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This is How You Change Your Business

This is another article by our good friend Bill Lapierre that we think you will enjoy… While this is directed primarily at catalogers, the same principles apply to virtually and B2C business.


This is How You Change Your Business

I know it gets annoying to hear consultants like me tell you to change your company to grow, without any specific advice on how to do it. I wish it was as simple as in the movie Young Frankenstein, where Gene Wilder picks up his grandfather’s book on how he created Frankstein labeled HOW I DID IT. It’s just not that simple, and can’t be done overnight.

Three things happened this past week that combined to form an odd coincidence related to how the catalog industry needs to change, and I’ll tie them all together – be patient.
First, one of my clients told me that they do a great job of getting sales from their 60 year old customer. But now they were trying to get that customer’s 35 year old daughter to buy from them and they haven’t found the right combination of social media to do it.
Second, I saw that one of my former associates in a past life had changed his LinkedIn profile to say he was now an expert in Social Media and Big Data. (Oh God!)
Finally, I got an email from Old Sturbridge Village about Christmas – which I’m going to discuss in a minute because it represents how we can change.
Let’s go back to points one and two. If your target customer is a 60 year woman, who is buying apparel, gifts or home furnishings from your catalog or store, they are buying from you because of your product. They are comfortable with you. They like the experience. Your business evolved to take advantage of them, and take advantage of their love for you. But getting their daughters to purchase from you probably isn’t going to happen.
I call this desire to get that younger generation to buy from catalogs aimed at an older audience the Lawrence Welk Syndrome. For those of you that don’t remember or know, the Lawrence Welk Show was a musical variety program on ABC TV from 1955 to 1971, which went into syndication until 1982. My grandmother watched the show every Saturday night for almost 30 years. Oklahoma Public TV (OPTV) bought the rights to the old shows in 1986, and began rebroadcasting them. OPTV even found old cast members from the show, and has created new “editions” of the show, with interviews from old cast members on their current lives and doings. (The Lennon sisters still look pretty good!)
Soon, other PBS stations carried the show – but only in certain markets. The show is carried on the local PBS station here in rural New Hampshire where I live, but the Boston PBS station wouldn’t be caught dead showing it. Accordion music may be popular in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, but not Cambridge or Martha’s Vineyard. My point is, a show that used to mesmerize my grandmother, and nearly every woman of her generation nationwide, just doesn’t resonate today in most of the country. You can’t get a younger generation to fall in love with a product that is fundamentally something their parents (or worse, their grandparents) loved.
Unless you fundamentally change it.
This brings me to the guy touting himself as the Social Media / Big Data expert. There are thousands of companies out there that are willing to take your marketing and advertising dollars, and plow those dollars into Social Media and/or Big Data, with the promise that these omnichannel adventures will result in new customers and new riches. But it’s not happening, and it certainly won’t happen for the client who owns the 60 year old market and thinks they simply need to find the right formula of Facebook likes and Instagram fans. It’s not going to work until you change your company.
So, since there is no book on changing your catalog or retail company called HOW I DID IT, how do you change a catalog or ecommerce business to appeal to a different generation? Let me give you an easy to understand example from outside the industry.
Old Sturbridge Village (OSV) is a living history museum in central Massachusetts, and is one of the largest tourist attractions in New England outside of Boston. It is a re-created New England village of 1830, with over 50 original buildings from the 1830s that were moved to the site from around New England. The museum tries to be as authentic as it can – but that has changed over time to match the realities of the world.
My MBA has nothing to do with catalogs – it is in museum administration. When I was in college in the mid-1970s, I did an internship at OSV. To give you an idea of how much the museum and the audience to which it is appealing has changed in 40 years, let me present the two big “content/merchandise” controversies the museum faced in the 1970s.
First, like most small New England towns, the museum’s town center was built around a “town common”, an oval parcel of land which all the buildings faced, that was owned in common by the town’s people. OSV’s common in the 1970s was surrounded by large maple trees, which provided shade to the tourists in the summer and beautiful autumn foliage in the fall. But the “purists” at OSV insisted that a real village common of the 1830s would not have mature trees of this size, and they ought to be cut down, regardless of how pretty they made the museum appear, which was one important reason why visitors came to the museum, especially in the autumn.
The second big controversy was that in Massachusetts, all buildings open to the public must be heated in the winter. As a result, each of these 1830 buildings had an oil-fired furnace in the basement, out of view of the museum visitors. One day, one of the houses ran out of oil, which required an oil truck to drive through the village to make a delivery. You would have thought the world was going to stop – the “historians” that ran the museum considered this a crime.
These two instances show the level of intensity that the operators of OSV took back then in presenting their “content/merchandise” to the public. For them, the museum was not just a question of authenticity, the museum was never meant to change or evolve – it was supposed to be static not only with regards to showing life in the 1830s, but it should be static with regards to the museum’s mission, which was laid out in the 1940s. As a result, although the museum was an awesome place to visit, few visitors went back on a regular basis, because nothing ever changed. Even with my love of history, I would only visit once every 10 years or so.
Then the museum asked itself if it wanted to be pure, or wanted to survive. They opted for survival. This brings me to the email I received this week promoting Christmas in the village.

This never would have happened 40 years ago – mainly because Christmas was not observed in New England in the 1830s (a hold-over from our Puritan origins). When I was an interpreter in the village, we could talk about Thanksgiving to visitors, but not Christmas.
OSV now hosts a number of special events throughout the year which have a historical theme, but are not necessarily related to the 1830s. One of the biggest is an antique car show, held on the town common, right under those same trees that caused so much concern 40 years ago. My wife, son and I went to a Revolutionary War re-enactment at the village this summer, and the place was packed – over 3,000 people watching about 500 re-enactors kick the cookies out of the Redcoats.

The museum changed. Now they have special events occurring every weekend. They recognized that they had the framework and structure to sell and promote HISTORY in general, and that it did not have to be just 1830s history. As a result, they are appealing to thousands of new visitors each year.
So why do most of you find it so difficult to “change” and evolve to attract new customers? In my opinion, even though it has been going on for at least 10 years, the decline of catalogs – and now retail – is something which most of you have only recently acknowledged. You thought your sales were flat because of the recession. But now you realize the decline is deeper than that. You realize it was camouflaged for a long time by our efforts to adopt new websites, ecommerce and all things omnichannel. Yet even though we did all that, our companies are still facing decline – especially those of you who are single title companies.
This has all happened too suddenly for most of you. People – and companies – need time to acknowledge that the world has changed, and embrace the need to change, and then finally make those changes. In the case of OSV, they may not have had Amazon breathing down their necks, but they were being forced to compete with other attractions for the consumer’s time and money. Fortunately, OSV had the resources to allow them to make the change over time. Most of you don’t have that luxury.
You need to recognize that you have the framework and structure to find and sell product – it just may not be the product that you are selling now, or selling it in the way you sell it now. Take off the blinders, and decide whether you too want to be pure and stagnate, or be rich and survive.

by Bill LaPierre
VP – Business Intelligence and Analytics
Datamann – 800-451-4263 x235

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