Companies in the retail industry often face significant challenges to achieving consistent growth in revenue and profits. Large companies with very recognizable brands like Dell, Wal Mart, Home Depot and Microsoft as examples have all recently reported issues that have affected profit trends.
No company had ever succeeded long term with a low price strategy. Go to Wal Mart’s web site a look right below their logo. It reads “Always Low Prices…Always!” Now they are modifying their product offer in many stores in an attempt to become appealing to shoppers with more money to spend. Will it work? I wouldn’t do it. However, I am not their CEO and they didn’t ask me. Why are they doing it? They see the results being reported by Target, Kohls and others who appeal to a customer base more affluent than the typical Wal Mart shopper. Is Wal Mart a leader or a laggard on the spending trends? Laggard.
What about some of these other companies? Microsoft was to big and clumsy to recognize how fast and furious Google’s model took hold. They also ignored Apple and the iPod until the results kept hitting them in the face. Firefox has 12% market share and open office is growing at a rapid pace. The information on these trends and others are public information and largely ignored by Microsoft. Now it is an underperforming company.
Not that long ago McDonalds was in the news as being one of the companies that was experiencing difficulties with profit performance. Now that has changed and McDonalds has been reporting very good sales and profit growth in recent quarters while some of the leaders in recent past like Cheesecake Factory, Outback Steakhouse and a number of others have been reporting softening sales and profit.
What’s changed and what has McDonalds done different to capitalize on the changes? The Federal Reserve has just announced the continuance of their “let’s kill the economy program” with the 10th or 14th or whatever in a row increase in interest rates. Then there is the ongoing international issues which continue to keep the price of oil at record highs. So while unemployment remains relatively low, the costs associated with credit card debt and gasoline prices affect a lot of things including where people eat, how much they will pay for a meal and how far they will drive when it is optional. McDonalds is lower priced than many of the sit down restaurants and offers an increasing number of food items that are not as high in calories and cholesterol causing ingredients which leads to another shift in demand patterns. With the increased awareness on price due to the pressures of higher fuel costs and interest expense, this is a perfect opportunity for restaurants to implement loyalty programs with meaningful incentives. It is also a great time to be spending more on the customer service experience in the restaurant. Of course just the opposite is occurring with increasing regularity.
There is frequent publicity on the obesity issue in the US. This new story for the media seems to have had an impact on what foods people order to eat. McDonalds recognized this trend and started adding appealing salads to its menu about three years ago. The salad category is accounting for a significant portion of their increased sales and profits. At the gym I visit there is a big poster ad for McDonalds grilled chicken salad. Not only is it big, it is appealing. Applebees is devoting more of its menu to health conscious customers but I have not seen much change in the Outback chain or others. I have noticed more convenient stores offering a wider selection of higher quality foods including soups and salads. Many convenient stores seem to notice what people want faster than other companies and adjust.
Many of the examples used in this and other articles are taken from information published about public companies. This information is readily available as public companies are required to report on their business to their shareholders. This information often offers tremendous insight as to strategies that work and ones that don’t. Today’s Success Tip: pay close attention to the trends for your niche markets and adjust your offer accordingly.