Jimmy Wangs


To an unemployed family or cash-pinched youngster, who is some multi-millionaire to say that ‘a few extra pennies’ is not ‘remarkable’?

Seth Godin wrote a ‘blog’ post (though not sure why he calls it a ‘blog’ since it doesn’t accept comments and so there is no conversation) called the ‘Race to the Bottom’ which is essentially a heartfelt defence of the small, local store against the big chain corporates. What I find ironic is that Godin misapplies his own trailblazing insights about Purple Cows. Much as I admire Godin’s insights (he is on my list of Thought Leaders at the right), I do think he gets it wrong sometimes and in this case very wrong…

  • They’re shutting down Jimmy Wang’s store. Shutting down a successful little business.” – Hmmm. The infamous, anonymous ‘They’ rhetorical claptrap. Actually, there is no establishment ‘They’ here. The real ‘They’ is the townspeople. They are the ones not paying Jimmy Wang enough and they are the ones that want to shop at Walgreens (if no one wanted to shop at Walgreens they wouldn’t move there). The second ‘They’ here is Jimmy Wang who is doing the shutting down his business because he doesn’t want to pay more rent. And if it’s so ‘successful’, why is he having trouble affording the new rent?
  • Pundits like me can talk all we want about being remarkable, about leading and about making connections, but when a public company wants your spot, when it can extract a few extra pennies per square foot, you lose.” – The question is, ‘if the local store is providing so much value, being so remarkable, why can’t it extract a few extra pennies?’ Is something that people won’t cough up and pay extra for really remarkable? And who is to say that Walgreens is not ‘remarkable’? Their choice of products and price seem pretty remarkable to many (“I got my favourite brand of shaving cream, which I struggle to find, at Walgreens and it was only this price!”). Yes some people like ‘hand picked fresh food’, but I’m sorry to inform Godin, some people prefer ‘stale cookies’.
  • The landlord who owns this land lives in another state. He doesn’t care. He can ignore the protests and the petitions.” – Why don’t the townspeople put their resources into buying more stuff from the local guy at higher prices rather than protests. Why don’t they canvas contributions instead of petition signatures?  It sounds like the town doesn’t want to forego its money to pay more for the local store, but they want the landlord to forego his money. Is self-righteous preaching through ‘protests and petitions’ about stuff that ‘should be free’ really a subtle form of mob-based theft?

I think this matter also reflects the Leadership/Management duality with which I regularly take issue regarding Godin’s punditry. Godin is ‘Leadership’ biased with a view that Leadership is all that is needed to be successful. He regularly poo-poo’s ‘Management’ as some evil force that just gets in the way of Leadership. My perspective is that Leadership is about optimising upside (creating a “smile to my face…a thousand times”) and Management is about minimising downside (“extract a few extra pennies per square foot”). You need to balance both (not just have Leadership) and it sounds like Walgreens got the balance better than Jimmy Wang.

Godin has the right principle about ‘being remarkable’, but unfortunately his sentiments are clouding his application of it in this case. If you can’t maintain a strong enough ‘Purple Cow’ (remarkable differentiator) and don’t balance both Leadership and Management, then you should fail.