NEWS FLASH! … Retail secrets found in a fairy tale


By: Darrell Wisbey

Some lessons from Alice in Wonderland … by Lewis Carroll.

Recently I was thinking about the White Rabbit, (from the storybook Alice in Wonderland), and his catch cry of “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date” and so I decided to return to the book to see if I could really understand the meaning of the phrase. Was it simply the White Rabbit was late for his appointment or is there a deeper and more symbolic meaning hidden within his words?

My original memories on this story came from listening as a child to my Grandmother reading the book to me as a bedtime story, so I was interested to compare what I remember hearing as a child versus what I would now understand as an adult.
Well what a surprise it was as I read to discover lesson after lesson that fits perfectly in parallel with not just life but in the business world of retail.

Maybe the author could have been a very successful retailer as embedded within his storybook are many valuable messages. The reader might simply skip over the whimsical sayings without much in deep thought – after all it is only a children’s store book – but the thinking reader can find exceptional business lessons if they give serious thought to these lines.

Read on for some quotes from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland with strong business messages:

The Queen: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

When I read this phrase I was reminded of the character and determination of the most successful retailers and especially those who built new retail empires from a zero base. Could it be that these retail icons had three fundamental strengths that set them apart from the rest? They have:
1. Have many bold ideas and visions no matter how impossible they may seem
2. Trust in themselves and inspire those around them to also believe that impossible is possible
3. Apply unswerving determination to overcome barriers to make the impossible possible

Alice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
Cheshire Cat: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

For success, the best retail operations have a clear picture on who and where they are in the market, (strategy), know who they serve (the customer), and forecast the returns (ROI). With this clarity, everything they do must remain consistent to the vision. Successful retail businesses “know where they want to get to”: these businesses show:
1. Absolute clarity and structure wide commitment to where the business must be positioned
2. Management wide honesty in knowing where the business is currently positioned
3. Detailed clarity on the actions and behaviours required to achieve the determined goals

There is a further part of this quotation and that is:
Alice: “I don’t much care –”.
Cheshire Cat: “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

Businesses that “do not care much” meander along being buffeted by immediate trading conditions, changes in management and leadership, competitor behaviour and even more “interrupters” that result in “knee jerk” decisions with limited or even detrimental impact on long-term success.

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

I would suggest that here the message is when you plan for new direction, new initiatives, changes in market position or indeed any other significant action then ensure the plan is clear, detailed, and well communicated and most critical is accepted by all those responsible for implementation:
1. Any implementation pathway must be detailed, logical and sequential.
2. Critical team members must be committed to the journey in mind, spirit and actions.
3. Allocate sufficient time and resources to complete the plan.
4. Do not skip segments nor work out of synchronisation without considered agreement.
5. Set and meet at appropriate time checkpoints to honestly assess program progress.
6. Complete the agreed plan with commitment and determination and success follows.

Alice: How long is forever?
White Rabbit: Sometimes, just one second.”

Now I feel closer to understanding the White Rabbit and his preoccupation with time. In retail, (as indeed in life), the most valued resource we have at our disposal is time. Once past time cannot be relived and what was done, (or not done), is history and you cannot go back in time to do it again.

Time according to the White Rabbit is not guaranteed. This is possibly the most valued lesson for me as too often we simply view time as the gap between birth and death with the presumption being we have time on our side whilst in reality time may just be our greatest enemy.

In implementing change, introducing new initiatives, changing business direction, opening new retail channels, delivering results and more it is critical to allocate the “correct” time. Taking too long can be retail suicide and at the same time trying to implement change too fast can be just as dangerous.

The critical issues in managing time in successful business usually will consider:
1. Sufficient time to complete the homework required to create a detail plan of action
2. Allocate realistic timeline to complete all action steps and allow for “detour” contingencies
3. Awareness on interconnecting timelines such that one step is not detrimental to another
4. Avoid the temptation to cut time in an attempt to get to the end faster – a recipe for failure
5. All “stake holders” aware of and accept realistic timelines, (and then deliver results on time)

The children’s story book usually has a happy ending so one question I had for myself is: Is there a happy ending to my discovery of life and business lessons embedded within Alice in Wonderland? The answer is yes… Retail is an industry that is in constant change and yet the underlying messages for success are not necessarily new ideas and can be found in some of the most unusual of places.

Who would have thought so many lessons for retail success could be found inside a story book, so I am now off to read my next fairy-tale. How many more lessons will I find?


About the Author:

Darrel Wisbey is a chief mentor and retail adviser who has 30 years of retail experience and has built a reputation for being a leader who interprets the market accurately, define strategic direction and deliver success by motivating, developing and inspiring teams to achieve continual improvement.

Learn more at: www.darrellwisbey


*First published in Philippine Retailing newsletter 2019 Q1 issue.