Mister Beacon Episode #146
The Two-Barrelled Retail Revolution: COVID + the IoTMarch 22, 2022
We are thrilled that George Anderson - the all-seeing, all-knowing Editor-in-Chief of Retail Wire - will be sharing his often unexpected wisdom on the impact of Covid-19 on the retail economy. Of course, the supply chain implications are profound, which brings us around to the IoT. Given that the pandemic has accelerated everything - collapsing five years into one, as the cliche goes - how will the supply chain demonstrate "automation acceleration"?
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Steve Statler 00:00
Welcome to the Mr. Beacon podcast. In this week's episode, we're talking to George Anderson, who's the editor in chief for RetailWire. He is a career long, retail expert. He's seen it from every aspect. And I think you'll find that he's a great person to spend some time with. In fact, I have to say, I really enjoyed our Easter egg section at the end, where we talk about his career. And I think he's actually got some of the best stories around his musical choices of any of our guests over the years. But it's probably worth saying why we're talking to George in in the first place. And I guess to put it succinctly, he's helping us to understand our customer. I have seen over the years, lots of different approaches to identifying who one's customer is, but it's certainly one of the critical success factors. If you don't understand your customer, then it's very hard to make all of the design decisions, the trade offs that you have to make when you're designing a solution. So we're a podcast that often gets into the technology. But we really try and help you, the listeners and viewers to understand the customer, whether it's understanding supply chain with Brielle the other day, or with George getting in the shoes of a retailer. So I hope you enjoy this conversation. RetailWire is a really interesting, online destination to get to know retail. The articles are pretty short. But they're followed by these brain trust discussions from lots of different perspective. So I urge you to check that out. And I urge you to give what George has to say in this week's episode, he could listen. Mr. Beacon podcast is sponsored by Wiliot, Intelligence for Everyday Things powered by IoT pixels. So George, welcome to the show. It's a real pleasure to have you on. Let's start off, tell us a bit about RetailWire and what your approaches to covering this sector.
George Anderson 02:24
Sure. So thanks for having me. It's a little unusual for me to be on the other side of the interviewing, but
Steve Statler 02:34
but I'll try, I'm sorry, feel pressure, I'm thought about that.
George Anderson 02:42
Um, so RetailWire was founded in february 2002 so 20 years in the making now we can stop calling ourselves a startup any day now. But so RetailWire is really, it's a unique, unique hybrid of kind of a traditional news publication, and also a social platform, I think it's, it's interesting, we actually launched retail wire two years before Facebook was invented, if only we had been pression enough to call ourselves social media, we know, we could have been even further ahead of the game. So but anyway, so in addition to, you know, to kind of picking up stories that we think are important to retail, and that is our main audience, retail and consumer brand executives, are the are the core of our audience. We pick up stories that we think are important, we cover all aspects of retail, but we also have to find ones that that will stimulate a conversation, productive conversation, specifically, so that our, our audience will will not just be getting kind of a group speak kind of response. You know, we've, we've always known that the silos are killer of innovation and the lack of diversity within organizations, particularly as it relates to thinking is, is stifling so. So when we started retail wire, it really was almost with kind of like an open source content approach, and that we would find the best ideas wherever we could. We'd share them. We'd let people debate them and then we'd let our audience take what they wanted. From that and, you know, we've we've grown sure and steadily over the years and you know, we, you know, each day is is different. It's kind of like Amazon's day one philosophy We kind of recreate herself on it on a daily basis, which keeps us young, despite our gray hair, and, and keeps us really, you know, involved and trying to kind of see where we can be at most health because we, we really view what we do as a service to, to our readers now, or you. I mean, you could even call it a friendship. You know, friendship doesn't always mean, you know, directing platitude stories are friends,
Steve Statler 05:37
right? Giving tough news, honestly.
George Anderson 05:41
And we, and we do both of those things, but we try to do so in a manner that, again, is constructive and that that, you know, actual, you know, takeaways can result in, you know, something, something better down the line.
Steve Statler 05:57
So, our audience tends to be technologists who kind of look at retail as being a place where they can sell their technology. And that's actually how I got into it. I worked at Qualcomm for a bit and part of our job was to get people to buy more of this mobile technology. And I was like thinking where, what's the best way of getting technology in people's hands, and it's like, everybody shops, you know, almost everybody shops, at least, and they do it a lot. So if you're gonna, if you're gonna get technology out there, great market, and then I remember kind of starting to look at it and being like, you know, everyone feels like they're a retail expert, because we all shop, but then you start to segment it, and you realize how different it is. So how different the different segments are different models, different vendors, you know, there's not just one point of sale vendor, there's a ton for all those different sectors, how, how do you define retail? What are the what are the boundaries of retail?
George Anderson 07:00
That's a business to consumer transaction? You know, that's the, that's the simplest answer, it usually derives from the wholesale arrangement, where the company that's actually selling is not the creator of the product, but they are, they're serving as a middleman. You know, we have, we've always had, but we have more so in, in recent years, and growing, we have direct to consumer, which is brand selling, too. So they're, they're, they're competitive, and some respects to retail and, and they cover a lot of the the same area. But but that's that's the basic distinction. And, and we, you know, on retail wire, we cover pretty much all of it. With the exception of automotive, we don't we do very little in, in the, in the automotive sector, because that's just not our expertise and the dealer network is, is slightly different than, than some of the, you know, Food, Drug mass, you know, specialty outlets,
Steve Statler 08:05
and would you consider like vending machines to be retail,
George Anderson 08:09
we do cover a bit, we actually vending is, is interesting for two things, it's, it's, it's covered as a, as a tool within retail, because, you know, retailers are going to automation, a lot of this is being done in rural areas, where, in fact, basically a convenience store is is set up somewhere in the in, you know, what we would consider the middle of nowhere, but the people who live their thing, clearly think it's somewhere where they're able to, to purchase products without actually having staff on hand to, to deal with those transactions, you know, a lot of it, then more of it, and a lot, a lot of it, I guess is kind of tied to to what you see in Japan, where which the vending industry is much more advanced than it is in the US, which is basically been chips and, and, and soda here. So so and it goes back to kind of the automat history that we had here and in the US so you know, you have some brands doing that and some retailers and I think there's I think there's opportunities for that it started to be and it's starting to be developed. I just don't think with with mainline retailers in particular that it's it's top of mind because you know, the return there is, you know is it's not on par with, you know, their other priorities.
Steve Statler 09:47
Make sense? So, um, so I was recently at NRF and I was just struck by how COVID impacted that National Retail Federation show in New York. What are your thoughts on how COVID is changing retail? What are the implications to retailers and to the people that serve retail?
George Anderson 10:11
Wow, this is actually going to be a short answer. He tells us two things. Adaptability is the key to survival. Differentiation is the key to thriving. That's it. That's what it's taught us.
Steve Statler 10:26
Differentiation is the key to thriving. Okay. Yeah. About a bit.
George Anderson 10:32
Yeah. So everybody has to everybody has to adapt, and they've been forced to adapt, you know, you look at buy online pick up in store, or, even more so curbside pickup, you know, retailers, you know, had 1235 year plans to kind of get into that slowly, and then COVID happened, and it had, you know, go overnight, I mean, Kohl's is probably a pretty good example. They, they were tinkering, I believe that's the word they used on their their call, but they had a handful of stores where they were, you know, basically Testing, testing it out. And virtually overnight, you know, you know, within weeks, a month or so, they they had curbside pickup at all their locations. Now, that wasn't in their plans. But it was an absolute necessity, because Because retailers like Kohl's in the in the US were not deemed essential retailers at that time. And they were forced to close their stores. Right? And, you know, some retailers best buy for example. Lululemon also did it, started doing appointments online, or appoint appointments to show up in and shop so that they could minimize traffic in stores? So so they, you know, I think all all retailers kind of had to, to make it up as they went, in some cases, they already had plans, and some of it was from some of it was from from scratch. But you know, that we're, it's an interesting thing, where we're actually running an article today on their site about drugstores. And what will they do now that they're not doing vaccinations and a lot of COVID tests and stuff, because the cases are dropping here in the US? Well, the same day that we're running the story, there's no news about a test in Japan, by researchers in Japan, that show that some variant of Omicron may spread more and may actually be, you know, more deadly than that than Omicron. So, you know, every single we, you know, we had Delta, we thought we were kind of over that, and then Omicron came. So every time we think that we have to solve something else is has come up. And you know, it's it's convenient for people to, you know, blame public health officials. But the reality is, most of them have told us that this sort of thing is going to happen until we reach, you know, herd immunity and never do that, because we don't have enough people either getting vaccinated to build up resistance to it or, you know, being infected to do it to get to that level. So variants are going to continue to happen, you know, we just, you know, if you're religious, you pray that that that won't happen. And if you're not religious, I'm not sure what you do. You just don't forget it.
Steve Statler 13:47
I mean, one of the things that it seems to have done is really, it changed the balance of power between the staff and management, my youngest son is taking a gap year between high school and college and so he's working in retail. And the local of the local employers were in San Diego is the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Wild Animal Park. They're offering a $1,200 signing on bonus if you sign up for, for retail, that's just incredible. And that's gotta have a whole bunch of impacts. I mean, we see it at Wiliot with the kind of pushed to automation. Is that something that you're seeing too? Oh, yeah,
George Anderson 14:34
I mean, it. You know, I, you know, I think I said earlier, you know, frontline associates, save, save their banking. And it's as simple as simple as that. And the reality is, is that between people being infected with COVID, or having dropped out of the workforce because schedules didn't permit them to provide childcare for their Their kids are for, you know, just over fear about, you know, becoming ill themselves or, or frankly, you know, working in retail has become, you know, kind of a dangerous occupation. And in some cases, you have a lot of people who, you know, are picking on the wrong people to try to make a point these days. And, you know, verbal abuse is, is is not unusual, and even, you know, physical abuse is, is taking place where people have gotten really hurt so. So, I think, you know, it's hard to turn the lights on in a store, when you don't have anybody to turn the lights on. Right. And, and, you know, that they frontline workers really are the single biggest asset that any retail organization has. And, you know, the fact the fact of the matter is, is that, you know, a really good associate in a store, can can cement customer relationships, more than any loyalty program can any sale can. You know, I have, you know, lots of lots of stories like that, and, and, you know, it's I, the good news, I guess, it's that I think a lot of retailers have had the lightbulb go off. Investments in training have gone way up, at least among, you know, major retailers in understanding about flexible scheduling, has also improved, because, you know, haphazard scheduling, particularly for part time employees has always been a problem. And they've just expected lots of turnover. And, and I think, you know, some retailers, Walmart is one has gone, where more of their workers, percentage of the workers are now full timers than part timers. And you know, that builds continuity, you have experience, you have people who are really invested. Because if you're working full time in a position, the chances are you've decided that you're that this is your occupation, this is not just the job. Right. And, and, and things like career advancement and that are, are on your mind. And if you've got a company interacting with you that way, you're going to put that much into it. So
Steve Statler 17:40
yeah, absolutely. I mean, as a technologist, I always feel a bit guilty that oh, is this putting someone out of a job, but I'm actually now really optimistic that what we're doing is taking care of the hygiene factors. It's like inventory, do you actually know what's in stock? Do you really know where it is? And that's the kind of thing where auto ID technology that all number of us have been peddling can really help. But and I do think that there is pressure to reduce the number of staff in stores, but not to eliminate them. I don't think I'm not seeing retailers that want to get rid of all of the staff and just have robots, maybe there are some but like, I don't think that's what Walmart or want to do I what I see. You see the cost goes and going to Costco. I look forward to it. And part of the reason is that you you're in an environment where people have been working there for decades, and they're good at their job. They're competent, and they're engaged. And it's it's, it's a human experience. I love going to our local CVS, the guy that serves there, he's featured in the in the local news, online bulletin boards, because he's such a character and people come to the local CVS, because of him, I go to the local Einstein bagel, because they know my name. And that's part of my Sunday morning ritual. So if these you know if the automation can take care of the basics, so you're not annoyed, because when you do go to buy that last COVID test, it's actually in stock. And I think that's, that's where it is. And so I'm pretty optimistic.
George Anderson 19:20
Yeah, I can tell you. So back in 2002. When we, shortly after we probably, I guess, about seven or eight months after we had started retail wire, I had this idea of writing a book. And it was about corporate cultures in retail and how that that aligned with their performance and I and I picked out three retailers that were all successful in their own rights all had distinctly different niches. And my idea was, I would go to local stores, I would apply for part time jobs because I would figure out a way to work on part time jobs and To see what made them then different. Now I applied for Trader Joe's, I won't mention the other two chains because I don't want to embarrass anybody. But I went to Trader Joe's told them I was a journalist that I wasn't reading hippies. But this is what I wanted to do. They hired me. The two other chains that I wanted to write about when I gave them the same spiel, decided they didn't want to hire me, because they, they didn't trust that, you know,
Steve Statler 20:28
wouldn't be a good experience. So I'd reflect well on.
George Anderson 20:31
But I went to work for Trader Joe's, I was there about six months, I guess. And the very first day I worked, I started working a few days before Thanksgiving, in the US at a grocery store a few days before Thanksgiving is like the busiest place you could be. And they put me on the register. Oh, my goodness. And, and I had a little bit of training, but not not a lot. I mean, I learned how to work the register right before the shift open, but that was kind of it. But the, the assistant manager, I don't even think they have them anymore. They were called first mates back then came up to me. And he said to me, there's only one thing you need to know, this store is yours. Wow. I from so from that point on, I got under register, I talked to people like they were my customers, my personal customers. And, you know, I talked him about what what they were making, how they were using it, how I use stuff, because I was also a customer at the store, you know, recipes, I tried that work really well. And, and I developed the following to the point where my line was actually longer, then not not not right away. But over a period of time, my line would be longer than any other register at the store. And there was a full timer who came in who come from ShopRite, or one of the other, you know, kind of mainstream grocery chains, who was very disturbed by the length of the lines. And my register because it was split, you know, get him in, get it out, get them out, right. And so he was grousing, and he was always busting my, my chops. And I said, I'm doing what's right for the customer, you if you want to talk to Mike who was first made at the time, you know, bring them over here, we'll talk about it. And he did. And Mike came over and he went to the people on the line. And he asked him if they'd like to go to another line because other registers were open. And he had person after person don't know, we'd like to weigh bags. You know, he told us about this recipe. We'd liked it. So so he turned around to you know, the new guy and said, leave him alone. You know. And I so I wound up leaving after after, I think it was about six months. And they wouldn't even let me quit. They had me take a leave of absence. With the idea that we would go back, I never did go back. But I'm telling you, if I could have made the living there, I would have stayed on that register. I mean, I had so much fun it was it was a great, it's
Steve Statler 23:13
a great story. It was a great story. And I actually it's another one of my regular place is because of the people. Yeah, it's and the product, the product is actually really good. But so let's get this onto a technology track because this is supposedly a technology show. But I think it's really important for us to kind of understand the customer understand the market. So I'm not feeling too guilty about not talking about bits and bytes. But what what are you seeing technology wise that from a retailer's perspective? That's, that's interesting. What what are the technologies that are on retailers minds at the moment?
George Anderson 23:53
Well, I guess the it's really kind of an all of the above. Yeah, question. I mean, the good news for technology companies that investments in technology have never been higher you know, retailers really understand that technology can can help enable performance on AI, you know, wide variety of levels. I mean, obviously, artificial intelligence machine learning is being tied to all sorts of functions that retail and and they are a key point of interest. The use of AI powered automation, you know, either apps or robotics to free up humans to better serve customer customers. I think is is really is really important and it's valued by retailers and I you know, and I, you know, again, knowledgeable and well trained associate is is a retail store his greatest, greatest strength And the same potential applies to those that are operating online. As well, you know, if, you know, I pin I mentioned to you earlier, I've got a new border collie puppies nine weeks old. So of course, we we've had, you know, full truckloads pulling up in front of our house with deliveries from from chewy, and, and recommendations that I've had in chats with their associates online, or maybe it's just a I don't know, I think I think it's Associates has been great. When I've had to return things I've gotten to the point with chewy. And this talks about the combination of technology and the human aspect, I've gotten to the point with, with chewy, where I feel guilty when I returned something. Because they are so accommodating, that I almost feel like, you know, even though you know, like I, I saw something and I and I, I have the size wrong, and I I get back to them and say, Well, it's a size ROI, I'd like to return it. And they tell me, you know, give it to a local shelter, we'll credit you for it. It's like, you know, I made the mistake. Why? What, why are you having to do that? So, so I, you know, I think that's, that's really key. And they you know, they know, they know their customer from their data, right? They know what, what I'm buying, they know my dog's name, my dog's name comes into every single conversation that I have with him. So. So you know, I'm a, I'm a big chewy fan.
Steve Statler 26:45
What about omni channel? Because I was struck by the fact that the name isn't seen doesn't seem to be used as much, but it seems like it's even more critical. It's like, fundamental to maybe it's just so fundamental that people are not talking about it, because, or not using the name because it's just like, the route to survival? Should I be using a different word than omni channel? Is that still a thing?
George Anderson 27:15
Oh, it is still a thing. And I in many ways, has become the default term. You know, some people use Unified Commerce or, you know, to me, it's just retail. You know, in reality, what, what retailers have done. A lot of it, a lot of it is due to inventory management and accounting issues, the channels were separated. Because they didn't know how to properly account for the sale, which would give somebody credit, you know, within the organization, and the inventory, because they were they were operated separately, particularly with legacy systems, which, you know, I think is being addressed as more stuff goes to the cloud. But would, wouldn't necessitate having two separate inventories. But what the reality is, is with hybrid shoppers, I mean, we know that consumers who shopped from a retail shop, both online and in store, spend more than those that just shop in store or online, right. So and customers have, you know, there's this convenience factor, you know, we've all gotten, we've all gotten spoiled, you know, we want to be able to shop where, when and how, how we'd like whether that's on a phone or desktop or laptop, or, or walking into a store or, or, you know, whatever it may be. And retailers have had to accommodate, and they've, and they've discovered that there's, you know, there's value in that in their ability to compete with the likes of Amazon, for example, because pricing, pricing discrepancies and things like they have a, you know, with trying to keep with Amazon's dynamic pricing, are able to be smoothed out. And you know, and transact prayer transparency, largely driven by Amazon, but also, you know, the door dashes and Uber Eats of the world is that as a consumer, I want to know where the product well, first, I want to know if the product actually exists, because nothing takes customers off more than you place an order. And it says there's inventory, and then you know, an hour later you get a message that you know that the inventory doesn't exist, right. So yeah.
Steve Statler 29:39
Are you told what reconciling those Yeah, reconciling those things is key, isn't it? So I've got a few things that I was kind of a hypo or hypo, is it real? And at NRF I thought it's really interesting listening to the CEOs of the various retailers talk and I was shot When the CEO of Ralph Lauren started talking about the metaverse, and it was not just like, oh, yeah, some some very superficial comment. He actually seemed to spend some serious time looking at it. Do you? What's your view on the metaverse? Is it just hype? Or is it really relevant? Is that something that that your readers need to know about? Do you think? Well, we've
George Anderson 30:31
written about it, so I, I hope so we're actually running a story today. A Timberlands program that that they're running on it. So. So I guess first thing we need to do is we need to start by defining what the metaverse is, right. It's a term kind of like big data was a few years ago, were meant something completely different based on who you were speaking to. Now, as I understand it, and again, I'm not a technologist. I'm just a lowly journalist. As I understand it, popular theories of the metaverse say it can be a product or a service, it can be a place, or it can represent a point in time, which actually, in my mind is the scariest thing I get to that. So as a product or service, in some ways is off to a good start. Because it's essentially being built on the same platform that the game developers have had built. Right. So the technology is there, whether the bandwidth is is there to, to scale? I'm not sure but again, that's, that's outside my, my, my paygrade I know all that's pretty sophisticated work. And we know, in short bursts, that that there has been success in monetizing it right, you know, with with fine art, or, you know, collectible sneakers or something, you know, Nike and timberland as I mentioned, excuse the pun, those two are taking steps. And, you know, and and they have a strong brand and they and they already have an affinity with a group of customers. So, so that's easy, you know, whether that's going to work for you know, Kellogg's cereal or something like that. I'm, I'm less certain about that. But also on the plus side. If I remember correctly, this is possible holiday season. I think Oculus headsets actually outsold at least one or two of the game game consoles. Right. So Right. So people are putting putting these things on their, on their, their their heads, so So you know, if you're Banksy and you got you got a piece of art or your Nike with a limited edition sneaker. Makes great. Probably makes a lot of sense. If you're, you know, selling pickles, maybe not so much. Right, you know?
Steve Statler 33:26
So yeah, it seems like the metaverse is relevant in three ways to retailers. He just put out which just like obviously, I hadn't thought about first one is you can sell a bunch of Metaverse, kit, headsets, computers, all that sort of thing. The second one is products. I'm Ralph around, I can start selling Ralph Lauren clothes for your avatar. And then the third one is just a great, maybe a great way of creating another user interface to sell the physical products
George Anderson 33:58
versus a place if you will already exist, right? It's in games like fortnight Second Life is actually still around. And they were one of the first movers, although, you know, obviously they they not to this point lived up to the early hype that came with it. The last aspect about it being a point in time is really kind of the way I think, meta formerly known as Facebook is is looking at it. And frankly, I find that kind of scary. I know Zuckerberg is quite keen on his avatar. And he changed the name of his company, obviously because he thinks we'll all be creating our own avatars and you know, socializing and conducting business and going over about our lives in these virtual worlds but but I'm not sure I don't see this happening in any great degree, at least with current hardware required to fully actually realize the experience. And while I see applications for people to use this in both their personal and professional lives, I think something, you know, is bound to get lost. If you know as society feature, withdraw more for physical reality, right? You know, you know, advocates are talking about the wonders of the metaverse to, you know, that are that are to come, you know, but, you know, I would add a caution to that, you know, a lot of this sounds at least to my ears, like the early evangelists of the internet and social media. You know, the fact is that there was a lot of dark in the world, and it seems to gain strength in the virtual world. And I'd hate for the metaverse, frankly, to be the vehicle of amplifying the worst aspects of social media. You know, in the years, yeah.
Steve Statler 35:56
Yeah, there was actually a, I can't remember which group it was, I think was the Foo Fighters. They were having a concert in the metaverse and I've got my Oculus headset that I bought, because I felt like I need to understand this stuff. But I was so disappointed that Google Earth wasn't available yet that I kind of put it down and I thought I'll dusted off, charge up the headset go to this concert. And so I went online and started to get ready. And I looked at the reviews, and they were terrible. It was like and it wasn't about pixelation, or navigating. It was like, I'm surrounded by these really obnoxious people who have been really nasty to me. And it was just, you know, I felt like I was being bullied. And I'm like, Well, I don't want to go to a place like that. That is so so I didn't do it. And
George Anderson 36:46
I you know, I myself would I would say that we have learned you know, over the past 20 plus years, that that lots of good ideas can be corrupted. And, you know, to my way of thinking we should figure out how to limit the corruption before we get we get into these things. But that's
Steve Statler 37:09
yeah, I totally agree. And, you know, my understanding is that there's some open source approaches to this that are hoping to make sure this doesn't get hijacked by Mark Zuckerberg. So I'm really hoping it goes, but we'll see. You know, what, what, what is on retailers minds? And maybe we've already covered this, but what are the technology topics that the or maybe the business drivers that get you to a technology topic? Maybe that's a better way of asking the question that are on people's minds? What are you trying to? What are the questions that you're trying to answer? Because you feel like there's either they people want to know, or they need to know.
George Anderson 37:51
Right? Well, I mean, you know, as I said before, I guess it might be a bit controversial for your audience, but I don't think they tick tick technology is, is fundamentally changing anything there that retailers do and I, you know, it's just helping them to do what they've always done? Well, you know, when they did it, well, in the past, just do it in a, in a different, maybe more effective way, but, but it's still, you know, dealing with the same processes, but you know, there's, there's a lot of tech out there, I mean, I've been really interested in my conversations connected to NRF. And I've had now about 60 appointments connected to that show. But I've been excited about the number of companies that are in low and no code programming. Because I think it will free retailers to concentrate on what they do well, and best, and that generally speaking, is not development. You know, tech companies are usually the ones that are are offering the, the opportunities and, and the perks that attract it attract the best talent. Now, that's not universally true, but because there's lots of very talented people within, within retail, but, you know, by by and large, you know, that's, that's really not their strength, both in terms of numbers or, or overall talent. I think there's also an increased emphasis, we talked a little bit before about what I call transparency tech, which can include like blockchain, and that interests me because, you know, demand is greater than ever before for for retailers and their various stakeholders to know what products are available and where they are. And, and, you know,
Steve Statler 39:45
so you're thinking about that in terms of where did this product come from? Did this piece of jewelry come from some, you know, exploited slave labor, or what's the name of the chicken that
George Anderson 39:59
was saved? Some issues are increasingly important. But even even beyond that, if you're talking about non controversial products, you know, we've learned if we've learned nothing else from this COVID experience is that the supply chain starts at the manufacturing plant, which is often in China, it gets on a boat, and it comes across and it gets stuck in deported LA, you know, so. And the supply chain issue is of critical importance. You know, if, if there's one thing I guess that that retailers are really kind of focused on now, it's that its supply chain and, and I always have kind of like a Monty Python flashback when I'm, when I'm asked about the supply chain, because to me, I always, I always think back to no one expects the Spanish Inquisition sketch, you know, we're a modern day people relaxing in their homes or accosted by, you know, Spanish clergy from the 1400s, you know, so. So anyway, try to try to make my point a little bit clearer for those who, you know, are Python fans, you know, we've heard over and over again, since the outset of the pandemic, that no one saw it coming. Right. And I don't know if that's true, particularly of large retailers with operations in China, I would argue that, in fact, they did see it, it coming. You know, maybe they didn't see it with enough time. But, you know, it was it was coming. I mean, I, my work My wife works in, in public health, then. And she was going on about COVID-19, at least I think in December of 2019. So, so certainly, some people certainly knew about it. But I think, you know, one of the things that really pointed out is that, really, the limitations of just in time delivery methods, and they've been laid bare over the past two years. And you know, now retailers and suppliers are trying to wrap their heads around how much just in case inventory or capacity that they need to have access to if they want to deal with, you know, the future curveballs that are thrown in their direction,
Steve Statler 42:13
just in case of interest? Yeah.
George Anderson 42:16
We we ran a discussion on the site this week, and actually a headline, and as a piece I wrote, which was what isn't wrong with the supply chain? And because everywhere you look, there are challenges, factory production, interrupted port, congestion, shortages of containers, too few truck drivers and fleets that need updating, so large truckload companies are increasing capex, but whether the vehicles can be delivered on time and whether the parts are there. I mean, the microchip issue affects everything vehicular in the world. You know, truck driver shortage goes back way before the pandemic. I mean, American Trucking Association say that we're like 80,000 drivers short now. Well, I can tell you back in early, you know, 15 years ago, I was talking to execs from Costco at Safeway on the West Coast, were telling me they were having trouble then getting on time shipments from CPG companies, because truckers were headed to the Dakotas because we had a shale oil boom there, and they were getting paid more money to go run to run loads there. So, you know, pilot programs are being run now to maybe lower the age of drivers, you have to be 21 to be a long haul trucker. Automated trucking firms keep telling up test help is on the way. Frankly, I kind of think that fully automated transportation anyway. You know, being used for big rigs is a wild way for highways, Port congestion rains, remains an issue. I guess the good news on that front is that demand should be about what it was last year. So we won't see a huge spike from where we were last year. But you know, retailers and brands have had to adapt, there's clearly a need for improved forecasting AI power systems. I guess they're kind of like the blanket answer for that. And a lot of companies are making investments, you know, change like Canadian Tire and moved up their ordering earlier. And they're chartering cargo ships to make sure that they can get goods brought to market. There's been a lot of work around the limitations of the current system to keep, you know, goods flowing on a timely basis. And they're doing it to reduce certain, you know, charges for surges and shipping and to keeps shelves stocked in stores and warehouses because, you know, consumers when they go to a store and they're looking for a product and they can't find it don't tend to keep it Trying to store as if, you know, the experience stays the same?
Steve Statler 45:05
Yeah. Very good. So George, perhaps you can tell us a bit about your career, you have a really interesting job, you're in the catbird seat looking at the industry, you seem to have a lot of you control a lot of your own destiny. How did you get this job?
George Anderson 45:26
I knew the right people. And then had a long association with him. Prior to this job. I've been editor in chief of retail wire since I launched in February 2002. And the title of associate publisher was added added later, as I took on more responsibilities on on the business side of things. I've really been, I've been in retail all my life, my father started as a clerk at ANP grocery stores here and, and worked his way up. I you know, back in the early days, where they used to have blue laws, and they close even grocery stores on Sundays here in, in New Jersey, my father would have myself and my kids sister and brother in his stores on Sundays, helping to face off shelves and build displays, and, and that sort of thing. So he would be prepared for Monday when the when the store opened. So back, then I swore that I'd never have anything to do with retailing, because I couldn't understand why my Sundays were being spent that way, particularly since they didn't involve any compensation whatsoever, except maybe, you know, stop at the ice cream store on the way home. And, you know, when I was in high school and college, you know, I went, went to work at a grocery chain, became a manager of a drive thru convenience store of all things, which was very rare back then, for a number of years, and then went into advertising. And lo and behold, my clients were 75% etailers. So, you know, it just kind of progressed from there, I wound up working for a trade publishing company, really, in a marketing communications field, I was doing a lot of video stuff, basically producing content for consumer brand companies, to market to retailers as to why they were better partners for them, then then say other companies, they're basically category management reviews. And from there, they just kept promoting me to different places to the point where they recall, there was a meeting, there was a change taking place at the company, new ownership was coming in. And there was a meeting discussed where I was in it where the discussion was, well, where would George fit best? And it was interesting that
Steve Statler 48:13
you were present at the meeting, or? Yes, I
George Anderson 48:16
was. And it was one of the key the key points, I guess, you know, they wanted to let me have some input I want my fate would be and, and the editor in chief at the publication of one of the publications at the time, said, You know, he's he does is when he goes on sales calls, he helps the sales guy sell, he's, he does the job really well on the marketing side, but I really think building belongs in editorial. And, you know, to which the publisher responded, Well, you know, how are we going to make money if he does that. And so, so I didn't go into editorial, but they started giving me kind of said, side editorial projects, too, because I, you know, expressed an interest in it. And around 1997, I was still working for the same company. And they, you know, they threatened to make me the Vice President of Sales and Marketing, and I quit. And the reason I quit was, I said to the powers that be, there's this new thing called the internet. And if we don't get into it, you know, I think that we're going to be at a competitive disadvantage in a really short period of time. Which they laughed at me. Basically, they said, you know, what was I talking about, you know, it was the early days, you know, dial up and all and so, so yeah, I went out on my own and began working with internet counts, mostly consumer brand calm. attorneys who hired me to do the same types of things that I was doing in print and in video, but to do it on the web with, you know, all its, its limitations in particular back then with with bandwidth
Steve Statler 50:16
and all, what you would have been in,
George Anderson 50:19
that would be like 9098, between 1998 and 2000. And then in 2000, some people that I worked at with a company that I had left actually became a client of mine, they had started a new business. And, and asked me, you know, as a sideline, if I'd like to write some columns, and the columns were really well received, and one was called street beat, one was called Marketing beat. And, and, and I enjoyed it immensely, it was the best part of my, my job at the time. And, and unfortunately, September 11 happened, and, you know, the, the angel investor, we had turned into a devil, and, you know, we, we didn't have funds anymore. And we, we found ourselves, you know, trying to figure out what, what came next. And the, you know, the people that I worked with there came up with the idea to found retail wire. And, you know, we've been stuck at the hip ever since.
Steve Statler 51:26
So what, what makes a good story, what, when you were writing, I guess, you see it as a writer and as an editor. But what gave you the most satisfaction in terms of writing, because you really felt you've produced something good.
George Anderson 51:46
I'm all number one, it was I was pretty sure after having written it, that it was useful. And not not useful in terms of do A, B, C, and D, it was useful in terms of maybe having the reader addressed their own thinking or their own thought processes on on a given subject and maybe look at it in a different light. A lot of a lot of what what I do, is focused on getting retailers to, to remember, you know, everybody, you know, it kills me when, you know, invest. Investors are talking about shareholder value. That just drives me insane. Because that's, that's shorthand for, you know, put more money in their pockets. And, you know, somebody else gets screwed along the way, right? So, so I'm a big believer in stakeholders, and I think that everybody has to win. At every step of the way. I've been a big fan of Costco for many years. You know, I think that from for many years, retailer, CEOs would get up at trade conferences and talk about their most important assets being the frontline workers. I don't think most of them really believe that in their, their heart, because the frontline workers were always the most disposable. Right? Yeah. But I think in the past couple of years, some of that has, has really changed because, frankly, those people save their bacon. Yeah. And, and, you know, I just, I really, the human element, and, and even when it comes to technology, you know, technology, to me, is a tool. It's, it's it's not, it's not the end, right. So, and in fact, the applications of technology today are almost exclusively dealing with problems that retailers have been addressing since day one, right? They're just, they're just addressing them, you know, with a, with a different tool to, to reach, you know, in optimum, optimum results. So, so, you know, you know, self checkouts when they came out, again, that was, you know, that was really shorthand for put some people out of work. But now, I think when when retailers talk about automation, they're talking about redeployment of their human assets, to better serve customers. And, you know, I think, I think that's, that's, you know, ultimately every business is built on the humans within that business and, and the relationships that they develop with their partners. You know, whether that's a customer or a vendor, and, and I don't, I don't think that any of those elements are, are should be easily dismissed.
Steve Statler 55:00
Very good, very good. Well, I have to. And I want to ask you our traditional questions about music. So do you have three songs in mind that have some meaning to you personally?
George Anderson 55:14
Well, I'm a music freak. So that when I was told that this was the question I was going to be asked. Really difficult because the three questions could change. So, so I thought about this question. In terms of my life and moments in my life,
Steve Statler 55:35
I'm so good. That is exactly how it's intended.
George Anderson 55:39
So so my three songs my first song is All My Loving by the Beatles. It was the first song played by the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. I should tell you, I was five years old at the time. I lived in a two family home in Jersey City, New Jersey, which is you know, an urban, urban area to family home. My cousins lived upstairs and we live downstairs, like brownstone kind of building. Night of the show. All the kids went upstairs and all the adults went downstairs. And the show came on. And my life changed. I mean, literally changed. You know, I went from chubby checkers on the twist to the Beatles. I mean, it was, it was adopted, like in every cell of my body. It was just transformative. And so after the show was over, well, a couple things. That night, my my cousins who were a bit older than me, one of them had a crush on George, another had a crush on Paul. Now, I told my cousin my cousin's said to me, Well, you know, who do I Who did I think was the cutest now My name is George. So I think George not really having any real opinion on it. And, and my cousin who was I think she was 13 at the time, picked me up and carried me into their bathroom threatening to flush me down the the toilet or Louis. So yeah, very engrained in my in my brain. Oh, and
Steve Statler 57:21
I have to give a plug. I was just listening Rolling Stone have the the 500 best albums ever. Lists, which they curate. And they've just started a podcast, only on Amazon music. It's a nightmare to find. But when you find it, there's gold there. And one of the episodes is about the making of let it be. And they have Ringo and Paul McCartney and George Martin's son Giles on it. And it is just absolutely fascinating. So I watched
George Anderson 57:53
I watched every second of the documentary, that was so good. It was magic. And also, I mean, I could have easily included any element of that in my list as well, because like many people I, you know, lived with this, you know, the Beatles breaking up was was decimating to me. You know, I mean, you know, I can tell you that I cried more tears, you know, when when John Lennon died. And when George Harrison died, then, you know, people I've actually know. So
Steve Statler 58:30
well, you didn't know them. They were part of your life on a regular basis.
George Anderson 58:35
And it's so yeah, I mean that in that first show, like I said, just change everything. I mean, the next day, my mother, who loved music and loved dancing, we always had music on in our home. grabbed myself, my sister who was for my brother, who was two we got on a bus in Jersey City, and we went to Journal Square, which is, you know, like the high street there to a record shop, the biggest record shop in the city. And we bought every Beatle record 40 fives in the, in the LP, we got all kinds of memorabilia, we brought it home, and I remember we came home and we were dancing, and we were singing, and we were doing that, you know, the Beatles shake with our heads and and just just, you know, a great memory that just, you know, makes me emotional even even Yeah,
Steve Statler 59:26
so it's like, I wish I could have been there to see see that. So okay, that's a great
George Anderson 59:35
number one this may get into this song, this may be the length of the entire interview. So so number two is Abraham Martin and John by Dion DiMucci. And my mother was a big, big admirer of Abraham Lincoln, the Kennedy brothers and Reverend King, and I think I just turned 10 when Reverend King was murdered. And I remember walking into a room and my mom was watching television, probably Walter Cronkite, because everybody in the America in America watch Walter Cronkite. And, and she was crying. And I asked her why. And she told me about this great man who was trying to, you know, just bring some fairness and justice to the world and, and help his people who hadn't been treated very well in our country, and that he was, he was worthy of, of admiration. And that and I should remember, even though I didn't really know who he was, at that point in time in my life, that his life had had meaning and that that it was it was important. And so when so when Dionne you know, run around Sue fame released this record, which was distinctly different than his, his 50 stuff. It really made an impression on me. So, and then the third song is happy together, which was a hit by the turret, the turtles back in the 60s. Oh, yeah. And I wasn't, I wasn't like a super big fan of the record at the time. But when our first child that we, my wife, and I have four children, when our first child came along, I found myself singing it to him when I walked around the room with him in my arms, and there's a line that says, I can't I'm not going to sing at all, I'll save you that I can't see see me loving Nobody but You for all my life. When you're with me, baby, the skies will be blue for all my life. And, and I did that with all four children. So, so good reason that that song has, you know, a lot of meaning for me. And so
Steve Statler 1:02:00
that was awesome. Thank you, George. That Oh, fab, I should say that was fab. Thanks. Thanks a lot, George. I hope you'll come on again in the future. And we'll get to touch base on the latest trends in retail because I think, you know, as technologists, we really need to put ourselves in the in the shoes of the customer. And obviously the retailer is one of the biggest customers. And that's the end of our episode for this week. I hope you enjoy listening to that conversation with George Anderson. Just love his story. That was really cool. If you have been thanks for listening, please do. do us the favor of rating us reviewing us sharing what we do with your friends and until next time, please