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The Change Constant

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Change is relentless and inevitable, as 18 million of us who watched the final episode of The Big Bang Theory were reminded recently. After 12 years and 270-plus episodes even the elevator finally got fixed!

Sometimes change represents a vast improvement. At other times, it’s abrupt and—to borrow another channel surfers’ reference—as unmerciful as a Game of Thrones episode. It can render entire industries obsolete and destroy millions of livelihoods. Conversely, change can provide opportunities to live well and prosper, even if it requires periods of adjustment. Of late, change seems to be happening at alarming speed. Perhaps it’s this constant chaos that makes us crave respites like The Great British Baking Show.

When not nestled in my apartment binge-watching the latest must-see series on Netflix with my family, one of the many things I love about living in New York is its constant state of change. The city is in perpetual reconstruction, always refurbishing, remodeling and re-retailing. Walk along any main drag in Manhattan, and you’ll see complete teardowns and build-ups, as well as start-ups and liquidations—all in one block! Entire buildings are reduced to rubble and whisked away seemingly overnight. New structures sprout like weeds. (The island’s bedrock is fertile ground for concrete and steel.)

My local newspaper, the West Side Rag, keeps a running tab of the latest openings and closings in area retail establishments. For a neighborhood that’s a mere 1.9 square miles in size, the turnover spins like a subway turnstile at rush hour. “Openings & Closings” is one of the paper’s most popular sections. It fuels a steady stream of Bronx cheer sendoffs to those who couldn’t make it here. A handful of commenters welcome the newcomers, but hell hath no fury like Noo Yawkas
who don’t take kindly to the recent announcement that, for example, a chi-chi Greek restaurant will replace the family friendly burger joint that served tater tots around the clock. The odds they give the new eatery for survival? Fuhgettaboutit!

Our industry is no stranger to change. Words like “tectonic” and “apocalyptic” pop up often to describe today’s disruptive state of retail. It’s like a Sopranos episode: The question is not if but when the next rubout will occur. No one is safe. Up-and-comers can move quickly and use street smarts to climb the ranks. Power players who want to stay on top are making much-needed changes and infusing new life into their operations.

Take Ecco, for example. Dave Quel, president of Ecco USA and the subject of this issue’s Q&A (p. 10), attributes the Danish brand’s record-setting sales of the past few years to a decision made seven years ago. That’s when product design teams were established in key markets around the world and began to focus solely on their respective consumers’ needs and preferences. Quel says it’s been a game-changer. Ecco’s relentless drive to innovate has triggered positive change—and our industry can always use more of that. Brands that continually push the envelope usually reap rewards. After all, we’re a society that celebrates Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs.

On the other hand, it’s easy to get lost in a fast-moving current of change and let your core values slip away. In Last Word (p. 22), Reyers Shoes president Mark Jubelirer explains why he’s dug his heels in on offering sizes-and-widths and sit-and-fit service at his Sharon, PA, store. The proud self-described Shoe Dog believes those are pillars worth adhering to, but not for sentimental reasons. Amid the store closings and abandonment of many traditional in-store shopping experiences, the 133-year-old Reyers stands out because of Jubelirer’s steadfast commitment to provide what he believes is a much-needed service to his loyal clientele. His refusal to change to a self-service model is admirable.

Many theoretical physicists believe the constant state of change started with the Big Bang. Some also believe the universe will stop expanding one day and eventually collapse back onto itself in The Big Crunch. Others theorize that this “final change” will trigger a reformation of the universe starting with—you guessed it—another Big Bang. Change is the ultimate constant. Well, that and a rerun of The Big Bang Theory airing on some channel, somewhere in the universe.

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