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Staying Relevant

A couple of months ago, the last Blockbuster store in Louisiana closed its doors. The local owner said that over the years his business had gone from lines of customers waiting to rent movies to just a few loyal customers. The store used to be one of the 9,000 Blockbuster stores that employed more than 60,000 people. It used to be a part of a $4.8 billion a year industry. And now, the brick-and-mortar movie rental store has become obsolete.

Staying Relevant

Take Steps Today to Avoid the fate of Blockbuster, Borders, and Other Defunct Retailers


(Originally published in the November 2015 issue of Recognition Review.)

A couple of months ago, the last Blockbuster store in Louisiana closed its doors. The local owner said that over the years his business had gone from lines of customers waiting to rent movies to just a few loyal customers. The store used to be one of the 9,000 Blockbuster stores that employed more than 60,000 people. It used to be a part of a $4.8 billion a year industry. And now, the brick-and-mortar movie rental store has become obsolete.

Consumers left the stores for movies they could watch instantly on their TVs, computers, and cell phones. Redbox kiosks and OnDemand movies continue to be sources of revenue for this industry, but the Blockbuster concept of in-store rentals has lost all relevance.

Staying relevant in a marketplace that changes continuously is not easy. Ask RadioShack. The company tried rebranding itself as “The Shack” but the effort didn’t change consumers’ impressions. Younger customers continued to see the company as out of touch. Thus, the company declared bankruptcy this year after 94 years and 7,000 stores.  Ask Borders. The company continued its old-school bookstore practices, while Barnes & Noble introduced the Nook and dominated the sale of physical books and ebooks. 

 Just think about how many businesses have gone under because owners and managers did not realize they had become irrelevant until it was too late. When was the last time you saw a working pay phone? Not since every consumer started carrying a cell phone. When is the last time you saw someone using an actual camera to take photos? (Think Polaroid.) Consumers have gone from window shopping at the mall to browsing the Internet during work hours. From checking the physical mailbox every day to downloading and paying bills online. From using taxis to using Uber. The world is changing, so how do we stay relevant in the minds of consumers?


Each of us must consider how we will keep our businesses relevant in the eyes of consumers. Will we stick our heads in the sand and ignore consumers who have decided they can create their own awards? Will we pretend that customers will stay loyal to our company and not look at other options? Will we refuse to admit that it only takes one vocal committee member to defund a client’s budget? Will we look the other way, rather than just admit that many consumers spend hours browsing online for awards you don’t stock or for a better price? Will we cross our arms and deny that baby boomer consumers are very different from Generations X and Y? Will we shake our heads and just hope the recent assault on participation trophies will go away and never be mentioned again? Will we stay relevant?

It is very easy to stick your head in the sand, rather than look at the issues retailers may be facing. At least it is for me. It’s easy for me to rationalize that staying relevant is something I will work on tomorrow…or the next day…or the next. It is so much easier to believe that all consumers are the same—much harder to have to develop new ways of marketing to younger consumers. It is very easy for me to believe that my loyal customers would never, ever stray. It’s much harder to admit that it is my job to ensure their loyalty. It is so much easier to believe that all consumers love awards as much as we think they should. It’s much harder to develop ways to show the relevance of awards to nonbelievers

A few weeks ago, our business participated in a trade show as an exhibitor. I was so proud of our display and excited to meet new potential customers and show them all we could do. Our booth was packed with potential customers when one attendee wandered into our booth and loudly proclaimed, “I hate trophies. They are irrelevant. My son has a ton of them and they aren’t good for anything but collecting dust.” Uh-oh. The booth fell silent, and I could just see others thinking about what the woman had said, wondering if she was right. Now, you know that a part of me wanted to show this attendee right out of our booth. Or start a long litany of why trophies are so much more than dust catchers. Instead I smiled and said, “I’ll bet you and your son have some wonderful memories associated with each one of those trophies.” Boom! She looked surprised, but immediately launched into a story about a particular award and the wonderful time their family had at the event where the award was won. Other attendees chimed in, picking awards up from our display, and reminiscing about trophies they had won. Before you knew it, everyone in our booth was excited about picking out awards.

So, heads out of the sand! Time for planning. Time for action. Time to re-invent and stay relevant, stay necessary. In the book, Reinventors: How Extraordinary Companies Pursue Radical Continuous Change, author Jason Jennings writes, “Your job as you know it and your business as it currently runs will eventually change. We must become re-inventors, and we’d better do it quickly.”

We must look at ways to stay very relevant in the marketplace. We must re-invent our stores for 2016 and beyond.


"In the business world, it doesn’t matter if you are first, and it doesn’t matter if you are currently on top. What matters is that you keep pace with your customers and what they want.” —Tricia Drevets
  1. It may be time to recognize that fewer customers are willing to shop “your way.” Customers have unlimited options for awards in 2015, and they want what they want, when they want it. What does that mean to the awards retailer? Learning to work within the customer’s timeline, not your store’s timeline. Taking time to find out what the customer really wants, not trying to sell her what you overbought. Providing the customer with a quote, samples, or catalogs, rather than assuming he will remember what you offer when he talks to his supervisor.

    If your customer retention levels have gone down or you don’t seem to be getting as many new customers as in the past, it is time to change your ways. Even if your customer base has continued to grow, it still may be time to change your ways. As Jon Acuff said, “Sometimes success makes you deaf to change.” That makes a lot of sense, don’t you think? If you are rocking along, with sales increases and quicker inventory turnover, you may not be thinking about how to continue to stay relevant. But staying relevant, in good times and bad times means looking at every aspect of your business and continuing to ensure that customers can have it “their way.”

  2. Staying relevant means being visible to consumers in your marketplace. If people don’t know your business exists, they will not be looking to do business with you. Make 2016 the year you join a new group with members in your target audience. What better way to meet new customers than at a meeting where you all have something in common? Make 2016 the year you update the signage on your brick and mortar store and update all of your local advertising. Make 2016 the year you increase your online visibility. Numerous studies have shown that if younger consumers can’t find you online in places other than your website, they probably will not shop with you. But also keep in mind that these consumers view an outdated presence as worse than no presence. So get out there in your community, get online, and get those social media sites updated!
  3. Stay close to your customers if you want to stay relevant with them. Don’t just assume they will magically appear in your store the next time they need awards. Send reminders to customers that have repeat orders. Let them know you are excited to work with them on their upcoming event. Reach out to regular customers once a quarter with a newsletter, a post on their company or school Facebook page, an email or a mailing with a promotional product. Reaching out doesn’t necessarily mean trying to sell the customer something. It is intended to just keep your company’s name front and center. No time? Download the quarterly Recognition is Rewarding newsletter that the Awards and Personalization Association provides free to members. You can send it out via e-mail or add your company name, address, and logo to send it through the mail. Log in to and click on Marketing Tools under Membership.

    Will Land wrote, “Give your customers a reason to pay more attention.” If your customer purchases from you once or twice a year, there is a lot of time between orders when the customer is not thinking about you. Staying in touch on a regular basis gives them more reason to remember you, more reasons to pay attention to your company, and more reasons to stay loyal to your company!

  4. Keep up to date with the latest trends, technology, and products. Customers want to see fresh and new when they visit your store or website. Our industry suppliers make it inexpensive and easy to keep displays up to date with sample sets and low-cost individual samples. Even if you can’t afford the latest technology, know what is available and what your competitors offer. Many times you can find a supplier, jobber, or fellow retailer that will be able to do a job for you if you don’t have equipment to offer a certain process. Our store sublimates products for a few other retailers who don’t want to turn down customers who want sublimated products. If there is a will, there just might be a way!

    Keeping up with trends can put you ahead of the game. Do you know the latest trends in punctuation and grammar? Do you know what the most popular colors are projected to be in 2016? Do you know why your customer might be tempted to make his own award with a 3D printer? Being up to date on products, technology, and trends is a great way to continuously offer consumers something new.

  5. Service is back in style. After years of retailers trying self check-outs and price-check machines, many retailers have figured out what our retailers have known all along— service sells! The problem today is being able to translate the customer’s definition of service into your existing business plan. We know what we think outstanding service is, but are we right? Do new customers want your brand of service? Good manners, a cheerful attitude, great products, and a knowledgeable staff will always be important parts of service, but what else does the younger consumer want? For one, younger consumers want your virtual store to be as easy to shop in as your physical location . They want options other than coming into your store to place an order and options to have their order delivered. They want easy payment options, and they want quick responses to questions. They want convenience throughout the shopping experience. And they want to be treated like the most special customer you have. “Maniacally focus on the customer experience,” said Tracey Wiedmeyer. If you do that, customers—old and new—will be thrilled to shop with your company.


Whether we like it or not, consumer attitudes about awards are not all positive. A couple of month ago, there was a firestorm in the media and online that criticized participation trophies for children. We had to listen to critics blast the idea of handing a child a trophy, “just for showing up.” I still get aggravated when I think of the trade show attendee that deemed trophies only good for catching dust. We would like to ignore these folks, but a better option is for everyone in your business to KNOW why awards are so relevant in today’s world.

At the beginning of the school year, we send out a short letter to principals and coaches that gives bullet points about how to effectively use awards in the classroom and on the sports fields. We show a photo of a 6-year-old holding her first trophy and grinning ear to ear. What adult doesn’t want to see a child that excited and happy? The child that learned teamwork, learned to share, and learned to stay the course. The child that made progress in the classroom and learned positive behavior and skills. And you know, a 6- year-old does understand that the award represents finishing what they started, improving a skill, or learning a new life skill. It is our job to put participation trophies in perspective for consumers in a positive way. It is our job to convey the relevant of awards to consumers in a way that is nonconfrontational, but rather that excites consumers about what we sell—positive recognition and appreciation.

The Awards and Personalization Association offers a one-page PDF that you can print to send to and give to your customers and prospective customers that teaches them how to correctly use awards in youth sports. Go to and click on the “Establish a Sports Recognition Program” link—complete with smiling young athlete—on the lower right side of the homepage.

Staying relevant means you fully understand why awards and personalized products are important and that everyone in your business can convey the message in an upbeat, positive way. Reminding others about the important role awards and personalized products play in today’s society will keep your business relevant!

Fran Carville, CRM, is an Awards and Personalization Association past president, educational speaker, 2008 Speaker of the Year, a member of the Hall of Fame, and winner of an Award of Excellence from the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Fran and her husband, Tom Carville, CRM, own Carco Awards in Baton Rouge, LA.

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