PROFILE

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 Amazon.com, 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.

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  • Posted on: 09/02/2016

    Why do consumers like retail apps?

    Some retailers draw more discount-oriented shoppers than others. I don't know if any of us will live long enough to see a Harry Winston frequent shopper app that notifies us about a flash sale on diamonds ten carats and above. There may or may not also be a correlation to age cohorts. It seems logical to assume retailers catering to Millennials and Generation Zers will have more success getting their customers to leverage technology. The most critical factors -- as illustrated by the Peapod example cited in the article -- are easy navigation and seamless function. If that app is slow or freezes it's a non-starter.
  • Posted on: 09/02/2016

    Walmart cuts in-store back-office jobs

    Last question first. Looks like a cost saving move to me. Presumably some of those back-office folk won't be too excited about being offered lower-paid store floor positions and will move on to other employers. Now as to the first question, I guess it all depends on what you mean by repercussions. Can you displace a large group of workers without blowback? Not too easily unless you do it through attrition. What form will the repercussion take? Probably increased shrink, maybe an isolated protest or two and possibly some negative press coverage. My bet; life will go on once the dust settles.
  • Posted on: 09/02/2016

    Can edible packaging help solve retail’s eco problem?

    I hope this is an end of the week, comic relief question. But for the moment, let's assume it is serious. The answer is, it isn't very realistic. Let's start with the basic problem -- you buy food to eat food, not the packaging it comes in. Now let's move on to a slightly more nuanced issue. If the packaging in question can dissolve in your mouth, how would you wash it? I can't see millions of Americans munching on that nice cheese package that has been handled by ... well ... millions of other Americans ... without washing it. There are much better ways to address this issue, such as reducing packaging, making it out of totally biodegradable materials (as opposed to corn starch and plastic), etc. As to the final question about what it would take to get CPG brands to adopt, and consumers to accept, edible packaging, at least at scale, the phrase, "an act of God" comes to mind.
  • Posted on: 09/01/2016

    Amazon to test 30-hour week

    I agree with Tom and Ben. Sure, most of us know that a focused 30 hour work week could be more productive than a leisurely 40 hour work schedule, but if we were really ambitious and upwardly mobile, how many of us would sign on for the pared down hours? While the idea has great merit in theory, I'm afraid that in practice it would create two "classes" of workers and that anyone seeking to improve their personal position would opt in for the extended hours.
  • Posted on: 09/01/2016

    Schnucks bans solicitors from outside its stores

    The answer to the first question, as noted by my friend Ben Ball, is that it depends on what cause they represent and how aggressive they are in pursuing that representation. If it's the Salvation Army at Christmas time, I have no problem with them. If I don't like their politics, I don't have to contribute. Now, if it's some rapid fanatic cause group that is harassing customers on the way in and out of the store, I might have some issues. In the case of Schnucks it appears that the only way they could avoid the union protestors was to toss everyone out, which is -- of course -- their right. Clearly, the law doesn't allow you to pick and choose, so it really is an all or none decision.That said, while the new policy solves one problem, or perhaps even more than one since I don't know who else use to be in front of their stores, it creates several others. What about groups like the Salvation Army or the Scouts -- Boy, Girl, Cub and Brownies? What about local school groups doing fundraisers? Or neighborhood clubs? Clearly the list of potential PR "black eyes" is longer than the short list of groups the company might want to ban. Bottom line: it's their call, but if I were them I might rethink my position.
  • Posted on: 09/01/2016

    Has American Girl made a wise move into Toys ‘R’ Us?

    I see it as a risk. Limited availability is a critical component of the American Girl aura. Take that away and part of the brand allure goes away with it. At best you create two classes of customers: real, authentic customers who travel to American Girl stores and faux, aspirational customers who can only access a limited downmarket assortment at Toys "R" Us. Premium brands flourish in part because they are deliberately under-distributed. It's a lesson somebody at American Girl ought to pay attention to.
  • Posted on: 08/31/2016

    Is good karma the newest customer reward?

    Totally agree Ian, with the caveat that nobility doesn't always sell well in a venal world. Recognition of self is sadly probably more powerful than good works today. That's why there are so many people hitting that Facebook "Like" buttons and so few working to eradicate poverty or feed the hungry.
  • Posted on: 08/31/2016

    Can fresh foods revive department stores?

    Fresh food works well in department stores outside the U.S. The problem here is that the department store format is less and less appealing over time, no matter what departments you put in it. And if I think of department stores such as KDV in Berlin which has one of the most amazing food retailing experiences you'll ever see in any kind of a store, I'm hard pressed to think of an American department store chain that could pull off half as effective a presentation. Mark me skeptical.
  • Posted on: 08/31/2016

    Abercrombie is abandoning teenagers

    In a perfect world, yes, but those young adults grew up thinking of Abercrombie as a teen brand, so that's likely to be a little harder than it sounds. Twenty-somethings are ready to differentiate themselves from teens for a variety of reasons. Abercrombie has based its brand on its appeal to teenagers. Switching inventory and marketing is one thing; erasing brand image and building a new brand is quite another.
  • Posted on: 08/31/2016

    Is good karma the newest customer reward?

    I'd see non-monetary incentives becoming a critical rather than a central element of successful loyalty programs. There's always a market for ego gratification and social recognition, but the value of that market doesn't necessarily surpass the value of access to special offers, deep discounts or other loyalty-based incentives. What these non-monetary incentives do is recognize the shopper first as an individual and then as an individual in their preferred social context -- both powerful motivators and highly successful levers to employ in order to build engagement.
  • Posted on: 08/30/2016

    J.Crew to sell inside Nordstrom

    Depends which side of the deal you are looking at. From J.Crew's point of view it's an almost total win. They help bolster flagging sales, boost the credibility of the brand as a line, rather than as a retailer, get introduced to new customers and move under the shelter of Nordstrom's service halo. From the Nordstrom point of view, it's perhaps a tad dicier. Their bet is that they will attract a fair number of J.Crew shoppers and increase their own sales by adding lines that appeal to a customer they've been missing. The question is, will that J.Crew customer like all of the Nordstrom aura wrapped around their favorite J.Crew sweater enough to start buying non-J.Crew items? Also, what happens if J.Crew continues to stumble? Is Nordstrom going to be the latest in a series of retailers who added lines just to see those lines take down their brand image?It's the early days, but I'd say that is a potential risk. As to whether we will see more of this kind of thing I think the answer to that question is yes. The real question is, should we see more of this? And the answer to that question is probably no. This feels a lot like the latest death throes of physical, mall-based retail. If everyone starts selling everyone else's lines, why have separate stores? And, realistically, what will that leave to compete on besides price? Could we see a future where that J.Crew sweater is cheaper at Nordstrom than it is at J.Crew? It's possible. Building brands is always critical. Diluting them is never wise.
  • Posted on: 08/30/2016

    Is the Millennial car shopper Amazon’s next big audience?

    Cars are just one more way for Amazon to connect to its customer and, as I have written before, I believe that's what this is all about. It isn't that Amazon wants to sell cars, or be the trusted authority for researching automotive purchases. What Amazon wants is to have as many emotional and commercial touch-points to the customer as possible. Put a simpler way, in a perfect world from Amazon's perspective, you'd never have to deal with anyone else but Amazon. Trust them to get you the best deal on books, clothing, furniture, tools, cars, whatever, and why would you go anywhere else? Amazon's strategy appears to be to encircle the customer, wrapping a commercial cocoon around them that reinforces the shopper logic of buying from Amazon. So looking at test drives is missing the point. It isn't the car, it's the connectivity.
  • Posted on: 08/30/2016

    Retail executives have no clue about digital

    It isn't necessarily the age, it's the attitude ... oh, and yes, the org chart. Let's start with the attitude. Nikki is one-thousand percent right about retail being resistant not just to keeping pace with technology, but at points actively fighting it. But I think that has to do with the tragically ironic fact that many retail organizations are still more focused on areas like logistics, category management, price elasticity and -- of course -- financials than they are on customers.The fact is, Nikki's observation that, "To be really honest, it looks an awful lot like 1985 ...," may, in fact, be off by at least two decades. There has been a social and cultural revolution going on in America since the 1960s and the artifacts of that revolution -- non-traditional households, changing work patterns, altered attitudes toward food and dining, and, of course, the use of technology -- have been largely overlooked by most retailers. You'll never catch up to the technology if you continue to lose sight of the people who employ it. And then there is the org chart.The org chart -- in too many cases -- has IT off in some support role as though technology is, at best, an enabler of non-tech strategies. In the same way that we saw CFOs move into positions of control, I believe we ought to be seeing CIOs and CTOs taking full leadership positions. Maybe then, retail could begin paying catchup in its race to join the 21st century. But as long as technologists remain organizational -- and cultural -- stepchildren in retail companies not much is going to change.
  • Posted on: 08/29/2016

    ConAgra, Unilever mull delivering meals to the home

    Like so many questions, the answer to this is, "The devil is in the details." Meals and branded solutions are far different businesses than ingredients and branded products. Being good at the latter is no guarantee you'll even be competitive when it comes to the former. Meals are complex from conception to execution and require a whole new battery of skill-sets to pull off, especially for companies whose corporate mental models still revolve around the notion of people cooking meals and sitting down and eating them together.I'm not saying large manufacturers couldn't (or won't, for that matter) get into the meal kit business, but I am saying that they ought to look carefully before they leap. The potential exists to do great damage to brand loyalty established over decades. If I was a manufacturer and thinking about this I wouldn't look to a retail partner but instead look to partnering with or acquiring a company -- or at the very least hiring people -- with proven meal kit experience, from chefs and nutritionists to marketers and small-package logistics experts.
  • Posted on: 08/29/2016

    How much loyalty do off-pricers have?

    Let's start with facts. Off-price shoppers are loyal to heavy discounts. That shouldn't come as a shock, or new news, to anyone. At the same time that doesn't mean that they couldn't be loyal to an individual retailer or retailers in the off-price channel if those retailers tried to build loyalty around something else than ... well ... price. As long as you tell customers that the most important thing they should look for, or that you offer, are extreme discounts alone, you are never going to be in position to build true, effective, sustainable brand loyalty. As competition increases the off-price pie will continue to fragment into an increasing number of piles of crumbs. If I were TJX's management I would begin doing extensive customer research to find out who my customers really were and what else -- besides extreme discounts -- they were looking for. Trust me, shoppers aren't just defined by the discounts they pursue, but if you don't realize that, the winner will be the company with the narrowest margins and the most locations.

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