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: 08/03/2018

    Is Target making the right move in dumping C9 Champion?

    I'm still wrestling with the phrase, "'90s revival." Time flies when you are watching retail. Oh well, on to the question. If any brand is underperforming, especially a brand primarily targeting youth shoppers, it's time for it to go. Target can't afford to get too sentimental about C9 or any other brand. And that's the lesson Target -- and every other retailer -- should pay attention to.
  • Posted on: 08/03/2018

    Will in-home 3D scanner drive online clothing sales?

    Body scanning will becomes standard practice one day -- but never at $1,400 a whack -- and not until people get over their fear that those "naked" scans of them aren't going to end up on some Dark Web porn site. Remember how happy people were with body scans at airports? But there is a lesson here. Today, most air travelers routinely pass through those once-controversial scanners without a second thought. So, suppose instead of a $1,400 Naked scanner in your home that you used once a year, a reputable, fully-bonded and secured third-party service offered the same level of accuracy and issues a "Certified Scan" -- available in a mall or third-party retailers -- for $19.99? And suppose online retailers would only accept returns from Certified Scan users? This would solve the price problem and would put a dent in returns. Ron is right, your smartphone could do this, of course assuming a competent operator. So could your Amazon Echo Look with a little modification. I think people will get used to the idea eventually if it means they can finally buy a pair of jeans that fit every time they shop. After all this is really old technology. The Air Force has been using it forever to fit flight suits. The missing links are affordability, price and security.
  • Posted on: 08/03/2018

    Empty malls spelled the end for Brookstone stores

    If the problem was just the declining performance of malls, and the concept was otherwise viable, the simple solution would be relocating out of the mall. I suspect the real problem is that, in a world where 18-month-olds easily command more technology than put John Glenn into orbit, and grade school kids can build their own drones, there's just not a sufficient market for, "look at cool toys." Now that said, Brookstone should serve as a cautionary tale to any retailer whose primary consumer appeal is that the majority of their stores are in malls.
  • Posted on: 08/02/2018

    Wayfair to open its first brick & mortar store

    The experience of any single retailer doesn't tell us anything about the experience of all retailers in their trade class or channel. What it does tell us is that Wayfair has a problem, or several problems, the most notable of which is the high level of returns. I'm not sure what to expect, but I think the outlet model makes more sense for them than the regular store option. But if I were them, I'd try to figure out why my return rate was so high and address that issue before I got too committed to any form of physical retailing.
  • Posted on: 08/02/2018

    Six-year-old YouTuber is the face of Walmart’s new toy line

    Of course -- all child welfare boxes being checked off. Kids are an important segment of Walmart's business and kids are, after all, "born digital" these days which means they may be on YouTube before they are in kindergarten. Of course, in Ryan's case there is a Peter Pan problem -- influencers can't stay kids forever, so somehow the transition needs to be managed in ways that don't start creating horror stories of child influencers who develop serious problems once the spotlight fades.
  • Posted on: 08/02/2018

    Who in retailing’s c-suites should drive customer experience?

    How about creating a new C-suite position, the Chief Customer Officer? There are so many new tools; some analytic some -- like ethnography -- emerging from the social sciences, why not create a customer information czar to process it all? He or she would be responsible for all avenues of customer analytics as they applied to service, offerings, formats, strategy, etc. Her or his outputs would then provide the initial inputs for marketing and let the CTO worry about hardware and software. It's always struck me as interesting that retailing, which professes to be all about the customer, never developed customer knowledge as a formalized internal discipline, but divided it between marketing, outside agencies, consultants, sales, etc.
  • Posted on: 08/01/2018

    Zara bets on faster deliveries from stores to boost online growth

    In today's retail environment, I'd worry about calling anything a new "norm" because things change so quickly. If it works we will see more of it until it stops working.
  • Posted on: 08/01/2018

    Publix takes on service dog tag abuse

    You can't blame Publix for trying to do the right thing, but in this case they shouldn't try to be the final authority. How does one determine if an "emotional support" dog is there for a legitimate reason (PTSD, etc.) or just there because a Millennial is having a bad day? Certainly a supermarket can't. Maybe the answer is some official state-level tagging like a handicapped sticker for a car which -- by the way -- are also frequently abused. That would at least put a lid on the most flagrant abuse without turning Publix and other retailers into fraud enforcement agents.
  • Posted on: 08/01/2018

    Kroger Ship to take on Amazon’s Prime Pantry

    This may be a half-step in an inevitable direction. But why stop at shelf-stable? Well, because picking is too expensive I suppose. However, what do younger consumers want -- more canned corn or fresh corn? It feels like too little to really make a significant difference. As to the second question, it's all part of what is becoming a universal strategy aimed at attempting to get people when they want it, where they want it and how they want it.
  • Posted on: 07/31/2018

    What can retailers do about consumer’s AI concerns?

    All AI isn't consumer-facing, but that's not really the issue. Consumers are willing to trade things like privacy for clearer defined -- and increasingly, transparent -- benefits. If you don't lead with the benefit, they'll never accept the technology. It also depends on whether you position AI as hyper-efficient computation or a sentient "agent." People don't have problems with sharing with loyalty card or automatic payment systems, but they do worry about what "Alexa" and "Siri" can hear and what "they" will do with it.
  • Posted on: 07/31/2018

    Can Tesco beat Aldi and Lidl at their own game?

    Retailers need to stick to their core competencies and not proliferate formats to address any and all possible competition. What Tesco might lose to hard discounters is minimal when compared to the cost of launching, operating and folding a sub-chain of stores whose value proposition is completely counter to one's own. If the new launch works, customers will figure out it is Tesco soon enough and demand the same pricing. If it doesn't, it will just be a very expensive experiment gone wrong. In retailing, as in life, you shouldn't try to be all things to all people.
  • Posted on: 07/31/2018

    Walmart still trying to figure out home delivery

    I think this may be the wrong question. How about, "Since home delivery is an inescapable demand of some current and many future customers, how can retailers adjust their margin and pricing models to cover the cost of an essentially unprofitable service in a manner the majority of consumers can live with?" That's the real question and whoever cracks that code will win.
  • Posted on: 07/30/2018

    Does Five Below make sense for 5th Ave?

    Yes! Upscale is upscale and Five Below may be many things but upscale isn't one of them. Fashion houses sell on perception as much as reality so those landlords should be concerned or we might see Dollar General on Fifth Avenue one day.
  • Posted on: 07/30/2018

    Will RadioShack find new life inside HobbyTown’s stores?

    Yes, it makes more sense than RadioShack opening its own stores, but that's not the same thing as making sense. The DIY business has moved online, at least at supportable scale.
  • Posted on: 07/30/2018

    Retail’s new cobbling economy

    Carol is right on the money here. Gigging is a way for those who argue that the economy is not leaving behind folks that want to work hard to explain away underemployment. If you are on the flip side of that coin cobbling isn't entrepreneurial, it's just surviving. But what works -- perhaps only short term for individuals -- isn't a long-term strategy for companies. Treading water isn't a strategy for winning a swim meet.

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