Borders Group, the struggling bookseller, has a new Chairman of the Board, Bennett LeBow. LeBow’s a member of Vector Group Ltd., the investor group that recently acquired 15% of Borders (35% if warrants are exercised).
According to interim Borders CEO Mike Edwards, LeBow “will play an extremely important role in helping us redefine the Borders brand.” Will a new brand image change the landscape? Perhaps on the margin, but Borders needs more than marginal change.
Borders needs a new business model not just a new brand. Otherwise, change will consist solely of the smoke and mirrors of advertising rather than the real transformation required to win a profitable share of the market. As a Borders lover, I’d hate to see LeBow follow in the footsteps of other leaders who foolishly and tragically banked their hopes on a new brand alone.
Let’s face it. Amazon.com owns on-line book sales, a position so strong that it’s broadened its scope into all kinds of other categories sold on line beyond books. Barnes and Noble Booksellers won the retail store war. Which leaves Borders with higher relative costs per book sold, lower profits and therefore a new controlling investor.
Borders is stuck with a high cost position in what has become a commodity market—the selling of books. While a book itself may be differentiated, when its available in all kinds of physical and virtual places, the seller of that book is essentially selling a commodity. No wonder on-line book sales are growing so rapidly (they have a lower cost structure) and Kindle, IPad, etc., are disrupting the printed book industry (by offering a lower cost structure and more convenient experience than the printed book).
My advice to Borders leaders is to redefine the business Borders is in, broadening far beyond bookseller while still remaining focused on book lovers. (In most commodity situations, expanding the scope of the business is a key way to remain in a market of one.)
How might this broadening play out over the next five years? Imagine…
- Borders librarians (versus store clerks) help you locate the exact information you want, whether it’s a book that reads like those of another author you love, or takes you to the perfect hidden places in a faraway country because the author of the articles shares your tastes in travel. Media not available in the store arrives in your home on line or via express mail.
- To meet the needs of businesses, Borders acquires 800-CEO-Read, a service organization that selects and offers the best selection of books and videos to advance a business customer’s learning and development goals. Business coaches, Corporate VPs of Learning, professionals, entrepreneurs, sole proprietors, non-profits and business educators turn to this Borders’ subsidiary for advice and resources.
- Book lovers travel together on trips designed around a shared interest, be it an author, a period in time or a place. The synergy between pre-travel reading and discussions while traveling creates a winning combination that retirees love and come back to buy again and again.
- Borders stores are redesigned (with loads of customer input) to become the place where readers and authors convene or work in isolation. “I’m Bordering” today becomes codeword for a common shared experience that readers and writers highly value.
- Borders solves parents’ dilemma of raising children who love to read.
- Borders creates a tailored offering of books, courses and peer groups for educated immigrants who want to advance their mastery of English through reading and discussing US authors.
- Membership and event fees are growing shares of Borders’ revenue.
- Authors line up to be part of the Borders’ Tours (virtual and real), connecting authors to current and potential fans.
In essence, Borders purpose becomes infusing books and reading deeper into our lives, not just selling us books. In the process, Borders becomes a trusted and highly valued resource for individuals overwhelmed with information. Borders new value promise becomes better lives (better businesses) which would make for a great re-branding. Border’s new scope is far broader than a retail box store or an on-line marketer, yet still highly synergistic with books.
Creating these changes will require far more challenging work than developing communications for a new brand concept. Which path would you pursue as a leader – a new brand alone or a new business model that truly differentiates Borders from Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble?
For insight on business model strategy, read my recently released book, Beyond Price.
Brad Shorr says
Kay, Excellent suggestions – I hope the people at Borders are listening. To me, what’s scary about your post is how quickly a brand can disintegrate. For me, Borders holds a lot of fine memories. Remember how innovate Borders was when it first appeared? I couldn’t imagine a better environment for book browsing and buying. Today, Borders stores depress me. And I really dislike being asked for personal information and encouraged to sign up for a discount card every time I make a purchase. These things to not make for an enjoyable shopping experience. But, if they made a few changes, I’d renew my enthusiasm for their brand in a heartbeat. For me – and many others, I suspect – being surrounded by books is an exquisitely enjoyable feeling.
Bill Welter says
I LOVE your “imagine this …..” suggestions! Too much of business renewal is done with “run the numbers” versus great imagination. Maybe you and Brad and and I should create a workshop focused on “Adult Imagination.”
Fred H Schlegel says
For me Borders has always owned the browsing and sitting experience. Since Amazon launched they’ve lost convenience and selection. I wish there was an easy way for them to save that browse sit and read feel because I am going to seriously miss it when it is gone. Problem is, browse sit and read generates the revenue of a cup of coffee, not a hardback. Your librarian comment strikes me as interesting. Out library the library? Could they charge for that browse sit and read experience?
I look at what apple did at a time when most experts thought on line was the only home left for computer sales. Their stores are a key part of the apple image. I was in one the other day and there was an associate for every 3 or 4 customers. And there were a lot of customers. On a Monday morning. But they weren’t all buying, they were browsing, learning, fixing. All that was missing was the coffee.
The price point differences say that model wouldn’t work for books. But I’m not sure. For many products we look at as commodities at this point all that is left is the human service and interaction component to create distinction. True of books as well and given my need for information on a regular basis, Librarians rock.
Kay Plantes says
Dear Brad, Bill and Fred,
Lots of food for thought. New business models are about imagination and that is why doing business model thinking in advance of the budgeting process precludes truly strategic thinking. I’m game for the seminar offering Bill!
I also love Borders for the browsing experience and sitting and reading. Borders is the only “big box” store that gives me the same feeling as a wonderful independent book store, the few that thrive because they are in communities where the big boxes have not entered yet. For reasons I cannot explain, I get the OPPOSITE feeling when I am in a Barnes and Nobel. To me, Borders is like the local coffee shop, versus the manufactured food and taste of Starbucks. Could Borders better tailor to their local markets?
The Apple Store comparison Fred is a great one. You pay $99/year for the right to come in and ask technical questions and attend classes. And people buy more because they are in the store.
Like you Fred, I would miss Borders. Brad, I don’t think it’s too late but recent decisions do leave me worried.