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The crazy myth of lean and mean

 13 April 2020     Donald Cooper 

Greetings, fellow ‘quarantiners’! I hope you’re still safe and sane. Before we get to the advertised topic of this week’s blog, here’s a thought about the dozens of e-mails you’re probably getting from businesses reaching out to tell us whether they’re open or closed, how they’re looking after their staff and how they will continue to serve us (or not serve us) during this COVID-19 mess.

In my last few blogs, I’ve suggested you should reach out to customers, followers and fans to keep them informed and to lift them up. But most of the e-mails we’ve received are way too long, poorly laid out and badly written.

Most of them start out with something cold, weak and robotic like, “We would like to take the opportunity at this time to update you about….”.  Here’s a tip; avoid conditional words like ‘would’, could and ‘should’.  They’re weak and wishy washy.

Last week, we (my wife, actually) received an e-mail from Laura Shops, a family-owned ladies fashion chain that’s been around since 1930. The subject line said, “How are you doing? We’re thinking of you! ❤️” In the body of this short e-mail was a lovely photo of a nicely dressed lady contentedly sitting on her couch with her big fluffy dog, along with an invitation to post pictures of yourself at home on their site.

At the bottom of the e-mail, there were a few pics of their spring collection with links to their online store, but the e-mail was mostly about caring, sharing and emotional connections. This is brilliant!

Now for the advertised topic – the crazy myth of ‘lean and mean’. In the past few weeks, I’ve read several interviews with business leaders during which they describe what they’re doing to survive this COVID mess. Several of them stated, bragged actually, they’re focused on becoming ‘lean and mean’. This makes absolutely no sense.

Lean I understand. Too much inventory or overhead can kill a business, especially in these challenging times. So, I get lean. But mean is just wrong. More now than ever, every business has to make difficult decisions. But please commit to make them with class and caring.

Think about the incredible goofiness of ‘mean’ businesses. They want their customers to stay loyal and buy more. They want their staff to work twice as hard or go home for weeks or months and then come back excited to do a great job. They want their suppliers to serve them twice as diligently and then wait twice as long to get paid. And they’re going to achieve all of that by being bastards…by being mean. It absolutely flies in the face of human reality.

I understand why this nutty phrase caught on years ago and why it’s making a come-back now. It rhymes and some people think it’s cute. But here’s the problem…we become what we speak.

At a time when we need more humanity and more caring in our business and our personal lives, mean just makes no sense. What would be wrong with lean and kind? It doesn’t rhyme, get over it.

Stay calm, stay safe…stay well and remember, joy is contagious too!


Stearns and Foster
Cocoon by Sealy
This HGO article was written by:
Donald Cooper
Donald Cooper

Donald Cooper has been both a world-class manufacturer and an award-winning retailer. Now, as a business speaker and coach he helps business owners and managers throughout the world to rethink, refocus and re-energize their business to create compelling customer value, clarity of purpose and long-term profitability.


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