Little GTO, you’re really lookin’ fine
Three deuces and a four-speed and a 389
Listen to her tachin’ up now, listen to her why-ee-eye-ine
C’mon and turn it on, wind it up, blow it out GTO
LITTLE G.T.O. (John “Bucky” Wilkin) — Ronny & The Daytonas – 1964
News item: Pontiac, 84, Dies of Indifference.
Pontiac, the brand that invented the muscle car under its flamboyant engineer John Z. DeLorean, helped Burt Reynolds elude Sheriff Justice in “Smokey and the Bandit” and taught baby boomers to salivate over horsepower, but produced mostly forgettable cars for their children, will endure a lonely death on Sunday after about 40 million in sales.
I never owned a Pontiac. But for a 1968 High School Graduate like myself, I can still sing the 1964 song Little GTO. And I drove one a time or two. And I always wished I owned one. (Detective Dan Stark on The Good Guys loves him some Pontiac muscle car!)
But now, they are gone. Along with Circuit City, the Oldsmobile Cutlass, Steak and Ale, my local Blockbuster (which was, by the way, the original location for the entire chain), and just a few days ago, a local restaurant Sweet Temptations. Sweet Temptations had this cake that looked like a triumph of modern architecture, and was so rich that it was indescribable. We would buy one about every five years – it took that long to get ready for the next one. It was really good!
It’s not that I was a loyal customer (although, for a while, I was at Blockbuster pretty regularly), it’s just that I’m sad to see them all go.
We live in a world of constant innovation. The challenge to get better, to stay on top, to get even better while on top, is unending, and exhausting.
What happened to the Pontiac? Again from the article:
For most of the 1960s, Pontiac ranked third in sales behind Chevy and Ford — a position now held by Toyota.
But in the decades since, Pontiac’s edge and high-powered image wore off. Repeated efforts in the 1990s and 2000s to revive the brand failed. Drivers too young to remember the GTO came to associate Pontiac with models like the DustBuster-shaped Trans Sport minivan or the Aztek, a bloated-looking crossover widely regarded as one of the ugliest vehicles of all time.
But what really happened is that it is really, really tough to stay on top (ok – to stay a strong number three). Some other company out there is trying to move past you. And if enough folks move past you, you fade, you become a memory, you…die.
And part of it may be this. We like the new. Yesterday’s new is so yesterday, so quickly.
It seems to me that business success requires a combination of factors at which a company, a leader, and the entire team, need to perpetually excel. Excellence in product, innovation in product, excellence in customer service, perpetual attention, constant encouragement of the team members, schmoozing with the current and future customers, attention to the competition, capturing and maintaining a hold on the Zeitgeist, and on and on.
It was time for Pontiac to go. So, what’s the next product, company, restaurant, to bite the dust?
You know, at one time there must’ve been dozens of companies makin’ buggy whips. And I’ll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw. Now how would you have liked to have been a stockholder in that company? You invested in a business and this business is dead. Let’s have the intelligence, let’s have the decency to sign the death certificate, collect the insurance, and invest in something with a future.
(Lawrence Garfield — “Larry the Liquidator” – played by Danny DeVito, in the movie, Other People’s Money)
news item: Blockbuster finally files for Chapter 11
Born, 1985: (The first Blockbuster store opened in Dallas, Texas on October 26, 1985 at the corner of Skillman and Northwest Highway. By the way, I used to rent videos at that specific store. I had no idea that it was the first).
Died, September 23, 2010: (though some smaller version might last a little longer).
The lessons are many. Like:
#1 Customer loyalty is dead. Really dead.
#2 Someone intends to go right past you — you’d better beat them to the punch.
#3 If the product you are selling is no longer the product that works best, you have no future.
#4 If these three are true, then you will go under – it’s just a matter of when, not if.
These are the thoughts that I have as I reflect on Blockbuster going into bankruptcy. Netflix, and redbox, and youtube, and iTunes, all simply passed them by. And Blockbuster simply was not nimble enough, not quick enough, not able to react and change fast enough, and now they are on the verge of gone.
Lots of thoughts, from plenty of books, come to mind, like:
Verne Harnish, in Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, reminds us that all business starts with the functions of Making or Buying something. So, if people no longer want to buy what you offer, you’ve got real trouble…
In Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present (Using Foresight to Provoke Strategy and Innovation) by Bob Johansen (Institute for the Future), we learn about the VUCA world of (VUCA originated at the U. S. Army War College – the graduate school for Generals-to-be):
It’s the volatility that helped doom Blockbuster.
In The New Experts: Win Today’s Newly Empowered Customers At Their Decisive Moments by Robert (Bob) Bloom, Bob basically wrote Blockbuster’s obituary. Consider these quotes from his book:
Today’s buyers – empowered by the Internet, assured by the enormous choice in every segment of commerce, and capitalizing on the acute vulnerability of sellers struggling in this new selling climate – have taken control of the entire purchase progression.
Buyers no longer care who they buy from.
Today, buyers are in control.
This reversal of supremacy has placed every business around the globe in a perilous situation.
This confluence of technology and choice started customer loyalty down the slippery slope – ultimately, customer loyalty died.
It is a scary world out there. Somebody is out to beat you in tomorrow’s market.
I’ll end with a well-known quote from Gary Hamel (quoted by Tom Kelley in The Art of Innovation):
To those few companies sitting on the innovation fence, business writer Gary Hamel has a dire prediction: “Out there in some garage is an entrepreneur who’s forging a bullet with your company’s name on it. You’ve got one option now – to shoot first. You’ve got to out-innovate the innovators.”