Monthly Archives: December 2015

When it’s hard to be a customer

Those of us who sell things like to think it’s easy to buy them.  Meaning, if someone is interestedEscalator and has budget and is motivated, then it’s simple for them to actually make a purchase. Even if it may be a slightly complicated process (Quote-PO-Invoice-Check) it’s not so difficult that someone can’t get through it.

But sometimes it is hard to buy something. Like, there’s an error in your shopping cart checkout process online and you have to re-load your cart up and buy everything again. Or you’re at a tradeshow (as a customer) and all the vendors are on their phones or laptops and you can’t find someone to talk to.  Or you’re at the supermarket and the person in front of you needs a price check on kumquats.  Then on tangerines.

Yesterday I had a hard time shopping – at a shoe store.  I went to a big shoe warehouse downtown that has several floors so it has two pair of escalators.  On the first floor, one escalator was broken, but that ok – I just used the other one to go up.  On the second floor, again, one escalator was broken.  Except the second escalator was going “Down.”

In order to go up to the third floor, you had to leave the store and use a common building elevator or stairs.  Even worse, you couldn’t take your merchandise with you. There was no way to easily compare items from the two floors without leaving items on the second floor, going up to the third, getting other items, and bringing them back to the second.  (And lest you think I am unusual in this regard, the store provides large mesh bags for you to walk around with multiple shoe boxes while shopping.)

I heard at least half a dozen people – clearly regulars, aka shoe addics- exclaim, “this escalator’s down? how do I get up there?”  And I was not the only person who accidentally walked through a theft detector with unpaid merchandise not realizing it couldn’t come with me.

It was hard to get to the product I wanted to buy.

It was hard to shop.

And the solution wasn’t complicated.  Escalators can be set to run in either direction. Frequently, escalators in transit stations change direction based on time of day (much like carpool lanes on highways.)  All this store had to do was reverse the running escalator to carry passengers up, instead of down.

By doing this, it would have been easy to get from the street to the second floor, then the second floor to the third.  There are checkouts on both the second and third floors, so wherever you ended up, you could pay.  And then the hassle would be getting out of the store, not getting to the products.

Either the store needed a creative manager, more autonomy for store personnel, or a way to get in touch with the escalator’s maintenance person.  Because we have *got* to be able to get to the shoes!

A serious inquiry into why LL Bean is out of boots

It has been years since I’ve owned boots that actually keep my feet dry.  With winter on its way, I LL Bean Bootsasked the manager of our dog walking service what she recommends because I figured she’d have to have good boots.

Without hesitation, she said “I love my Bean boots.”

And I thought, “Duh.  I live in New England.  Why don’t I just get Bean boots?”


LL Bean is out of boots right now.  Yup, OUT OF BOOTS.  How is this possible you ask?  Me too. Most styles and sizes are backordered.  And it’s December.  In New England.

It’s one of those things where you want to say, “someone’s getting fired over this one!”  Except I’m not sure that’s actually happening.

LL Bean Boots BackorderedEliyahu Goldratt would have a field day with this – clearly there is a bottleneck somewhere in Bean’s ability to deliver to demand.  The Boston Globe’s recent article suggested there was a stubbornness around keeping the boots manufactured in Maine, coupled with an insistence on very narrow quality acceptance criteria.  And that this was compounded by recent good publicity about the boot in fashion circles that LL Bean management didn’t quite trust was driving demand up permanently.  In November, they were 50,000 orders behind; and they only have capacity to make 2,000 each day.  Check your calendars, November is not yet prime boot-buying season, so this will only get worse.

Think LL Bean has successfully made the shift from catalog to online?  I do 🙂  People talk about the internet as changing commerce and globalizing where goods come from and can get to.  All of which it has.  But LL Bean was doing that long before there was a Google or an Amazon. They’ve been successfully selling to a geographically dispersed audience for decades. You could argue that the demand is exponentially greater than it had been before the Internet, but I’m not sold that impacts LL Bean as much as other companies that weren’t as able to reach a broad audience before Internet.

Bloomberg posited that it might be a PR stunt, or at least an unfortunate issue that isn’t hurting PR.  The Bloomberg article also points out that this happened last year, so the issue of if demand is permanently increased may be that indeed it is.

There is some amount of panache associated with scarcity. The Bean boot has become the Birken Bag of winter footwear, but I don’t think that fits with their brand.  I think of them as being accessible, practical, and of the boots themselves as transcending fashion.  The Globe article indicates that LL Bean management is apologetic, and distressed, not that this is purposeful.

Whatever the case, I can’t get my hands (or my feet) on a pair.  So like many other New Englanders, I’ll slog around with wet feet this winter, disappointed.  But holding out hope that my order makes it through their system, before the first storm of the year arrives.

Shit, I just asked someone to fetch a rock

In a previous job, we used a phrase, “rock fetch.”Rock Fetch

The idea is this –

Asker: go get me a rock roughly this shape and weight.

Doer: here you go.

Asker: no, not that one, a different one.

Often, the Asker is a manager.

As the Doer, it’s awful to be involved in a rock-fetch exercise.  It feel like a waste of time.  It feels like a moving target.  It feels like a bad game where someone knows the answer and is making you guess.

But as the Asker, that isn’t always what’s going on.  I sent someone on what could be considered a rock-fetch exercise last week.  It wasn’t because I knew the answer, I didn’t.  But I also didn’t know what I was looking for until I saw a few things that I wasn’t looking for.

Here’s what happened – we were preparing an email to a set of people in our marketing database who had been interested in our product in the past but hadn’t engaged with us due to timing or budget.  I wanted to understand these leads before we emailed them.  I was interested in things like where we had gotten the leads, how old they were, why they hadn’t engaged, and how else we had interacted with them.

The problem was, I didn’t know how I wanted the data organized.  Mostly because I didn’t know what shape the data would take.  We had a meeting where we chose a bunch of criteria to build a list of contacts.  Since it was a complex query, though, I didn’t know the composition of the list.

Let’s say 85% of the leads were people we met at tradeshows, then I didn’t really need it broken down by lead source.  But if the leads were equally split among tradeshows, seminars, and webinars, then I was interested to see that breakdown.

And I was even more interested to know if all the tradeshow leads were old and all the webinar leads were new; but if the date distribution was pretty even across the event types, then I didn’t need to see it broken down by date.

And then if we knew the leads were distributed evenly across events, but with certain date affinities, I wanted to understand why (for example) tradeshow leads from 18 months ago had an unusually high number of leads who had no budget.

I had a reason for wanting to know all this.  Actually, a lot of reasons.  For this email campaign, I wanted to be sure our messaging would resonate with our audience.  For my future planning, I wanted to be sure we were going to events where we were meeting the right people. I wanted to know – did we use messaging at certain tradeshows that is attracting the wrong crowd?  Did we say the wrong things to prospects after events?

So I did send someone on a rock-fetch exercise.  But I think I had a good reason.

Explaining supply chain to a 2 1/2 year old

This is not one of those posts like, “how do you break down a complex idea like supply chain and explain it so a 2-year-old can understand it.”  This is the story of how I actually tried to explain the concept of a supply chain to babyDiva, who is now 2 1/2.

babyDiva is obsessed with trucks and construction right now.  On our way to school each morning, we discuss the trucks and construction sites we see in great detail.  “That an excavator or a mini-excavator?” “Why that bulldozer not have tracks?” Etc.

Earlier this week, a local restaurant in our neighborhood was receiving a delivery.

It was very exciting.

“Look!  Delivery truck!”
“You’re right, that is a delivery truck.”
“What truck delivery?”
“Water, I think, maybe some juice too.”
“Who those people?”

She was asking about the pictures of the people on the truck.

“Well honey, those might be the people who put the water in the bottles.”
“Oh, those people in the truck?”
“Well, no, it’s just pictures of them.”
“Those people driving the truck?”
“Well, no, the people who drive the truck might be different from the people who put the water in the bottles.”
“Oh, one people put water in bottles, then one people drive truck?”
“Well, actually there might be people who bring the bottles from the factory to a center, then someone else who brings the bottles to a restaurant.”


“Those people like juice, too?”
“Yes, honey, those people probably like juice.”

“I like juice.”

And that was the end of Supply Chain 101.