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Picture Tells Retailers It’s Vital to Adapt to Today’s Marketplace

On Facebook the other day, I came across this photo of signage of the Metro Mall, a shopping center in Middle Village, Queens, which opened in the early 1970s and is still in operation. I’m very familiar with the mall since it was near my old Brooklyn neighborhood and I shopped there many times.

Social media is responsible – or to blame depending upon your point of view – for a lot of things. One thing it proves daily is the truth behind the old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” The picture features logos of several notable regional and national chains that are no longer here. It illustrates the ongoing churn in the retail industry since the 1990s, when this picture was taken.

The number of then-notable retailers from the Metro Mall include: Caldor, a regional mass merchant, which closed in 1999; Pergament, a regional home improvement store (2001); Sam Goody, the music retailer (2006); Levitz, the well-known furniture retailer (2008); RadioShack, the legendary national electronics icon (2015); and Waldbaum’s, a New York metropolitan area supermarket chain (2015). Toys R Us, everyone’s favorite toy and children’s electronics retailer, exited the market last year but there are rumblings to revive it in some form.

Retailers have come and gone on a regular basis since before the online shopping era dawned. For instance, many well-known regional electronics/appliance chains from the 1980s and 1990s disappeared because Wall Street analysts urged them to over-expand after going public.

The loss of the chains in the Metro Mall photo can be blamed, among other reasons, on the following: Amazon and the convenience of online and mobile shopping; Walmart; Wall Street’s demands that retailers who go public must go national; management’s lousy lack of vision; and changing consumer tastes, just to name a few.

Consumers have always been passionate about shopping, not only to get the best deal but to be surprised at what they may see when they go to a store or a mall. Shopping was, and still is, often a social event to share with family or friends. That continues today, even with millennials, who like to support local, independent retailers.

Today’s retailers who try to tap into their customers’ passions both in store and online have a miniscule margin of error to survive when competing against national and international chains of all types. The founders of Caldor, Pergament, Sam Goody, Levitz, RadioShack, Waldbaum’s, Toys R Us and so many other iconic retailers had the vision and entrepreneurship to grow their businesses. What this mall photo tells today’s retailers is simple: they must adapt to a changing marketplace.

Retailing at its best – whether a Mom-and-Pop operation or an international corporation – is a creative enterprise, about entrepreneurship, and how to tap into potential customers’ passion for their products and services in a rapidly changing world.

February is the month independent retailers go to their buying group meetings to see how they can learn about changing market trends, experience new products and continue to re-energize their businesses. For those that don’t adapt, the alternative is having their logo on social media, sooner rather than later, in a similarly-nostalgic photo of a store where consumers used to shop for home technology.

Steve Smith