The Blunt Axe
Two woodsmen are entered into a famous wood cutting competition. One is big and strong, the other small and lean and both are known throughout the land for their skill with an axe. The competition is long and strenuous - each participant must chop the most wood they can in a single day.
As dawn breaks, the two woodsmen charge at the trees and begin hewing with speed and skill. The work is hard and tiring and the bigger woodsman isn’t surprised to see that the smaller is taking a ten minute break after each hour of chopping. Filled with confidence about his greater stamina, the bigger woodsman just keeps on chopping. At the end of the day he turns to the crowd, expectant of victory - only to be confronted with a pile of wood twice as high as his own.
"How could you have cut down more trees than I did?" he asked. "Every hour you sat down to rest while I kept right on cutting. I don't understand.”
"Ah", said the smaller, leaner woodsman. "When I sat down I wasn’t just resting, I was sharpening my axe."
A Brief Intro
Lean Retail is a new way of thinking about brick and mortar business that’s inspired by the methodologies and philosophies of the technology startup industry.
Born out of an environment where time, information and money are often severely limited, technology startups are often under enormous pressure to avoid waste and be smart about how they use their resources. Despite this, in the rush to innovate, these companies sometimes find themselves taking months and spending a fortune to bring a new product to market, only to find out that nobody wants to use it.
There's a saying in the tech community, ‘if you’re going to fail, fail fast’, i.e. if your whole concept is going to fail and all your assumptions are going to be proven false, better it happens quickly and before you've spent all your money. In a nutshell, lean methodology is a process to ensure we are failing fast, i.e. learning what works (and doesn't work) quickly and without overcommitting. It's about building quick, cheap, even scrappy tests of our key business ideas, measuring the results and changing our plans accordingly. It's my belief that this methodology can be of huge benefit to the retail community.
There is perhaps no industry like brick and mortar retail for requiring aspiring entrepreneurs to make so many upfront commitments just to enter the marketplace. Brick and mortar businesses must deal with the built-in risk of taking on a physical location, purchasing or leasing equipment, hiring and training staff, managing inventory and more. As a result, it is absolutely vital that retailers take a scrappy, data-led approach to their growth and constantly trial the core assumptions that underpin their business strategies - before they overcommit.
All this jargon may seem daunting to those outside the tech industry but the underlying message is incredibly valuable and pertinent to retailers today. The Lean Retailer is an attempt to ensure that lean business strategies and terms like ‘agile’, ‘fail fast’ and ‘Minimum Viable Product’ aren’t seen as daunting to retailers across America - but accessible, relevant and helpful.