Please text me. I’m very busy right now. Thoughts on Costco.

“Before machines the only form of entertainment people really had was relationships.” — Douglas Coupland 

I’ve spent the better portion of the last two weeks with business owners and corporate types who are all deeply involved in selling products inside of Costco warehouses around the country.  From a retail standpoint these are some of the very best business owners in the nation.  They’re doing nearly everything right.  It’s been a huge privilege to speak with them and share my thoughts on the future of retailing.  It’s been a bigger privilege to learn from them.  The success stories and quality of thinking is pretty outrageous.  For me it’s begged an important question and has been an opportunity to explore possible answers to that question: Why would a business owner (proud, independent, driven) allow his or her business to essentially be engulfed in a world-class warehouse retailer?  Why would a business owner (proud, independent, driven) allow his or her business to be restricted to a tiny kiosk across from a hot dog stand?  And finally, why would a business owner assume the additional overhead and hassle associated with an outside party’s oversight (doesn’t it just muck up the works?)?

The obvious answers include: Leads, additional sales, the opportunity to leverage a global brand, unique incentives, and the bragging rights to say “We’ve been hand-selected” for this program.  These are solid answers.  

And then my phone rang.  I stared at the number.  I was jammed busy.  Ten pounds of this in a five pound that.  No time for a phone call.  No time for a …wait…a…minute.  A phone call?  I don’t have time for a phone call??  This afternoon I asked the audience.  “How many of you have been a little irritated or annoyed when someone calls you and interrupts your day?”  Lots of heads started nodding and a few laughs.  Not exactly Big Data research but still.  We’re reaching that point.  That’s when the light bulb went on.

Businesses are in a race for relationships.

The most important reason to be in a warehouse and the most important, significant, meaningful, impactful, purposeful, yet DISAPPEARING commodity is my ability to look my friend in the eye and say “How’s it going dude?”  And for he to do the same.  Amidst the onslaught of digerati and their promises (spend more, optimize more, pay for more clicks) the fact of the matter is that person-to-person contact is priceless.  Those moments are the one’s that we’ll never be able to duplicate.  We’ll try.  We’ve been trying for over ten years.  But if I want to make a point and if you want to make me smile then nothing’s better than hanging out together.  Even between strangers it’s a irreplaceable opportunity.  And THAT is what I tried to convey this afternoon.

There are good reasons to sit in a warehouse.  No, it’s an amazing reason.  Leads, sales, brands, promotions.  All good stuff.  But the best reason, the really best reason, is to be able to look a potential customer in the eye and say “let’s be friends and then maybe we can do business.”  None of us can fabricate a warm handshake and a smile…yet.

To all the uber smart and driven folks whom I’ve spoken to: Thank you.  

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