Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen iconic retail brands go under or shut their doors for good including names like Blockbuster, Borders, Toys R Us, The Limited, Pier 1, and Woolworth. Many other stores are hanging on for dear life. Does that mean we should not read retail-centric books?
Books About or By CEOs of Retail Chains
I believe retail titles are important, whose ideas translate well across other industries. While the industry is hurting in physical stores, we’ll have the retail sector for years to come.
In no way will my list be complete. If you think I’m missing an important title, just let me know, and we’ll see if it should be on the list.
I will reveal one of my biases about any non-fiction business book. I prefer books about or by CEOs and especially those of founders. I appreciate the conflict and obstacles they had to endure. I also like the trial-and-error approach they found to what worked best for their retail operations. Let’s get started.
It’s How We Play the Game
In 2021, I finished the audio version of It’s How We Play the Game by Ed Stack, the son of the founder of Dick’s Sporting Goods. Ed was the narrator, and the book was listenable, enjoyable, and engaging. I hate comparing books to Shoedog, but many of the close calls to running out of cash were eerily similar. I’ve also purchased the digital version so that I can go back and take notes – it’s that good.
Built from Scratch
Built from Scratch was written by one of the co-founders of The Home Depot, Bernie Marcus. As he told the story, I felt as though I was side by side with the author as he’s sharing that company’s journey. This is easily a five-star book.
Sam Walton: Made in America
It’s been nearly 20 years since I’ve read this book, Sam Walton: Made in America. My memories are vague, but I recall an Eagle Scout who saved a boy from drowning in rural Missouri; he started small when he bought his first Ben Franklin store in Arkansas. He was never afraid of finding great ideas from other retailers from the very beginning. The big takeaway – always keep getting better.
Minding the Store
COVID did no favors to Nieman Marcus as the store known for customer service for years was already dealing with serious debt issues and online competition. Yet, I love this quote from the founder:
Success or failure is often determined not by ability alone, but by timing, economic conditions, internal competition, and by luck.Minding the Store, Stanley Marcus
Is the book still worth reading, given the recent woes of this once-iconic brand? Yes. That’s because the content about customer service is outstanding.
My Father’s Business
When the book by the former CEO of Dollar General caught my eye, I snatched it up immediately. I even dropped what I was currently reading to read Cal Turner’s, My Father’s Business The Small-Town Values That Built Dollar General into a Billion-Dollar Company. Cal is the son of the founder.
If you liked Sam Walton’s book, you’ll like this one too. Plus, the Turners were way ahead of their time in terms of marketing, merchandising, and putting the customer first.
Thumbs up to this book.
We Are Market Basket
I read this in 2017, a year or two after the book was published, because headquarters is near Boston, an area where I served one of my largest clients for 4 years.
If you’ve ever worked in a family-owned business where tensions abound with the founders, then you’ll appreciate this book. I’m still amazed at the customers who had the back of the chain’s long-time CEO.
Bare Essentials: The Aldi Way of Retailing
I think this is the first book I ever read about the retail industry. It’s out of print, but you might be able to find a used copy. My favorite part was the section where budgets were not/never used. Do you agree?
Two Retail Books on Failure
Earlier, I mentioned Bernie Marcus. He wanted all of his business leaders to read The Big Store:
“I wanted our people to read that book so that they understood how important our core business is.”Bernie Marcus, Co-founder of The Home Depot
When The Home Depot hired its first in-house attorney, he was required to be in the stores for 2 months because one of the Sears CEOs hated to be in their retail locations.
Best Buy remains while Circuit City bit the dust, even though the once Wall Street darling found its way into Good to Great by Jim Collins. Alan Wurtzel took some liberties in using Jim’s title for his own book, Good to Great to Gone: The 60-Year Rise and Fall of Circuit City. Should we study business failure? Yes, as there are some especially strong lessons in this book.
By the way, I’m not sure if the Kindle version is available anymore. If the title sparks interest, then I’m sure there are plenty of used copies available on the market.
Upside Down Management: A Common Sense Guide to Better Business
I love this book. I had never heard of Timpson, the British shoe repair chain until I watched a video by James Timpson on how and why they hire people who have served time in prison.
John Timpson is the father of James, and I later found out he had written a book on what he describes as upside-down management, where there are essentially two requirements every day: put the money in the till and act the part.
This book is a gem, and I give it five stars. If you work in retail, I recommend this book.
Isn’t it Obvious
Remember Eli Goldratt? Did you know that he wrote a retail-centric book focused on inventory? Good, but not great.
I view it as a great primer on inventory purchasing and planning for newbies in the retail industry. Even then, it’s a better book for those where both supply and demand are a bit more predictable.
Other Retail Titles to Consider
There are hundreds of books about creating the ideal customer experience. These three, however have a retail bent and stand out. The three are quick and easy to read with impactful ideas:
- Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service
- How Starbucks Fought for Its Life Without Losing Its Soul
- The Truth About Employee Engagement
“I Don’t Want a Book, I Just Want Data”
Don’t have time to read? If you work in the retail industry, and if you belong to a retail association, many have benchmarking data that includes good narrative about the industry as a whole and the niche it covers.