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Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, brought to you by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.

So while I was on vacation I got a phone call from a reporter at the Stamford Advocate, a local newspaper just a few miles down the road. I talk to this guy a lot, mostly because he covers retailing and I am someone who at least sounds like he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to retailing.

I have to tell you, though, this particular conversation alarmed me – both about the state of journalism and the state of retailing.

The question this particular day was about why a store called the Coffee Bean in the local mall was closing down after 10 years. Could it be that the mall had increased rents to the point where this franchisee couldn’t afford to stay there?

Maybe, I responded. But the store’s closure might have more to do with the fact that a Starbucks recently opened just a couple of stores down the hall. Not only is Starbucks a tough competitor with enormous resources, but I had to say that during the months the two units competed, at no time, at least to my knowledge, did the Coffee Bean do anything outside the envelope in order to make its case to shoppers. The store said it had better beans and better coffee, but what, exactly, did it do to aggressively promote and market its differential advantages. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that it actually is better than Starbucks – not an argument I’m usually prepared to buy, by the way. But just being better is never enough – and thinking so without matching it with tough, aggressive, competitive strategies actually betrays an unusual combination of arrogance and naïveté. There’s really no there, there – and it is a mistake, I think, that too many retailers make when competing with behemoths and marketing giants.

That’s why I was distressed on the retailing side … but I also was a little troubled on the journalism side.

You see, when I asked this reporter if he’d gone to the store to ask customers – at both Coffee Bean and Starbucks – what they thought of this turn of events, he said he had not. Which sort of surprised me, because his office is just across the street from the mall – it couldn’t take more than 10 minutes to make the trek and get a little eyewitness testimony. “I don’t want to tell you how to do your job,” I said, “but if you across the street and see 12 people on line at Starbucks and nobody at Coffee Bean, you’ll have your lead. And if you find the reverse, it gives you a lot more questions to ask.”

I relay this not to pump myself up or attack this reporter, who I am not going to name, but rather to make the point that a general lack of curiosity can be found in many journalists. I don’t expect them to be perfect, I don’t expect them to be everywhere, but I do expect a certain level of curiosity…and a willingness to cross the street to see what’s happening.

Both Michael Sansolo and I are old newspaper reporters … or maybe I should say “former newspaper reporters” … and we’ve commented from time to time that when we hear a police siren, we still get the urge to follow and check things out. But I’m not sure how many reporters feel that way, and these are the people writing and reporting about your businesses and your industry. I’m also not sure what you can do about it – I would never suggest that you not talk to them, even though sometimes they get things wrong … not because they are biased or malevolent, but just because sometimes they are lazy or bored.

The states of journalism and retailing – not everything I would want them to be.

For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
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