treatment there.

They can’t blame Amazon or Apple. Sure, they can point to the Kindle, the iPad, the Amazon and iBook store (and these two behemoth companies) as what killed them, but blame? Nope. Amazon and Apple offered a great example, partnering opportunities and millions of potential buyers.

Meanwhile, how many of your friends have a Kobo reader? Did you know Borders has an iPhone reader for their Kobo ebooks? Both are food service apple pie. When you’re competing with the likes of Kindle and iPad, you have to be easier, better or cheaper.

They CAN blame C-level management. Certainly Amazon and Apple were a major challenge, but without strategic vision and execution speed, the results were obvious and inevitable. As the Inc. article notes, they had a weak online retail presence and addressed technology change as if it was a chore, not a differentiator.

Management and strategic direction just happens to be your job. How are you addressing those two things?

Serve homemade pie

You may not have to worry about Amazon or Apple, but that doesn’t mean you have nothing to worry about.

Many independent bookstores have failed in the shadow of Barnes and Noble, Borders (and later, Amazon and Apple). But NOT all of them. What makes those stores different? Why are they “immune”? The reality is, they weren’t and still aren’t immune.

The survivors didn’t stare at the door, wondering why more people aren’t randomly deciding to enter their store. They did something about it. They transformed their businesses into one that Amazon or the Apple iBook store will never be: A specialty store delivering amazing personalized service while delivering a product few others will “trouble themselves” with, within the bounds of a business plan that is designed to survive an Amazon/Apple book selling world.

Each one of them uses their online presence as a strategic advantage.

Even if you sell tractors, chainsaws and weed whackers, people are going to search online for info about you and your products. If your online presence offers them the equivalent of the food service apple pie, their next purchase might be at Chainsaws.Amazon.com.

Does your business leverage technology, or use it only when forced to?

Serve homemade apple pie.

Transform the customer experience

schooling bannerfish school
Creative Commons License photo credit: jon hanson

Yesterday we talked about how Bone’s of Atlanta transformed their clientele’s wine buying experience by putting custom iPad-based wine selection tools in their hands.

Today, we’re talking about another iPad-impacted project, but this isn’t just about the iPad.

Instead, it’s about what steps you are willing to take to transform your customers’ experience with you.

For example, it might be hard to imagine that your school would put an iPad in every student’s hands – and allow (actually require) them to take them home at night, but that’s exactly what they did. Someone said “What if?” and followed it with action.

If you take a look at how Fraser Speiers says his school’s iPad project is going, you’ll find comments like “couldnt get them (young students) to stop working on math.”

He also comments that…

I simply can’t yet get to grips with everything that’s happening. Put simply, the iPad deployment has transformed our school. Not evenly and not everywhere yet, but it’s coming.

When’s the last time you heard someone say something “transformed” their school? (No Child Left Behind notwithstanding)

Perhaps a better question is this: When did you last transform the experience your customers receive?

It doesn’t require an iPad or 12 extra employees in most cases, just a little thought.

Help your customers become better buyers

Better, more knowledgeable buyers tend to spend more, but they often need help doing so.

Who hasn’t looked at a restaurant wine list, and then thought it’d be nice to have the Wine Spectator articles (or a similar resource) on those 2 or 3 bottles you’re trying to choose between?

Until recently, restaurants would have a hard time doing this, if nothing else for logistical reasons.

Bone’s Steakhouse in Atlanta went one better, creating iPad-based winelists.…and increased sales by 25%.

They invested in 30 iPads and custom software in order to sell more (and better) wine.

Spectators

Even smartphone toting patrons with Wine Spectator’s VintageChart+ app on their iPhone don’t have the details at their fingertips that would help a novice (or even moderately experienced) wine lover make a great choice.

While the VintageChart+ app can tell you whether or not the vintage on the list is a good choice, it currently shows nothing about the winery, the wine, reviews or any other details.

I expect WineSpectator will be leveraging that app or companion apps for a long while.

Sitting with GaryVee

Your method doesn’t have to be quite as fancy or technology-oriented as Bone’s, but it could be.

It might be your favorite wine expert and a bucket. That’s what wine retailer Gary Vaynerchuk does on his show, Wine Library TV.

In his case, the education he provides is intended to produce a better wine buyer, and of course prompt a retail purchase. You get his fun, gregarious personality as a bonus. After watching one show, who wouldn’t want to sit down with Gary and taste some wine?

That’s almost what WineLibraryTV allows you to do.

Where Bone’s might be heading

Imagine if the iPad app linked to a clip @garyvee‘s show that talked about that wine?  And the app went from there, providing links to Parker’s coverage of the wine, links to the winery’s website and info on the vintner and vintage, Wine Spectator reviews and so on.

I haven’t seen the Bone’s iPad app, but I suspect it gives the diner info of this nature so they can make a better choice when selecting a wine.

Now, with that in mind, how can you help your customers become better buyers?

PS: Think about how you’d feel at another restaurant when presented with a typical paper wine list (even if bound elegantly, etc), after having experienced what Bone’s offers. This isn’t just about selling more and better wine.

iPads important to Montana tourism? HaHaHaHa, RIGHT.

Wild Goose Island and Saint Mary Lake
Creative Commons License photo credit: RTPeat

After reading yesterday’s comments about iPads and your business, if you own a business in Montana, you might have shrugged, rolled your eyes and thought “Yeah, but this is Montana”.

Long-time readers know that comment sends me to the stratosphere in a hurry.

So what made you think that?

It might be that “only” 600 were connected to the internet (for the first time) in Montana in the first week.

It might be that we don’t have decent GSM service, despite what the postcard-tossing guy on TV says. You’re right, we dont…yet.

That seems pretty wimpy compared to other states. It’s almost not worth bothering with, ya think?

Think about this instead

Around 3.5 million people visited Yellowstone last year.

Around 2.3 million people visited Glacier Park last year.

I don’t have to tell you which states they come from. You already know.

Can you afford to be invisible (or less visible than your competitor) to the “mobile, connected affluent” among that population?

iPads for business? Yes. Start now.

Trust me on this. Your business needs an iPad.

I know what you’re thinking. It goes something like this:

Why does this Apple fanboy think I need this thing? It’s just like a dinky little laptop with no keyboard. I can’t even plug my USB thumb drive into it. There’s no camera.

I hear you, but I ask that you think forward a bit. The iPad available today will seem like a lukewarm joke in 5 years. Your kids won’t even touch it.

If you wait 5 years until “the space is ready”, you’re gonna be 5 years behind – maybe more.

Maybe the winner in 5 years will be an Android-based GooglePad. Maybe it’ll be a Windows-based GatesPad. Maybe it’ll be one of the tablets from the folks at CES this summer. But…

IT. DOESNT. MATTER.

What matters is that you shift your thinking.

This stuff is going to impact your business and your life (and the lives of your clients) – and I can say that not knowing what you do for a living.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

First off, don’t worry about what it won’t do. Focus on what it *can* do for you instead.

There are at least five areas that need some strategic thought on your part:

  • How your staff will use the iPad
  • How your customers will use the iPad (and iPhone/iTouch)
  • How a phone-enabled, GPS-enabled tablet (generally speaking) will change your work, your clients’ work, your clients’ personal lives and so on.
  • How this “intelligent”, connected form factor will change how people consume information – which includes information that brings them to your business.

Note: The same things will apply to the HP Slate and other touch devices already in the pipeline.

Portable, connected – and finally, capable – touch-based interface devices are here to stay. You can either take advantage of them or watch someone else and then whine about the competition.

Answer this 27 part question

The iPad gives you a way to show your clients and prospects touch-navigable information that is *already available* but often poorly presented. That info is rarely displayed in context with anything else.

That’s gonna change.

Here’s an example:

“Show me a map with the locations of the three best italian restaurants on the way to the bed and breakfast we’re staying at tonight (it’s just outside Glacier Park). Include an overall rating from previous reviews, an option to read those reviews, directions to each restaurant, menu items with photos of the food, prices and eliminate the ones that don’t have a table for six at 7:00pm. Oh and a photo of the front of the place so we don’t drive past it.”

27 phone calls or visits to websites later, you *might* have a decent answer. That’s one of the simple, easy to understand examples. There are a TON more. If you’re a client, ask me how you can take advantage of it.

The difference with the pad isn’t just the always-on internet and the GPS/location-enabled functionality. Those are huge, sure.

What changes things is that you get a touch interface that a 5 year old can operate. Don’t discount the impact that has. Most people don’t truly understand it until they use it – I had the same gap in experience with the iPhone/iTouch, despite being a geeky, computer-toolhead kinda guy. This time, I know better.

I have so many ideas about this thing, my head is spinning (some might say it did that before the iPad).

If yours isn’t, think a little harder.