It was Brands Hatch, the famous motor racing circuit in Kent, a few years ago and I had qualified my BMW M3 on the front row of the grid. Behind me were 30 other hooligans all chomping at the bit to go as soon as the lights went out.
And out they went but whilst everyone else floored it and accelerated off the grid, I went nowhere. A clutch problem meant I couldn’t get it in gear and whilst frantically trying to rectify this I was swamped by everyone. I’ve never been so scared in all my life, the chances of being hit – and hit very hard – were extremely high. Those at the back of the grid would be doing close on 100mph by the time they reached me and the result of contact would be one very second hand car not to mention the driver (I’ve never liked hospital food).
Thankfully, miraculously, they all somehow managed to avoid me but the experience is not one I’d ever wish to repeat!
So this got me thinking about my twin passions – retail and motorsport – and the similarities between the two. Perhaps not obvious at first glance but nevertheless take a closer look and they become all too apparent.
Competition Improves the Breed
Never more has this been the case than in motorsport where competition and competitiveness are often at the outer limits of the scale. Quite sane, seemingly normal people can grow horns when they get behind the wheel of a racing car. And will equally spend completely crazy amounts of money just to go that little bit quicker. It’s in the blood you see.
But what of retail?
Observing the High Street of today, the competition between retailers is fierce and cut throat – not an inch given to their rivals and all fiercely protective of their territory.
It’s survival of the fittest – just like on the track where a moment’s hesitation can cost you a place or worse.
Wanted – Team Players
Teamwork – synonymous with motorsport as personified in the picture below, perhaps motorsport is the ultimate team sport. A dropped catch in cricket or a missed penalty in football carry a certain level of consequence however if a mechanic fails to tighten the wheel nuts properly the results can be disastrous.
Trust in one’s fellow team members is absolute and paramount.
Never more so than in retail where, in today’s world every aspect of the organisation is linked in a way never before realised. From supply chain to merchandising to eCommerce to marketing each part must operate together in perfect harmony as opposed to working in silo’s, each focused on their own individual goals and targets.
This is a real challenge for many retailers today – to maintain good retail discipline and KPI’s whilst embracing the modern era of retailing where the whole organisation must work together with a collective focus on the customer in order to deliver an amazing experience time and time again.
I fear it will be a step too far for some.
A Year Old Racecar is Just Scrapmetal
This quote is attributed to the late Carroll Shelby, he of the iconic Shelby AC Cobra fame, echoed by Enzo Ferrari in his early days – which is why there are so few of the early Cobras and Ferrari race cars still in existence – they were broken up once they had passed their sell by date.
Not quite the scenario in retail but the similarity in terms of the pace of development and change holds true. Nothing stands still and in retail, just as in motor racing; standstill and you go backwards.
Never before has the pace of change, driven by technology, been so relentless. It is mind blowing. And with cognitive computing this is only set to accelerate. And those who do not adopt the latest technology in order to drive deep, insightful and relevant personalisation, will find themselves without a business before very long.
Over the years many Formula One teams have withered and died, caught out by the pace of development and left behind, the same is true for retail brands.
I have a profound respect and admiration for anyone who, out of choice, would wish to be the CEO of a retail brand these days. Personally I think they must in some way be slightly unhinged, caught as they are between the twin pressures of keeping the business on track whilst at the same time constantly having to develop new parts for the business and bring them onstream faster than the competition.
But just like in motorsport – where it is said, if you want to be a millionaire just start out with £2million, it is the passion for retail which drives these CEO’s on.
And that is why, just like my motor racing heroes, I admire them so much for they operate in a rarefied place where just one slip, one lapse in concentration can have disastrous consequences.
Andrew Busby is CEO & Founder of Retail Reflections, The Retail Advisory Board, an IBM Futurist and a regular contributor to Retail Week.