Ugly Babies, Perfect Grandbabies

Mike Lawshe, President and CEO, Paragon Solutions

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News flash: I recently joined the ranks of grandfathers. My life was forever changed when I saw that perfect little bundle—my grandson—for the first time. Of course, he is perfect in every way. What else would you expect a gloating grandfather to say?

Has anyone ever told you that your baby is ugly? Of course not. Aside from the fact that your baby is beautiful, it would be rude to point out how much more beautiful my grandson, Elijah (pictured), is. It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? As I travel around the country evaluating stores and helping people strategize for future locations, I often find myself in the position of telling people that their “baby” is ugly.

Of course, I’m referring to their store as their baby. Retailers often have an emotional attachment to their store and operations similar to that of a child. They built/birthed the store, decorated/clothed the store, merchandised/fed the store, changed/nurtured the store and now are faced with a worn-out, tired space that needs help (i.e., an ugly baby). It’s often this emotional tie that keeps them from seeing the ugly baby right in front of them and makes them resistant to change.

Recently, I was visiting a store with a customer and had my own ugly-baby reac­tion. As I rounded a corner where a deli counter used to be, I saw a mattress on the dirty floor where the operator had recently slept. It was in full view of customers as they walked to the cooler or bathrooms. This operator was living, breathing, eating and sleeping in this store. It was some ugly baby. The ironic thing is that when talking to the operator, he did not see it as any­thing negative. He was a hard worker and this was his baby/store. The owner and I, on the other hand, did not share this view.

Admitting the Problem

In any industry, it is critical to remove emotions from our decision-making and self-evaluation processes. When we turn a blind eye, ugly babies start turning up all around us: A food program developed by the foodservice manager stays out too long even though sales are low. A merchandise manager has free vendor racks everywhere as he chases placement money rather than implementing a customer-driven, more profitable merchandising plan. An opera­tions manager cuts labor and training to the point that the customer experience begins to suffer.

Whatever the particular ugly-baby syn­drome your store suffers from, there is a way to tackle the problem. We go through a dispassionate process when designing and branding stores that we call the Para­gon Process. (It doesn’t matter what you call it; it can be Joe’s Process.) The point is, it guides you to the right decisions without emotional handcuffs, egos or rose-colored glasses. It involves key suppliers, contrac­tors and industry professionals.

Start with analysis. Take the guesswork and emotion out of it and go straight to the raw data. What do the numbers say? Perform a site analysis to determine the potential your baby/store has.

Once the potential is clearly under­stood, the creative process begins. This is where creative, wacky people like us jump in and push the limits. First, we have to deliver the bad news—that your baby is really, really ugly. But then we brainstorm and collaborate on your future and improvement. Trends such as energy efficiency, drive-thrus and social media should be integrated into the design and operational strategy. Once the pre­liminary design is complete, use a value engineering process to lower costs and increase return on invest­ment. This is a concerted effort by all contractors and professionals to reduce costs where appropriate.

Finally, coordination and accountabil­ity among professionals and stakeholders is paramount. Everyone on the team must follow through, down to the person stock­ing shelves and cleaning the floor. It’s not an easy process, nor is it a quick process. The first step is admitting you have a prob­lem (or us telling you have an ugly baby). Don’t take it personally. Look at the data, get creative and follow through; there is hope for ugly babies everywhere. Thank goodness my grandson won’t ever have to worry about any of this.

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