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: 02/12/2021

    Whole Foods gets a lot right and wrong

    Amazon is a logistics company, maybe an effective brander of personal electronics, but not (yet) a great fresh merchant. They need to focus on the "grocery" part of grocery distribution. I think Whole Foods' problem is systemic, not pandemic-oriented. But, I also think Amazon has the capability of ramping up the learning curve quickly when it focuses on a category, so I think they can course correct if they choose to.
  • Posted on: 02/12/2021

    Will IKEA’s new furniture line be a winner with video gamers?

    IKEA's big advantage will be cost. It's biggest disadvantage is that the most lucrative part of the gamer market overspends on components (game cards, etc.) and furniture already. In other words, whatever IKEA comes up with will have to be better than the furniture gamers already have. So IKEA's real target is young gamers (age six to 16) still living with their parents - as opposed to older gamers still living in their parents' basement. Since gamers are looking for functionality over "brand," established office furniture companies may have an edge if they focus on the needs of gamers and less on their own reputations.
  • Posted on: 02/12/2021

    Should retailers ask workers to return to their offices?

    First question first. I don't see "most" corporate workers returning to offices until "most" corporate workers - and everyone else - are vaccinated, and that's not even considering the emergence of a variant that the vaccine isn't effective against. If, or when, they do return I think we will see some hybrid emerge as the "new normal" for office workers. As to what might be lost -- besides a good deal of socialization time, unnecessary meetings, etc. -- that depends on the company, the worker's role, and a whole host of other variables. But I wouldn't be worrying about changing office decors until this fall at the earliest and possibly the first quarter of 2022 at the rate things are going.
  • Posted on: 02/11/2021

    Should Aldi’s growing store count and digital progress keep rivals up at night?

    I'm not surprised. For as long as I can remember "experts" have been telling me Aldi would never succeed in America. And for all those years Aldi has continued to grow. There's a saying that the devil's greatest trick is convincing you he doesn't exist. Sounds a lot like the Aldi strategy. I see absolutely no reason to believe that Aldi will not be an effective competitor for Big Box grocery. They know their customer. They evolve their offering. And they make great, if quiet, use of technology. Oh, and I'm sure they are happy to be underestimated by the pundits and the competition.
  • Posted on: 02/11/2021

    Will Men’s Wearhouse’s new digitally-equipped next-gen stores be a must shop?

    The quick answer is no. On the high end, customers want service -- not efficiency. They want the whole human trusted advisor treatment. Also it seems off-brand for Men's Wearhouse which has built its brand around a personal guarantee and a (low) price point. It seems that what they're doing - in part - is automating suggested selling. You can do that as effectively online, if you are that kind of consumer. And that's the real enigma here; exactly who is the target shopper and what technological benefit will resonate with them? Think about it. Any man who has ever bought a suit has had the experience of walking into a men's store, and being (literally) "sized up" (in every sense of the word) by a pack of salespeople who can tell their size in one glance. It's Old School contactless measurement. Is all this going to help the "Buy Two, Get One" customer? I, for one, don't see it. In fact, it might have the opposite effect.
  • Posted on: 02/11/2021

    Starbucks’ meatless store pilot ran in stealth mode

    An all plant-based menu can scale - provided, of course, the food tastes good. They could use Tom Brady as a spokesperson. I think the stealth model is interesting because it probably more closely mirrors actual consumer receptivity. If, as in this case, I wander into a Starbucks that doesn't sell meat but isn't branded as vegan or vegetarian odds are I'll find something I want to eat. Put a label on the store and you've created a community of exclusion that will keep "average" consumers out. So, I say, keep up the stealth tests and let the best ideas win.
  • Posted on: 02/10/2021

    Does Walgreens’ nursing home experience portend a slow retail recovery?

    No, I don't. Vaccine reluctance has three primary sources: the politicization of public health, junk science, and junk media. The only way the pandemic could have been handled worse is if the government had done nothing. I was at my doctor's office yesterday for a checkup and was shocked to hear that only one of the nurses had gotten vaccinated, despite them all being eligible. The reasons for not getting the shots sounded like a reprise of QAnon's Greatest Hits. And, remember, these are people I have known for years - educated medical professionals, potentially on the frontlines of the battle. The fact is people are confused. Take masks. We've gone from no masks, to recommended masks including bandanas, to multiple masks, to mandated masks. The public health communication program was not only ineffective but criminally stupid. At this point it's hard to imagine how you neutralize that polarization enough to reach the vaccination numbers needed to achieve herd immunity. And there is mounting concern that the pandemic will become endemic, i.e., that it will be with us for years, a potentially deadlier form of flu, that will require all of us to get boosters once or twice a year. Now just think how many of your friends and families don't get flu shots, and you begin to see what we are up against. Herd immunity won't be reached in the "short run" (this year or next) so yes, retailers definitely should be thinking about a Plan B. What that looks like depends on what kind of retailer you are. For supermarkets, chain drug stores, club stores, and DIY outlets it probably means institutionalizing what many had hoped would be temporary measures and policies. For apparel retailers it means erasing the barriers between digital and physical in ways radically beyond the laughingly, so-called "omnichannel" thinking.
  • Posted on: 02/10/2021

    Clothing retailers are trying to cut their way to higher profits

    I think orders will be sharply curtailed for a number of reasons. First, nobody knows if the current pandemic will be under control this year, with the most optimistic estimates now pointing to August at the earliest. Secondly, there is significant evidence that we are quickly moving from pandemic to endemic, with the threat of new variants keeping all of us tied to an ongoing series of booster shots for the foreseeable future. And, perhaps even more importantly over the long haul, purchase patterns have changed - perhaps forever. If or when the pandemic is over life won't be going back to "normal." Lots of workers will continue to work remotely for any number of reasons, and most of them will continue to favor "Zoomwear" over my high-style clothing choices. The market for athleisure? Hot! The market for suits and ties? Not so much. As to the online returns problem, if I actually knew the answer to that I'd be unplugged in Tahiti now. What I do know is that an effective answer isn't on the horizon now.
  • Posted on: 02/10/2021

    Will big food brands turn to home-delivered meals to drive future growth?

    This may be the wrong question since its answer is a self-evident yes. A better question might be, will the opportunities for CPG companies to sell fresh meals and meal kit deliveries created during COVID-19 continue post-pandemic? Clearly, consumers who haven't been able to access restaurants have expanded the addressable market for in-home heating/cooking plans. Will some of that market be retained post-COVID-19? Of course. The multi-billion questions are how much, what will the preferred form be, and at what price/margin point will the solution be offered? My guess, and all any of us can do at this point is guess, is that a significant minority of current customers will stick with the meal kit delivery options but that the market, as a whole, will decline if people get the opportunity to freely go outside to dine again. As to what Freshly brings to Nestle, that's easier: experience, IP around consumer behavior, and an established brand in a competitive space where brand means everything.
  • Posted on: 02/09/2021

    No sweat. Target’s activewear brand’s sales move past $1B

    Target simply executes better, full stop. They have built consumer trust over the years, created a genuine cachet around their brand, and hit all the right trends at the right times. They are, if you will, as close to an "influencer" as a brick and mortar retailer can be. Their "secret sauce"? They pay respect to, and pay attention to, their customers. The rest is easy.
  • Posted on: 02/09/2021

    Will retail pharmacies be the cure for America’s ‘vaccine deserts’?

    I think both chain drug stores and supermarket operators are on the front line of a problem they, in some way, helped to create. If you are in a lower income area odds are there isn't a modern supermarket near you. Drug store? More likely, but there's a similar problem there. The same is true if you live in a rural area. And if you live in a rural area with a significant lower income population, odds are you can score Oxycodone or meth far easier than any of the COVID-19 vaccines. So the first step to turning this around is acknowledging the problem. Next, any retailer with a pharmacy and access to a vaccine should test the practicality of setting up vaccination stations or possibly mobile clinics. Without retail pharmacies stepping up their game it is going to take us forever to achieve herd immunity.
  • Posted on: 02/09/2021

    Will pandemic-fatigued couples love Lowe’s and Whole Foods’ Valentine’s promos?

    Call me traditional (something nobody has ever done) but my idea of a great Valentine's Date would not be spending two hours in a Lowe's store. Now, the Dunkin' promotion has some financial incentives, so my bet is that they will sell out. But, that said, I think I have to give the nod to Whole Foods which combines staying home with the one you love, good food, and entertainment and lets people support their local community. After that all you need is love.
  • Posted on: 02/08/2021

    Will same-day delivery pay off for dollar stores?

    Gene, I think there is a real danger here that the delivery service may "become" the brand. In the case of all the restaurant delivery services I think that is already starting to happen, i.e., people are going to DoorDash first and then deciding among the selections. Ditto with supermarkets. Who "owns" the customer relationship, Instacart or the retailer? Just asking for an industry.
  • Posted on: 02/08/2021

    Will same-day delivery pay off for dollar stores?

    It may or may not, but there are bigger issues. First, will customers be willing to eat the price increases necessary to preserve margins under the Instacart model or will Family Dollar just absorb the margin hit? And how will Family Dollar maintain its brand integrity in a world where an increasing number of consumers think that DoorDash, Uber Eats, Instacart, etc., are the brand and branders are relegated to a second slot of product sourcers in the consumer's mind? It's a growing concern, and it will get worse before it is resolved.
  • Posted on: 02/08/2021

    Nordstrom is determined to get closer to its customers

    It's hard to argue with any of the elements of the "Closer To You" agenda. But I worry about two things. First, Nordstrom's brand promise has always been around service, not discounting. There are boutique apparel companies out there now that via FaceTime, Zoom, or whatever actually "tour" a customer's closet and drawers, ask questions about why certain items were selected, fabric preferences, social and work life and then curate your closet. This is what digital service looks like to me as opposed to supply chain reform -- as badly needed as it clearly is. Also I think we have to ask ourselves if the whole department store format - as currently conceived - has past its "sell by" date and if what is really needed is a radically reimagined Nordstrom that redefines how certain categories are sold in the 21st century rather than patching holes in the 20th century model.

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