Americans can be competitive about anything, from one-upmanship in car size (producing SUVs on steroids) to house size (McMansions). However, I see the beginnings of a new competitive streak; what I call “competitive greening”. I first saw evidence of this in a class at Chicago Center for Green Technology where LEED points were discussed like baseball stats. And while I thought the race for LEED points was a little flaky, I am all for “competitive greening”.
For instance, I found out that we had a smart meter attached to our house and that I could compare our electricity consumption to our neighbors. Aaahhh. I found that we were lower than most neighbors, but that one house was even more energy efficient than ours (you can’t see exactly who). Aarrgghh. To really compete, we would have to be better. Yes, sadly, this meant running around after everyone and turning off the lights, unplugging as much as possible, and running the dishwasher and dryer at 11:30 at night. (The most efficient time to run your appliances is about 3:00 a.m, but I’m competitive, not crazy! Seriously. I’m not.)
I’d like to be the ambassador with this competitive greening idea too. A recent article in the Toledo Blade detailing how our electricity usage has declined is encouraging. Overall demand is predicted to grow at a slower rate than the last forty years. Where demand grew at 2.5 percent rate, it looks like it will only grow at an annual rate of 0.7 percent. So if we don’t have data to compare our usage to the Joneses, let’s try to beat our own stats.
This week I have to face the death of a friend. Mary and her husband actually started out as clients of our store. But as commonly happens in the community of an independent business, the professional relationship morphed and deepened into a treasured friendship. That is truly one of the benefits of independent retail–it can become its own neighborhood.
But independent retail has been and continues to be threatened by what the British call “clone town”. Yes, these areas are exactly what you expect from the term: where every chain store, grocery store and Starbucks are present and accounted for. These towns all look the same, present all the same stores, the stores present all the same merchandise, the merchandise is displayed in all the same way. So Peoria looks the same as Portland and even Soho in NY looks eerily similar to the Mag Mile in Chicago: the homogenization of towns.
The independent retailer is the antidote. We are more connected to one another by being linked through smaller, local grocers, farmers markets, coffee shops, clothing stores. The community feel encourages the “pop-in”, the celebration of birthdays, anniversaries and solace against disappointments. As the anniversary of 9/11 approaches, I remember how the community of the store gathered quickly to support and comfort clients directly affected by that day.
A recent article in “The Ecologist” describes the efforts of the British government to protect the identity of towns and cities by fighting the increasing homogenization. Here’s hoping that similar efforts are launched in the U.S. In the meantime, as an independent retailer keep doing what you do best: building a connectedness that is becoming endangered.
What the Australian assistant treasurer is missing here is that a traditional bricks and mortar retailer cannot survive as a museum. There is no way to currently capture revenue by someone coming in to try on and then leave to buy that item, size, color on-line. So these ski shops coming up with a new way to offset the costs incurred by that consumer pattern is just, I am betting, a precursor of what is to come.
When Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten says that “traditional retailers..have the advantage of customer service” he is missing the reality that the consumer takes advantage of the customer service in that store, but then spends their dollars on line. The parties benefitting here are the consumer first, the on-line retailer second. It takes a real investment in high-rent leases, salespeople, merchandising and inventory to gain this “advantage”. Unfortunately, this problem is not just in the ski industry. It has been eroding bricks and mortar retail in the states for more than five years and I don’t think we’ve seen the final iteration of this yet.
The EPA’s regulation could very well produce the positive change needed to further reduce the use of pesticides, herbicides and insecticides. Change can be scary and anxiety-provoking, but it also can produce hugely beneficial innovations. This farm group needs to take all that money, talent, time and energy they are using to fight these new regulations and instead funnel those resources into working with it. In my business experience, I have seen embracing that kind of change produce bigger sales, greater cost efficiencies, a happier work force and more customers. And the icing on the cake would be the benefit to the environment. Who knows–they could come out looking like heroes where right now they look like the villain in the story.
Met the Benjamin Moore people at the Greenbuild show and learned more about why I really like the Natura paint. One of the reasons why it works so well is that even post-tint, the paint maintains its VOC rating. Meaning that they have worked really hard to keep the low VOC rating even after color has been added. They wanted to develop a product that doesn’t compromise on performance or color while being better for our personal environment and the environment at large.
After completing our living room in the Natura formula, Shaker Beige color, I have a few conclusions. The consistency is more watery than the Regal Select that we normally use, but as people who sometimes have problems with off-gassing; we can easily work with it. We have noticed that we need to go back and do a little touch up, but for the most part one coat has done the job nicely.
Green building needs to be simplified and at the same time more of a standard bearer. At this point, LEED is too expensive, confusing and cumbersome to be adopted by much of the general public. It is also providing the perfect “cop-out” for people to avoid building and renovating in any real sustainable way. The go-to phrase for architects, contractors, and consumers is that it is too expensive to build or renovate sustainably.
On the other hand, as Chris and this article point out, LEED is moving the conversation forward. It is just frustratingly slow movement. Consider that 500,000 buildings in Europe have gone through BREEAM (Europe’s forerunner to LEED) and only approximately 20,000 buildings have gone through LEED in the US.
Bottom line: LEED does not serve the complete marketplace. Is there a “grey-green” zone? For instance, if I buy a cabinet at a resale place, is that a “grey-green” product? I’m not consuming something new, but it does not address the original owner’s purchase.
Two important points deserve highlighting in this article and as a retail veteran and founder of a successful fashion boutique I know what it’s like to face these challenges.
Retail sales jobs have traditionally been lower paying positions, and with the internet eating into the profit margin of brick and mortar stores, that is not likely to change. Too many consumers now walk into a store ready to battle over price. They have done their online research and know exactly what they are willing to pay for that item.
While companies need to make sure they are grooming all talent at all levels (it is too expensive to reinvent the wheel–i.e. recruit, train, orient new employees), sales people have to remember that “sales” is still in their job title. If they don’t want to perform that primary portion of their job, advancement is not imminent. An attitude of “I..(knew) the minute I unpacked a box whether (it) was going to sell” is NOT a sales person. Clothing, electronics, housewares, etc. do not sell themselves. We still need employees to understand a product’s features and benefits; coupled with a willingness to find the customer who wants and needs that product. The attitude that will have every retail employee hitting their sales goals is: ”I may not want that footstool, but I know I can find someone who does”.