Extra Points: Want to Avoid the Fate of Struggling Barnes & Noble? Be a Business Innovator, Not a Follower


Christopher Schobert
Director of Communications
June 21, 2019
minutes to read

Pointman’s Extra Points series highlights lessons in leadership inspired by today’s headlines.

TAKEAWAY: The struggles of Barnes & Noble show that business owners need to always be proactive, not reactive, in order to successfully grow and prosper.

Barnes & Noble is struggling, and that’s not breaking news. The announcement that the bookstore chain’s days as a privately owned company are coming to close — following its purchase by investment firm Elliott Management Corp. — has been a long time coming.

Going private could turn out to be exactly what the retailer needs. As CNN reported, “now that Barnes & Noble will be a private company, it no longer has to worry about quarterly sales reports and continued unfavorable comparisons to Amazon from Wall Street.”

Still, this is another sad development for B&N, a store that, as the AP put it, spent the 1980s and 1990s on a quest to “gobble up other larger booksellers.” Yet as time passed, Barnes & Noble found itself in a losing battle with the mighty Amazon.

The retailer’s fate offers some powerful lessons for business owners.

Photographer: Eric Thayer/Bloomberg

Innovate, don’t follow.

As the Bloomberg story explains, “Barnes & Noble tried (but mostly failed) to keep pace with Amazon. Pressure only intensified after Amazon started to open physical book stores of its own. The company's Nook e-reader device was also a flop, never catching on in the way that Amazon's Kindle did.”

It’s always vital to watch what your competitors are doing. (We discussed this topic in a recent “Extra Points” post.) But their moves do not have to dictate yours. Don’t get stuck following the competition. Instead, seek ways to innovate on your own.

Easier said than done, right? Maybe. But it all comes down to vision and planning. Focus on long-term goals, not short-term bumps.

Be quick to adapt. But adapt in the right ways.

In 2017, it was already clear that B&N was way behind Amazon: “Fundamentally, there is a mismatch in digital between consumer expectations, current technological offerings, and what a given company like B&N delivers. ... Failure to adapt to customer expectations results in a decrease in brand loyalty and diminishing sales.”

This is not unique to Barnes & Noble — think Blockbuster’s failure as Netflix brutally Thanos’d video stores across the country. But the bookseller was especially slow to react to Amazon’s increasing dominance. And when B&N did react, it felt like imitation.

See below for a key reason why …

Remember what you do best.

Every few weeks or so, I end up at Barnes & Noble with my kids. Most of their time is spent looking at Legos and American Girl dolls, while mine is spent trying to talk my way out of dropping significant cash. Do you know what we don’t spend too much time looking for? Books. We get those from school book orders, from local booksellers and, of course, from the mighty Amazon.

At some point, Barnes and Noble moved away from being known simply as a bookseller. And there were legitimate reasons for that. However, becoming known more for Funko Pops and muffins than books meant the store’s identity was blurred beyond recognition.

When you started your business, you had a specific skill in mind. Whether you run a plumbing, HVAC, electrical company or something else, you knew homeowners could rely on your expertise and skill set. Don’t forget what got you into business in the first place. And never run from what you do best.

Perhaps the greatest lesson here is to always be proactive, not reactive. It’s a trait we see in our Pointman members — recognizing that it’s time for a change, determining what will help, and choosing a growth solution that offers software and also coaching. Remember, you don’t need to take this journey alone.

4. Add-On or Upsell Count and Amount

Here, we’re looking at repairs sold beyond the original reason for the call. Every time you enter a customer’s home your techs have the chance to sell value added work, beyond the repair itself. If you’re training your techs to sell add-on products, don’t you want to know who's doing it well, and who may need a training refresher?

5. Agreement Opportunities/Sales

Maintenance agreements are the key to a consistent client base and essential for keeping your team busy during the shoulder seasons. Every time your technician is in the home of a non-member there is an opportunity to sell. Are they delivering? You need to know.

6. Future Opportunities

Are your technicians talking to customers with forced air heat about the improved comfort that comes with a humidifier? How about the benefits of water softeners or whole-house surge protection? If the customer is interested, but not now, you need to be able to follow up on those opportunities.

How much money do you think gets left on the table just by failing to make a follow-up call to reintroduce an offered product or service? Tracking these opportunities can be the secret to putting more of that money in your pocket. These opportunities are the gold dust that’s hiding in your business. With a little work, there’s a lot of money just waiting to be panned for and earned.

7. Replacement Opportunities/Sales

Repairing a capacitor on a 17-year-old condenser, or the pilot on a 12-year old hot water tank? These are opportunities for replacement, and your techs should be offering that as an option along with the repair itself. You can determine what you consider a replacement opportunity in your business. But regardless of the conditions you establish, you want to know which of your techs is making the most of them. 

And if they didn’t sell? See the previous item. You should be setting this as an opportunity for a follow up.

Have any recommendations for additional information you’ve found to be essential? How do you make sure your team shares these details after each visit? We’d love to know — drop us a line here.

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