Thursday, March 22, 2007

Borders Reports Their Strategic Plan

Is there room for another book retail website? Borders believes there is and has announced that they will reopen the web bookstore. Strategically, this is the best move; however, operationally this is going to pose tremendous challenges for Borders and I am not sure they can pull it off. The lesson in the B&N approach to the web is that it can be an effective customer retention and customer service tool and they have achieved a successful integration with the stores. The flip side of that is if B&N had screwed up on the web then it could/may have screwed up the store business which is the risk Borders will face. Let's face it, there is little that the company will be able to achieve that is new and revolutionary in placing a bookstore on the web, so their real task has to be in building customer retention and extending the community of Borders customers beyond the stores. In other words, if they are going at this to compete with Amazon to build a real 'destination' book retail site they will loose out and in the process loose a lot of money in the process.

Management at Borders is also an issue and has been over the past ten years or so. New management is installed and the announcement of the web site is a representation of the new regimes strategic plan for the next several years. There have been several regimes installed in recent years with grand plans (category management anyone?) but while the ideas had merit the execution left something to be desired. Building a new web presence is not something that they can do on the cheap which means they are going to have to have the right people in place to get the job done. If it were me, I would take the entire web initiative out of Ann Arbor and set it up from scratch in India. There is just too much baggage in the home office.

Enough editorializing.

Elements of the announced strategic plan are as follows from the
press release:

Revitalizing the domestic Borders superstore business to achieve, by 2009:

  • Consolidated EBIT margins of 5% to 6% compared to 1.8% in 2006, driven by sustained same-store sales growth in the low- to mid-single digits at domestic superstores.
  • Improved inventory turns of 2 times compared to 1.6 times in 2006.
  • Refocusing investments toward transforming domestic superstores while significantly reducing investment in segments that have not provided a satisfactory return, including the International segment and Waldenbooks

Specialty Retail segment.

  • The company will explore strategic alternatives for the majority of its International segment, including its U.K., Ireland, Australia and New Zealand superstores and Books etc. business, and will look toward its successful franchise model for future international expansion in new markets.
  • Highly aggressive efforts, which began in the fourth quarter of 2006, to right-size the Waldenbooks Specialty Retail segment will continue in 2007 with the goal of reducing the number of Waldenbooks stores from 564 at the close of 2006 to approximately 300 by the end of 2008.
  • Reinventing the company by leveraging innovation, technology and strategic alliances to differentiate Borders in the marketplace, including the debut of a new proprietary e-commerce site in early 2008
It is a fairly long press release - although one should expect that given it is supposed to spell out the company's strategy - and they go on to explain how they will revitalize the Borders stores and merchandising, continue to invest in Seattle's Best Coffee and Paperchase. (Is there a future as a combo WH Smiths and B&N me thinks...). The company will also continue to invest in the Borders rewards program (which in the case of B&N, they blame on decreased operating margins for the upcoming six-nine months) which has 17 million members. The company will halt capital improvements to their stores until they are able to prove out their new 'store concept' which they expect to be completed in the second half of this year. Lastly, the company will expand its publishing program. About the only thing they are doing that doesn't appear to mimic B&N is invest internationally. (Suggestions that they were changing their corporate colors from red to green and beige are untrue and mean).

In discussing the web site the company says the following:
As part of the development of, the company is consolidating its Web properties into a single infrastructure. This will facilitate a seamless cross-channel experience that will integrate the in-store and on line experiences. The addition of new "Digital Centers" in Borders stores will enable customers to learn about, interact with, and purchase new digital products-- such as audio books, e-books, MP3 players -- and services such as down loading and personal publishing that complement the Borders brand. The company is in the process of exploring several potential arrangements for key partnerships with respect to its digital offerings. The digital services can be made available both in-store and online as a result of the Web initiative.

Lastly in signing off the CEO George Jones is quoted as follows:
"We need to reinvent our business to exploit the rapid changes taking place in how consumers access information and entertainment," Jones said."Our ultimate goal is to make Borders a vital community gathering place where people come together to see, touch, interact, and learn -- online and in- store."

Gosh, that about sums it up. Good luck with that.

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