[Cache – #96]
Dear Reader: A quick note that Brand: It Ain’t the Logo* (*It’s what people think of you) was the Globe and Mail’s #1 business bestseller for the month of November, making it three months (the others being July and August) since release of this second edition that it’s led a field including Start With Why, the uber-hot book by TED Talk celebrity Simon Sinek. Ted Matthews and I thank you sincerely for your support!
Brands, brands, brands. That’s what Bonnie Brooks, CEO of The Bay, seems to spend the vast majority of her time talking about in the press. As parent company HBC goes public, the narrative continues to be about her slashing of 1,500 tired brands from the Bay’s product lineup and introduction of 500 new ones that customers were pining for. I have absolutely no doubt that Ms. Brooks can make a compelling financial argument in favour of this strategy for reviving the 342-year-old brand – the world’s oldest continuously-running company, one that actually owned Canada and sold it to the Queen so we could live here. But crummy brands has never, from the customer’s point of view, been the retailer’s Achilles heel.
It is crummy – and more to the point, non-existent – service (as in “I could fire a cannon in this place and not hit an employee”) that has been the Bay’s bane all along. Get this: I actually like shopping at the Bay because the service is so bad. This may seem counterintuitive, but consider that I’m a guy and I want to get out of there as fast as humanly possible, and there is maybe one chance in a million that a Bay employee will get between me and the door by asking if I need help. But somehow I don’t think that a Zero-Service Promise is a viable long-term strategy for the Bay. It certainly hasn’t been for my 44 years on this planet, my own shopping preferences aside.
To boot, the few people who do work at the Bay passionately hate it. Check out these employee reviews at RateMyEmployer.ca (with at least some grains of salt, as sites like this one are more likely to attract detractors than fans).
So what is the Bay to do? Sears is just as crummy as they are. Walmart (366 Canadian stores) will always beat them on price, and so will Target, soon to be open in Canada and ultimately to have 125-135 stores in this country. Nordstrom, the American department store chain also intent on entering the Canadian market, is one of the world’s most celebrated customer service brands. Although they plan in the short term to open just four stores in Canada, their initial cities of Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver are all places in which the Bay has a flagship store – so Nordstrom (and its employees, known as “Nordies”) has the potential to plop the issue of customer service squarely on Bonnie’s desk.
As I’m sure Bonnie will tell you, brand selection is one of the most crucial inputs to a department store’s success. But it’s not the path to the greatness the Bay believes is a birthright that dates, as the company is proud to point out, to “2nd May 1670.” So until senior leadership decides to focus on delivering great service – which will require a categorically different approach to the one they’re taking now – they will never be the great brand they think they are. Something their employees, it seems, already know.
Coming soon: Best and Worst Brand Names of 2012