Tableware Today Article: Chart Your Future Before Big Tech Does
Market buildings are looking down the barrel of a gun. To find out why, check out my article in this month's Tableware Today.
THE LAST WORD
CHART YOUR FUTURE BEFORE BIG TECH DOES
by JASON SOLAREK
Market buildings are starting to take digital seriously. Why, finally? Because Amazon is nipping at retailers’ heels? No. Because Zola is stealing indie stores’ registry business? No. Sadly, the main thing that’s brought markets up to speed has to do with their own dollars and cents. Faire – a startup tech company leveraged by $100 million in venture capital money – has taken aim at market buildings. What Amazon, Zola, and Wayfair are doing to indie stores, Faire seeks to do to market buildings.
Perhaps it’s time to take a page from the Steve Jobs handbook: If anyone was going to put his company out of business, Jobs wanted it to be his company. Jobs almost certainly would have advised mart buildings that competitors, like Faire, offer innovation, and marts will fail trying to make their customers incur inconveniences. But mart buildings see little need to pool products online and lay the foundation for a digital future. They seem to insist on keeping things just like they’ve been.
Does this business mistake sound familiar? It does to me. I’m from Rochester, NY, home of Kodak. Through the 20th century, Kodak grew to become a global powerhouse, helped the allies win World War II with aerial photography, and was Rochester’s largest employer. Then it imploded, now teetering on existence. What happened? Kodak didn’t embrace digital; it wanted to sell more film. Many of the marts you shop are Kodak; they insist on selling film.
My company, and likely others, came to them with solutions to go digital which were declined. Now some are on their heels, losing customers, brands, and exhibitors. The mart buildings didn’t just fail to stop the rise of Faire; they failed to lead us to an omni-channel, digital future. It’s hard to help an industry when its generals aren’t marshaling their own troops. The marts are well-positioned to be digital leaders; they have thousands of repeat customers, full-time staffs, and considerable backing to spread across tech investments. Can you name a single innovation that has come out of a market building?
What’s ironic about the now urgent air at some marts is that they watched this same disruption happen to the stores that constitute their livelihood. When Amazon, Zola, Gilt, Rue La La, and other venture capital-backed tech players started nipping at stores, marts didn’t intervene. Some management said they simply couldn’t do anything to stop digital from undermining their customers. Now tech is coming for the marts themselves. And herein lies an important rule of civility: don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to you. Maybe if mart management had listened more to stores when tech came for them, they’d be better prepared now.
Ironically, some mart buildings have embraced Amazon at the peril of their own tenants. In the spring of this year, the owner of a major mart lobbied Amazon to locate its new headquarters in its city. The owner’s name appears in an open letter in The New York Times imploring Amazon to pick its city. It’s no secret that Amazon is a major job killer, particularly a killer of indie stores. Who are a mart’s main visitors? Indie stores. Dying indie stores translates into dying brand showrooms translates into dying mart buildings. Here’s a thought for mart owners: don’t champion the slayer of your clients. What the owner should’ve done is opposed Amazon’s headquarters on the grounds that it hurts indie stores and cheats communities out of millions in taxes, taxes that pay our nurses, our police officers, and our social workers.
I have lobbied many market buildings to pool products from their showrooms and get them online. Marts resist because they think it’ll hurt attendance. I even offer my software at no cost. Pooling products on one website allows retailers and reps to easily view and shop for products. Faire gets this.
Why aren’t we working together to help the marts avoid Kodak’s fate? I know marts love to promote cocktail parties, but what we really need to promote is our due diligence on going digital. Otherwise we’re putting thousands of lives at stake. Let’s help marts crowdsource products on industry managed digital platforms. Bridge has spent the last ten years building the foundation for this platform. The Bridge platform supports thousands of businesses, offers more than 100,000 products, and processes millions of dollars in transactions. While other solutions want to disrupt our industry and will result in losers, Bridge helps marts, reps, brands, and stores.
This month I’m launching a new, free service called Product Share. Based on my 15 years in the industry, Product Share is a set of guidelines and tools to help all businesses share products and grow online. I’m giving the industry my knowledge of best practices for free. My goal is to help our industry and stop big tech players like Faire and Amazon. Mimicking Steve Jobs’ advice: If anyone is going to set our industry standards, I want it to be us, not big tech. Join us at http://www.productshare.org