Ryan Mathews

Founder, CEO, Black Monk Consulting

Ryan Mathews, founder and ceo of Black Monk Consulting is a globally recognized futurist, speaker and storyteller. Ryan is also a best selling author, a successful international consultant and a sought after commentator on topics as diverse as innovation, technology, global consumer trends and retailing. He and his work have been profiled in a number of periodicals including Wired, which labeled him a philosopher of e-commerce and Red Herring, which said of him, “It’s Mr. Mathews’ job to ask the hard questions”. In April, 2003 Ryan was named as “the futurist to watch” in an article on the 25 most influential people in demographics over the last 25 years by American Demographics magazine.

His opinions on issues ranging from the future of Internet pornography to ethnic marketing have appeared on the pages of literally hundreds of newspapers and magazines including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Business Week, Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press, Advertising Age and American Demographics. A veteran journalist, Ryan has written cover stories for Fast Company and other leading magazines has been a frequent contributor to National Public Radio’s Marketplace on topics related to innovation. He is widely regarded as an expert on consumers and their relationship to brands, products, services and the companies that offer them. Ryan has also done significant work in related areas including supply chain analysis, advertising and new product development.

Ryan is the co-author (with Fred Crawford) of The Myth of Excellence: Why Great Companies Never Try To Be The Best at Everything (Crown Business), which debuted on the Wall Street Journal’s list of Best Selling Business Books. Myth was named to the bestseller lists of Business Week, 1-800 CEOREAD and other business book tracking services. It was also a bestseller on, whose Business Editors selected it for their list of the twelve best business books released in 2001. Writing about Myth Federal Express chairman, president and ceo Frederick W. Smith called Ryan an “exceptional strategic thinker.” A.G. Lafley, president and ceo of The Procter & Gamble Company said the Consumer Relevancy model advanced in Myth was, “…the best tool I’ve seen for incorporating consumer wants and needs into your business.” Ryan is also the co-author (with Watts Wacker) of The Deviant’s Advantage: How Fringe Ideas Create Mass Markets (Crown Business), which received uniformly high reviews from the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, Fortune, the Miami Herald and Time magazine. He was also a contributor to the best selling, Business: The Ultimate Resource (Perseus). Ryan is currently at work on his third book (again with Fred Crawford), tentatively titled, “Engagement: Making Sense of Life and Business” which addresses issues as diverse as a new model of branding and the search for the elusive global consumer.

A frequently requested keynote speaker Ryan has addressed a wide variety of subjects in his speech practice from the future of beauty to the future of house paint. His audiences have included labor groups such as the United Food & Commercial Workers Union; not for profit organizations like Planned Parenthood; associations from the Photographic Retailers Organization to the Grocery Manufacturers of America; academic institutions like Michigan State University and Pennsylvania State University; high technology forums such as Information Week’s CIO Boot Camp and Accenture’s E-Business Symposium; consulting audiences including Cap-Gemini, Ernst & Young and Deloitte & Touche; to consumer goods manufacturers from Sherwin Williams to Procter & Gamble, Kellogg’s, Coca-Cola and numerous others. He has worked and spoken extensively in Europe for clients including Grey Advertising, Musgrave, Ltd, the British Post and Unilever. In addition to speaking and his other areas of expertise Ryan has done significant client work in organizational development as a facilitator and scenario planner.

Ryan received his BA from Hope College in Inner Asian history and philosophy and did his graduate work at the University of Detroit where he studied phenomenological ontology. He is a Kentucky Colonel and his reputation and experience as a chili authority won him a seat on the International Chili Society’s board of directors. He has also served on the Advisory Board of the Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management at Michigan State University’s Eli Broad College of Business.

  • Posted on: 09/07/2017

    Will Levi’s virtual stylist put more online shoppers into its jeans?

    The real opportunity here might be to sell customized clothing. For example, Levi inseams come in two-inch increments. If you have, say, a 29, 31 or 33 inseam you are forced to buy "up or down" -- in this case a 28, 30 or 32 inseam or a 30, 32 or 34. The only other option is to buy long and roll the cuff. Obviously there is no way Levi's or any other mass brander could stock stores with every available size combination, but why not let a customer order her or his exact size online?My bet would be that people would happily pay a surcharge for jeans that actually fit. I guess the other issue might be to ask if Levi's has too many style options, making it hard for shoppers to "find" the right style for them in the first place. Carhart, for example, offers far fewer options but seems to be doing a fairly healthy business, even among hipsters.
  • Posted on: 09/01/2017

    Is Selfridges anachronistic or retail’s ticket to recovery?

    I'm not sure there is a pure parallel. Costco certainly encourages browsing, aka treasure hunting. Bass Pro Shops offers an experience-based shopping experience. But ... spectacle? Maybe a new iPhone release at the Apple store. Seriously Selfridges is -- for better and worse -- sort of a one-of-a-kind operation. There are smaller, boutique retailers that create excitement like b8ta, and ones that take merchandising to new and innovative heights like STORY in New York City but, at scale, it's a very short list.
  • Posted on: 09/01/2017

    Does e-commerce need 3-D shopping?

    Sounds like more hype than hope. Why do 3-D when you could already do VR, AR or mixed reality? But I have a serious question whether -- at least today -- you need all those digital bells and whistles to promote e-tailing. Online sales don't seem to have slowed down enough to warrant this kind of investment.The advantages, I suppose, are a new way of navigating "the store." The disadvantages is that anything that adds complexity to the formula aimed at creating "frictionless" commerce probably isn't worth the effort.
  • Posted on: 09/01/2017

    Does Amazon Books need coffee?

    Only if they also offer tea for those of us with more sophisticated taste.Seriously, it sort of seems like a no-brainer considering that so many other bookstores do it and hipsters love their coffee. The next wave of innovation -- craft beers in the bookstores?As to the second question, "complements" is the right word. Amazon built its digital business one category at a time and it looks like it is taking a similar approach to physical retailing. What's next? Maybe an Amazon consumer electronics store?
  • Posted on: 08/31/2017

    Funko creates a brick-and-mortar home for Pop figures

    There is a store a few blocks from me that specializes in limited edition vinyl pop figures from Japan and U.S. artists such as Ron English. Oh -- and yes, it does dynamite business. When "limited edition" models are introduced you can get crowds about the size of a MOMA opening. It is a large, and extremely profitable, business.Mainstream toy retailers can learn a good deal from Funko starting with the notion of scarcity demand modeling. Limit a toy's ... er ... pop culture artifact's ... run and you instantly increase demand, assuming there is a collector's market.As to the question of locations I think that, in this case, less is more. Scarcity is the whole key to the collector market -- and the prices it drives. Too many locations spells trouble and slashed margins.Anyone remember Beanie Babies?
  • Posted on: 08/31/2017

    Is outsourcing a better option for in-home tech help?

    Outsourcing models are only as good as the screening allows. Freelancers have almost none of the corporate concerns that actual employees have and therefore potentially less accountability. When demand for services increases beyond the supply of qualified highly-vetted service people, it's an open invitation for trouble.From the retailer's -- and potentially manufacturer's -- position, outsourcing offers all kinds of advantages -- lower labor costs, fewer benefits, reduced HR costs, etc. But in the end all outsourcing systems depend on two critical dynamics -- the skill of the recruiter and the competency and integrity of the freelancer. And in the end, the danger to the brand is equal whether the "tech" is on staff or just a digital gun for hire. If there's a problem the consumer is going to blame the brand, not the freelancer.
  • Posted on: 08/31/2017

    Are fashion trends moving too fast for retail?

    The issue isn't whether or not trends are moving faster, but rather that trend awareness has undeniably sped up. The truth is that 20 years ago, by the time teenagers in Peoria were wearing what they thought fashionista club kids were wearing in the East Village, the Village hipsters had already moved on to the next big thing months before. The difference today is that Peoria and the East Village are only separated by a click and a few microseconds making real-time trending part of the installed infrastructure of a digitally networked life.As to what manufacturers can do there are several plausible strategies starting with leveraging 3-D printing and other rapid prototyping tools, shortening production runs, capitalizing on the cachet of limited editions and items "only available for a day or week" and of course getting ahead of trends by using a variety of trend-shaping tools from guerrilla celebrity placements -- paying a celebrity to, say, wear your shoes in Instagram photos instead of ads -- or using social media to create your own fashion mavens.It isn't easy and the failure rate will -- at least initially -- be higher than most traditional branders and retailers are comfortable with but the alternative is predictable and dismal.
  • Posted on: 08/30/2017

    Will Instagram become retail’s ticket to mobile shopping?

    Social media platforms are fickle and ephemeral beasts. Remember Myspace anyone?Facebook has become the platform du jour for the socially networked parents and -- shudder -- grandparents of the average Instagram user. And who wouldn't want to see what mom and dad think is a hot look in fashion? So Instagram may hold the lead today, but in the fast-paced world of social networks leads are more perishable than hair styles.Brands can use Instagram very effectively. My daughter-in-law's boutique fashion company uses pictures of fashionistas wearing her designs at the hippest of the hip events to great advantage. There may or may not be a direct pitch associated with the photos, but people still actively seek out the designer's name.The caveat is that branders need to know which social networks are "in" with their target consumers and move quickly away from those that fall out of favor. And they have to learn how to to be overtly commercial.Social networks are about people, not brands. If the people are using a brand -- fine and dandy. If the brand is seen as using people -- not so much.
  • Posted on: 08/30/2017

    Is there a ‘right way’ for retailers to help in times of disaster?

    It's a thin line between charity and marketing. I think the examples of breweries shipping out potable water clearly falls on the side of charity since water isn't their core product. Donating money or matching funds is also a fairly "high road" approach to charity.The fact is that the people of Houston have two kinds of needs -- immediate needs like water, food, clothing and temporary shelter and longer-term needs associated with recovery.It's easy for companies to be "one of many" addressing immediate needs, but more difficult when it comes to the long, hard path to recovery and reconstruction. One way to avoid the trap of being seen as exploitative is to form alliances with other companies offering co-branded, or non-branded, solutions.Right now though I doubt if Houstonians are too worried about why help is coming and are just grateful that it is.
  • Posted on: 08/30/2017

    Will smart homes be sold in living rooms?

    I think that, initially at least, in-home consultations will be critical -- at least for Boomers, Gen Xers and maybe even some older Millennials. But as more and more digital natives enter the home market the demand for remedial technology instruction will begin to diminish over time.Turnkey solutions -- especially those not seen as sales-incentive based -- will remove less technologically-savvy shoppers' concerns about any number of areas from cost to efficacy.That said, Best Buy has an established reputation for "objective" sales help since its employees aren't on commission. Amazon, on the other hand, has access to a far greater number of products and services, so it's bound to be a horse race. If I had to handicap the odds, I'd give the advantage to Best Buy in the short run but bet on Amazon for the long haul.
  • Posted on: 08/29/2017

    Retail Mash-Up: What if IKEA and Kohl’s birthed a new concept?

    Uhm, let's see ... I'd say that mash-up would result in a store with very short -- but slow -- lines of people waiting for DIY products that were in fashion a decade ago.The customer experience would be awful and we would -- at last -- have found a way to counter the much vaunted Swedish retail efficiency.As to the last question, the hybrid would be doomed -- full stop.
  • Posted on: 08/29/2017

    Are Whole Foods’ price cuts game-changing for food retailing?

    First of all let's remember we are talking about Whole Foods here. Cutting their prices starts to bring them in line with market pricing -- not exactly the most revolutionary concept in retail history.I assume Amazon will continue its downward pressure on pricing but I don't think that's going to move the industry as a whole to a series of radical en masse price cuts.For me, the real challenge to other retailers is that Amazon continues to surround shoppers with an increasingly complete "consumption environment" in which they only have to deal with Amazon to satisfy a growing percentage of their routine shopping needs.If it works, it will be an-all-but unbeatable strategy.
  • Posted on: 08/29/2017

    Is thrifting going mainstream?

    There are thrift stores and there are thrift stores.Where I live, for example, the Salvation Army store bills itself as "Sally's On Fourth" and boasts a wide assortment of Waterford crystal and other quasi-upscale items. It's also a go-to spot for Millennial fashionistas and hipsters intent on putting together just the right retro look.There are also thrift stores that are, well, thrift stores in the traditional sense all over the Metro Detroit area.What's the difference?Merchandising for sure -- both in terms of the inventory and how it is displayed. And pricing as well. "Sally's" has some eye-popping price stickers on things like minks and ermines -- nowhere close to full retail at a furrier, but clearly several decimal points above the "$1 a bag," clothes offered at other shops.To me, thrift stores have even more potential than dollar stores because they have broader inventories, aren't confined to a single price point and optimize when they are well merchandised.As to whether we need a "large chain" version of the thrift store I think it's a contrarian notion. The thrill is in the hunt and knowing which little hole in the wall really has the goods.
  • Posted on: 08/28/2017

    Are vendors delivering better online experiences than multi-brand sellers?

    First, this is a highly selective sample -- engineered to deliver a predictable result.Second, to answer the question, it all depends on what brand we are talking about. If it is a high-end, high status brand -- say Orvis -- maybe the study's findings are correct. But I don't think anyone looking for Tide online is going to prefer to engage with Procter & Gamble rather than obvious advantage of multi-brand retailers is the ability to contrast and compare product attributes, prices and consumer reviews. I just think -- again with notable exceptions -- that that is what most shoppers are looking for.
  • Posted on: 08/28/2017

    Does Best Buy now have its own summer Black Friday?

    First of all, this is really an "apples and oranges" question. The advantage of Prime Day is that it offers broad discounting over hundreds and hundreds of brands and categories.Best Buy's anniversary sale -- by definition -- will never be able to compete with Amazon, but that's not the point. The goal of the anniversary sales, like so many of the improvements Joly has made since coming on board, is to elevate awareness of Best Buy's strengths -- great customer service, personal electronics problem solving and solution building and no-hustle sales.Sure people can get individual items cheaper in other places, but do consumers want cheaper televisions and cameras or the "right" television system or camera for them? Ditto with computers, phones, white goods, etc.The idea, I believe, is to reintroduce the customer to the idea that there is more to the purchase of consumer electronics and related items than price. How many of us have gone to Best Buy with Purchase A in mind, only to be talked into a lower cost -- and probably better -- alternative Purchase B?That's the value they offer, but they have to get shoppers in the stores to demonstrate it -- and who doesn't like an anniversary?

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