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: 04/12/2019

    Should retailers worry that secondhand apparel is flooding the market?

    They can't ... in the short run. The Thrift Store Revolution is about more than orderly closets, environmental consciousness, and saving money. It's a legitimate subcultural fashion trend. And trends change. My guess is that the best way to stay in business is to know your customers and offer them a unique retail experience. In retailing, playing by somebody else's rule book is the fastest way to fail.
  • Posted on: 04/12/2019

    Should retail rivals see Amazon’s $15 minimum wage and raise it $1?

    First of all Bezos is probably -- as always -- looking for a new way to get positive PR. As to the response, in a tight labor market employers are forced to raise starting wages, so anything is possible. Of course, if Amazon's competitors fall into the trap Bezos has set and raise starting salaries to $16 an hour, he'll just turn around a raise them a dollar an hour -- a cheap investment for positive publicity.
  • Posted on: 04/12/2019

    Why consumers are breaking bonds with their favorite brands

    Times change. For the past five decades Americans have become less and less attached to institutions of all kinds than their parents and grandparents were. The values first surfaced in the 1960s -- authenticity, an ethical approach to life, distrust of large institutions, a lack of reverence for historical authority, and the celebration of the individual -- have gradually morphed into the value of Millennials and Gen Z -- rejection of traditional brands, demands for ethical corporate policies, environmental concerns, authenticity, appreciation for customized, artisanal products, etc. Did the Internet accelerate the process? Probably. Would it have happened anyway? Just as likely, if a bit more slowly. I think my only advice is that nostalgia is O.K. ... sometimes ... but only when it is presented in an authentic way that is relevant to contemporary consumers.
  • Posted on: 04/11/2019

    What does it take to produce promos that pop?

    Funny thing ... after, quite literally, 101 years of advertising that the most important element of a transaction is heavy promotion, crazy discounting, and price wars, customers get it -- they want the best deal available, as long as they still perceive it as fair and honest. What does it take to move away from this? All the things too many grocers have either forgotten or never learned -- inventory discipline, creative product curation, in-store storytelling, meaningful customer service and, above all, understanding how to make a profit without relying on trade promotional dollars. Supermarketing is a commercial version of what William Burroughs once described as "the algebra of need." Margins are bad, so grocers pursue trade dollars with manufacturers only too happy to spend to buy shelf space for products and line extensions for which there is no genuine consumer demand. The result? Shelves get backed with unneeded and unwanted product, consumers are turned off and heavy discounting becomes the only option. Want to break this vicious cycle? Learn what customers really want; sell it to them as opposed to offering it for sale; and don't be seduced by unprofitable volume. In others words, regain the skills of the merchant and leave juggling all that excess inventory to the competition.
  • Posted on: 04/11/2019

    Amazon Go doesn’t want to leave cash on the table

    This really isn't too tough. Going cashless is a PR misstep, especially for a company run by the world's richest man. The fix? Oh, I don't know ... vending machines, parking lots and all kinds of other folks seem to have worked the bugs out of cash acceptance ... why can't retail? Going cashless today just isn't the right hill for Amazon to die on this year. In five years, who knows? Eventually the society will move toward a "no cash" model, but until then the politics are a little dicey.
  • Posted on: 04/11/2019

    Will more consumers listen now that Macy’s has a new STORY to tell?

    First of all a confession. I am Rachel Schechtman's greatest fan. I loved STORY and I love her fresh approach to retailing. But I continue to be a bit bearish about the STORY/Macy's marriage. I fear it may be a case of too little, too late. Because, while I have every confidence in Rachel, I'm just not sure customers will wade through the miles of private label goods, continuous discounted product, and generally unavailable, disengaged employees to get to her oasis of retail renaissance. I'd like to see Macy's give Rachel an entire story to re-imagine. As for the notion that anyone will go to Macy's in search of, " ... an unforgettable experience that customers will want to document for posterity," I'm wrestling with this, unless posterity is, indeed, a synonym for Instagram.
  • Posted on: 04/10/2019

    Will retailers see more rewards from multi-banner loyalty programs?

    So ... that whole multiple banner thing worked out well for Toys "R" Us ... Seriously, a banner should only exist if it has unique brand values that appeal to a sustainable and profitable cohort of shoppers. Yes, multiple banners work well for hotels, but it works because the brand benefits -- including location -- are distinct. In the hotel example a shared reward program makes sense. I'm not so sure it works as well for what I call "clone brands" that probably shouldn't be distinct brands in the first place.
  • Posted on: 04/10/2019

    Madewell is on the way up, J.Crew is not

    The winds of fashion blow fickle. Michelle Obama helped J.Crew and Madewell has captured the imagination of a vibrant consumer segment -- apparently at J.Crew's expense. Madewell needs to be a standalone brand if it is ever going to reach its potential. While I think the analogy to Gap and Old Navy is a bit strained, there is one area where it applied. When it came to Gap, younger shoppers didn't want to wear the same jeans their parents wore. Times change and fashion brands come and go, just look at Lacoste or Hush Puppies. It may be time for J.Crew to reinvent itself for a new generation and let Madewell set its own course.
  • Posted on: 04/10/2019

    Will Walmart clean up with its robotic workforce?

    We'll see. Obviously Walmart continues to be an innovator in applied automation. The real issues here are: a.) will employees feel "freed" or threatened?; b.) will shoppers see a direct benefit in the form of improved service?; c.) how will shoppers and local media handle the whole "man versus machine" issue; d.) will the robots work as planned? How easy will it be to maintain them? And finally, after the system has been in place what do the cost/benefit numbers look like long-term? As always, the devil is in the details.
  • Posted on: 04/09/2019

    Will Rent the Runway become all the fashion for kids?

    I think it's a natural! Kids outgrow clothes. Fashions change quickly. Parents have limited time to take kids shopping and limited disposable income to sink into wardrobes that will stay in the closet a month or two after they are purchased. Seems to make perfect sense to me.
  • Posted on: 04/09/2019

    Retailers and brands become best of frenemies with Amazon

    Do they have a choice? For many of them Amazon is the largest retail platform available. How could they not at least try to create some commercial rapprochement with Amazon? As to the future, I guess it depends on whether or not Amazon finds it is more profitable to act as a platform, or digital mall; a retailer; or a hybrid, raking off profits from both options. I'm putting my money on Door Number Three.
  • Posted on: 04/09/2019

    What are retailers and suppliers to do when caught between Amazon and Walmart?

    I have followed this trail for more decades than I can remember. Independent retailers used to complain that chain stores got a better deal than they did. They were right since Robinson-Patman only asks that deals be extended without bias, not that everyone is entitled to the same deal. Then, as George notes, chains complained Walmart was getting a better deal, using essentially the same argument the independents has used against them. No surprise then that Walmart is now complaining about Amazon. And so it goes. The "anti-competitive" climate is no better or worse than it has been for years. Robinson-Patman enforcement in the food industry has been iffy, at best. The current Administration seems to believe no regulation is the best regulation, so it doesn't look to me like things will change much before 2020, or maybe 2024, at the earliest. But the question overlooks a critical fact. Sam Walton started out as a guy running a couple of Ben Franklin stores in a "C" or "D" market. His assets were virtually non-existent. The same is true of early chain store pioneers like Piggly Wiggly's Clarence Saunders, the man who held the patent on self-service. And while Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world, he started out at a severe competitive disadvantage. In other words, all of the "giants" were once "midgets" who knocked out the establishment retailers of their era. That to me is the heart of free marketing.
  • Posted on: 04/08/2019

    Should uniform pricing be the norm for large chains?

    Are they serious? Of course it is more profitable ... but is it more competitive? How can they advocate a national price AND suggest customization in less competitive markets? And while we are at it, how many companies lower prices in the absence of competition? And how do you set that, "national price?" Is it keyed off New York City or Owlnest, Wyoming? Good theory, I'm just not sure it would work out in practice.
  • Posted on: 04/08/2019

    Retailers still haven’t solved last mile challenges for fresh foods

    I'm not sure we are looking at this quite right. As Uber Eats, Grubhub, and Jimmy John's, etc., et alia prove -- you can deliver an acceptable fresh product at a variety of temperatures. The real issue is that the customer has to be in place, expecting it, and willing to recognize that the linguini carbonara coming out of a plastic box being delivered by a minimum wage driver may lack some of the qualities generally associated with dining in a white table cloth Italian restaurant. But when it comes to ice cream, produce, etc. I suspect that most people don't want to wait around for yet another delivery person and may, in fact, demand a higher than store quality product if they do. It's easy to forgive yourself for ice cream that got soft in your trunk en route to home in July, but almost impossible to extend the same consideration to a commercial firm.
  • Posted on: 04/08/2019

    Will Alexa earbuds advance Amazon’s virtual assistant ambitions?

    Last time I checked, most people only have two ears which means they can only wear one set of wearables at time. I'm a strong believer in voice-activated commerce, but I think Amazon would be better off putting the R&D money into improvements in the existing system. If they are successful at developing the Alexa equivalent of what, in more innocent times, used to be called a, "killer app," selling the earbuds down the road will be a slam dunk. But if all the earbuds do is draw attention to the limitations of the model, the whole voice-activated enterprise may be compromised.

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