business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

One of the more enjoyable parts of the work Kevin and I do is getting the opportunity to speak at and attend meetings for companies and associations in many different businesses. We usually come back with perspectives and insights far afield from what we might encounter if we only stayed in one industry.

In many respects, it allows us to do the opposite of one bit of advice that is currently popular: that is, we get out of our lane. It’s invariably eye opening as you can hopefully tell in stories here on MNB about hotels, sports, movies, etc… Lane changing, I think, can be game changing.

The furthest Kevin may ever have gotten out of his lane is when he gave a talk to the National Court Reporters Association. And last week, I had a similar, lane-changing opportunity when I was asked to speak at a company meeting for a large publisher of children’s books. I wasn’t really sure whey they wanted me until I got there and now I only wish I had more time to spend with them.

The simple reality is that the consumer - while they behave in many confounding and complicated ways - is just one person. The same young parents who go shopping for books to read their toddlers at bedtime also visit supermarkets, buy cars and homes and engage with businesses everywhere. So the problems publishers are facing are, in so many ways, the same that every other business has.

Mainly, understanding how to serve, delight and gain the loyalty of today’s young adults.

A few things stood out to me from this short trip into the world of Dr. Seuss and Pete the Cat.

First, reading is best established at a young age, so book publishers need to connect with young parents. If they read to their kids, the kids will move on to reading themselves. But demographics are causing some problems in this sensible circle. First, young parents are financially strapped and most are balancing work and family, which puts a crimp on reading time. Also, millennials are having children later than previous generations.

The one ethnic group having children at a fairly traditional rate are Hispanics, yet as a group they tend to read less so the publishing world is struggling with how to connect with the parents and determining if they want books that reinforce their heritage or enable assimilation. Sounds like a debate being held in many supermarket companies, doesn’t it?

We also heard from an interesting research group called the Family Room, which tracks the issues that keep parents up at night. Their recent findings are chilling. Thanks to numerous societal changes - from the political scene to the frequency of school shootings - parents’ worries have shifted dramatically from educating and preparing their children to focus on safety. That, in turn, is leading to more cocooning at home.

The good side of that shift is it can strengthen the family and put more emphasis on family mealtime, which is always a goal of supermarkets. The down side is those same fears might convince them to rely more heavily on electronic commerce so they can avoid shopping trips.

Possibly the single comment I heard that most connected the publishing world to everyone else was a simple message from one executive, who reminded the group “what got us here, won’t get us there (the future).” That line wasn’t meant to launch a new Seuss book, but to remind everyone in this successful company that yesterday’s results are no indicator of what tomorrow will demand.

As I said, it’s good to get out of our lane, to hear perspectives from an industry foreign to our everyday experiences, and to recognize how relevant business challenges are across channels of trade and even more. I know that isn’t how we’ve traditionally done things, but remember, what got us here won’t get us there.

Of course, you don’t need to go to a meeting. Change lanes by simply talking to people inside your company who are different than you, and by going to stores that are in a different commerce segment, and yet can often relevant lessons.

Remember. Lane changing can be game changing.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@mnb.grocerywebsite.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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