Before I left Best Buy in the spring of 2012 I promised them to keep my mouth shut for 2 years. That promise expired yesterday, March 31.
Today, I shared the last memo with the press I sent back in 2012 to my colleagues at Best Buy. I did it for one reason: I looked at it recently and thought “All of this is still relevant to most retailers out there right now”.
I love Best Buy. It’s the best toy store you could ever imagine. And if you believe that we are on the verge of a renaissance of new gadgets like robotics, wearable computing, and home automation - there’s reason for hope - even in physical retail. Now add in mobile technology, digital payments, cheap sensors, and better software tools - and you can re-invent just about every business there is. That’s what’s happening to taxis(Uber), hotels(airbnb), payments(Square), and autos(Tesla). This list is not going to stop.
There’s so much more that could be done. It’s not just Best Buy. It’s everyone. Airlines, banks, mobile carriers all could be radically experimenting to reinvent their businesses to stay relevant. (That’s why T-mobile CEO John Legere is the most exciting CEO in America right now - because he is breaking as many rules as he can - to take care of the customer experience). Increasingly the consensus is that this will not happen. Most of the names you recognize today will be replaced by companies that haven’t even been started yet.
When I moved to San Francisco, I thought everyone here would expect all retail to die, and focus only on e-commerce. You wouldn’t believe the number of hi-tech thinkers here who have their own physical retail concepts and ideas. Best Buy can expect even more interesting competition to emerge.
Funny side story: As I am packing up my boxes in MN to move during the summer of 2012, I received a phone call from Hubert Joly (the current CEO). Best Buy had fired their previous CEO, and everyone was wondering who they were going to pick.
I had only met Hubert once at a dinner party briefly a few weeks earlier by chance. He said to me, “I know we have only met once, but I have been approached as a candidate to be CEO of Best Buy. Should I take the job?” I said, “It’s a bit of a suicide mission right now, but there’s a lot a person could do there.” After he was hired, I sent him a copy of this same memo in the hopes it might give him some ideas on where to start. I think he’s done a great job to steady the ship. Now the real hard part begins. I’m rooting for him.
Recently, Twitter set up a site that let you see your first tweet ever sent. This was my first tweet back when the service was just under 2 years old. It still seems relevant:
Fortune Cookie: Don’t ever say “I Don’t Know”, say “I’ll Find Out”— Robert Stephens (@rstephens)February 7, 2008
P.S. - Thanks to the Pioneer Press waiting 24 hours so as not to publish this story on April Fool’s Day, the worst day to share news on the internet.