“Beware the Black Hole! The Black Hole is the place where retail companies that are no longer relevant to customers go to die. As you may recall from high school physics, a black hole is a region in space where the gravitational pull is so strong that not even light can escape.”
Willard N. Ander (1965 BSIE) and Neil Z. Stern begin their retail-consulting book with a light and amusing metaphor, but the techniques that lie in Winning at Retail can be the difference between success and failure for retailers in a market where more companies are competing for less consumer dollars. Ander, a former UH assistant professor, is an expert consultant on strategy, new store development, and retail best practices, which is the focus of Winning at Retail.
“Our objective was to get retailers to take a look at their business and focus more on being the best at something for a specific segment and not trying to be everything to everyone,” Ander said. “Most struggling general merchants didn’t focus on doing one thing great. What we’re trying to say is if you want to win, you have to really decide what you want to stand for in the customer’s mind, and develop a plan that communicates and executes that every day.”
Ander studied and taught Industrial Engineering but developed an interest in applying engineering to the business world after teaching at UH.
“I was always interested in the application of math models to business situations rather than to mechanical and physical situations,” Ander said. “Over the years, industrial engineering has been much more about applying math solutions to plants and warehouses than service and marketing type businesses.”
After leaving his teaching post at UH to work in retail, Ander learned more about applying operations research and industrial engineering models to retail.
“I changed from an analytically thinking person to a much more emotional thinker, and I try to think about the people side more than the quantitative,” Ander said. “My schooling and teaching focused mostly on theory, and when I changed to the real world of retailing, I found it to be a much softer qualitative world.”
Ander sees his book as a valuable addition to the retail management trade, and believes it also has a place in an educational setting as a supplement text to most retailing courses. Ander said that the book does not have to be read cover to cover; valuable insights can be gleaned from any of the chapters.
“It’s a great supporting or complimentary text for retailing courses,” Ander said. “We haven’t begun pushing it at the University level, but I believe someone teaching retail 101 or 201 would find it a great additional text. If you read the first three chapters and the last few chapters, you’d get the important concepts. Chapters four through 10 are mainly case studies and illustrative examples.”
Since the publication of the text, Ander has also received a swell in public speaking requests. As Ander’s first book, there is an excitement about finishing such a daunting task and bringing his finished product to the retailing world.
“I never thought I’d write a book, and it feels nice to have done so,” Ander said. “We’re not going to get rich off the book. We want to get it in every retail executive’s hands though. If we can do that, we’re happy whether they buy it or we give it to them. In the end, we make our money selling consulting services, not writing books.”