The wheel turns and the times change

Column by Jim Rohrer
Posted 5/5/21

The big wheel keeps on turning. As the big wheel of John Fogerty’s riverboat continues to turn, not much stays the same. As we roll down the river of our lives, change occurs each day. The changes …

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The wheel turns and the times change

Posted

The big wheel keeps on turning.

As the big wheel of John Fogerty’s riverboat continues to turn, not much stays the same. As we roll down the river of our lives, change occurs each day. The changes in America since this song was written in 1969 are mind boggling. Then there was no internet, no computers, no social media, and politicians didn’t hate each other. We got our news from three trusted sources and they would never have brought us fake news.

I started to think about change the other day when I was on my favorite Facebook location. It is a Facebook group which deals with the history of my hometown. I love the site as I can reconnect with friends from our growing up years. Members often bring up people and places that represent sweet memories. The post that caught my attention was a picture of the recently closed mall. The post accused the mall of causing the death of the downtown. I thought about how retail has changed, and I believe it is not that simple. The poster was in a blaming mode, but my thoughts are that changing customer shopping patterns are what have driven the changes.

Prior to 1925 retailing was primarily done by mom-and-pop stores often called general stores. These stores tried to carry everything and often extended credit to help their customers and to increase customer loyalty. Sears catalog could supply those items the local stores didn’t carry. In 1925 Richard Sears saw that the widening ownership of cars supported stores to which customers could drive. He opened 7 stores in Chicago that year bringing the idea of a large store near you to reality.

Sears continued to build stores. In 1959 it founded Homart Development Company whose mission was to develop America’s malls. The formula was simple. Sears anchored one corner, J.C. Penny anchored another, and the third anchor was the most successful department store of that town. In between the anchors were smaller merchants who specialized in all sorts of merchandise. They could be jeans stores, woman’s fashions stores, or sellers of specialty merchandise, toys, or sporting goods. Whatever you wanted would be at America’s malls. The business model worked for all the merchants and the customers flocked to the malls. Later theaters and food choices were added which made the mall “the” place where young people hung out. Malls had a 25 year run from the late 60’s until the early 90’s.

But change came again. Walmart and Target saw the opportunity to introduce lower prices. They put their stores in locations away from the malls and generally more convenient to their target customers. Home Depot also developed stores specializing in homes and home improvement projects. These new competitors pulled volume from mall stores and gave customers new shopping patterns. Now female shoppers were in the work force more often, meaning that they had less time to shop the mall. Malls began to see foot traffic decline and the three anchors were hit hard with sales difficulty. As the traffic deteriorated, the smaller stores begin to struggle as well.

In 1994 enter Amazon. This new company did a wonderful job making on-line shopping fast, efficient, and highly appealing. The pandemic made on-line shopping and grab and go shopping for food the only way to go. As the pandemic ends, the degree to which we will continue the on-line experience is unknown. What is clear is that as the big wheel keeps on turning, change will come again. Maybe you hate change or maybe you think it makes life more interesting ... it doesn’t matter ... it’s coming.

Jim Rohrer of Evergreen is a business consultant and author of the books “Improve Your Bottom Line … Develop MVPs Today” and “Never Lose Your Job … Become a More Valuable Player.” Jim’s belief is that common sense is becoming less common. More about Jim at www.theloyaltypartners.com.

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