Retail guru or snake oil charmer?

Businessman drawing social media connection scheme on glass windIt is curious to observe the dichotomy of soothsayers in today’s retail world, offering their elucidations to the ever-growing list of failed and ailing brands with the benefit of hindsight. What role has this overindulgence of advisors, gurus and snake oil charmers played during the bygone heydays – other than the riding of gravy trains?

What are the ramifications for these consultative bodies when retail leadership faces the backlash of underachievement, or the wrath of the investor? How are they being held accountable? Or is the perception of them yelling “I told you so” from the safe environs of the next punter the actuality?

Why are executives employing these advisory services and what is it they are seeking that they haven’t already at their disposal? Retailers of every size and maturity should be chock-full of an experienced, innovative and loyal workforce with vested interests in following through and delivering.

More in touch with their industry than most and with a deep reservoir of permutation in achieving goals given the right opportunity and trust. Home-grown initiatives are less inclined to dilution on their journey through the ranks of the inevitable resistor, administrator and the more-than-my-job’s-worth brigade.

Retail’s propensity for expeditious change eliminates sideliners within months, if not weeks, so what is the benefit of these peripheral advocates? Even a stint of leave demands a significant debrief on returning in order to catch up on trends and developments. How do they advise a transection of brands with integrity, while trying to avoid the risk of imposing the mediocrity of conformity they all strive to avoid. How many merchants have followed their assurances down similar dire straits because of ill-conceived objectives based on digressive judgement?

This raises the question if retail would fare better without these provocateurs, or if the onus lies with the leadership in ascertaining the professional guru from the snake oil charmer.

  • What is it they bring to the table – facts or ambiguous covenant?
  • Do they understand the business – how and why?
  • What expertise are they drawing upon – practical or fabrication?
  • Are they relevant – innovation or regurgitation?
  • Qualification – how do they know the target customer better?
  • Integrity – inclusive of culture and exclusive to brand?

Finger pointing is a thumbs up for the egocentric commentator, but they must expect and accept the three fingers that point back at them. Retail is for retailers – not the has-been, wannabe, trainspotter or crystal ball gazer. There is no silver bullet, nor is there a solitary knight in shining armour. There is, however, a simplicity that many forget or are coaxed away by à la mode absurdity and paradoxical alternative.
The key is in separating the wheat from the chaff and having the gumption to engage the workforce in a culture of meaningful participation and mutual recognition.

Product + Teamwork + Sensuous Experience  = Customer.

Dave Farrell is a retailer with three decades of experience on three continents. He can be reached at [email protected].

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  1. Avatar

    Jeanne posted on August 1, 2016

    A must read for every retailer. reply

  2. Avatar

    Justin posted on August 1, 2016

    Dave Farrell makes two postulates in his article: (1) consultants, and industry commentators add no value to retailers, and (2) people working within retail businesses already have the answers. I think that one should not take both assertions on face value. In my experience, one of the most important elements of success (also in retail) is humility, and not because of its moral virtues. Humility is an inner conviction that whatever one thinks could be incorrect. This is why great leaders seek external validation before they act. This is why they want a contribution from others, also from the outside - to make better decisions. As far as the inherent knowledge of the team is concerned, process improvement requires process analysis and then structured change. People within the process rarely have the perspective needed to change their environment. If anything, people within most organisations fight hard to defend the status quo and their existing rituals. Again, this is when an external professional can help. I appreciate Dave’s frustrations. We all want better outcomes for our businesses. But, cutting yourself off from external help is not going to get you there. Businesses must have the inner strength to evolve and engage in continuing improvement. But, an external catalyst is still needed, at least from time to time. reply

    • Avatar

      Michael baker posted on August 3, 2016

      Justin, very wise comments. Not to mention that you have earned a PH.D for Diplomacy. Good job. reply

  3. Avatar

    Michael Ratner posted on August 2, 2016

    Let's call it the way it really is not the way we want it to be. Let's listen to those who have actual experience with this and the ability to be win win, pragmatic and call a spade a spade. There are more snake oil salesmen out there than the real deal. There are more consultants out there ... by the way Consultant is The Swahili word for Wanker. The worst practitioners are those that do a lot of reading and based on the scuttlebutt, they formulate an opinion to justify their supposed insight. Sort of like Bill Shorten and The Opposition .... just what they are - in opposition. So buyer beware - maybe you don't need to find out what to do, but rather what apparent successful people did to blow out. Too many people in this space filled with their own importance and titles they have bestowed upon themselves. mmmm well maybe they're just up themselves. reply

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