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: 12/18/2018

    Who will win the battle for holiday gift procrastinators?

    All these options are good. Shipping guarantees are great for stimulating online purchases, but for the REAL last-minute shoppers, nothing beats an open door for that final desperation purchase.
  • Posted on: 12/18/2018

    Yoox looks seeks AI’s help for design inspiration

    Using AI for design makes all the sense in the world when we are talking about fast fashion. In theory it allows you to create designs most likely to sell in the moment. Balanced with human designers that can see past the moment, it could be a powerful tool. If however it is being used to predict next season's fashions -- as opposed to addressing contemporary demand -- it could be a disaster, since the market will move faster than the algorithms.
  • Posted on: 12/18/2018

    When are outside Amazon experts better than inside ones?

    The Walmart model might actually be instructive here. While Walmart experts were once in high demand to instruct in the beginning stages of a relationship, major vendors ended up creating internal teams to deal directly with Walmart, most of them located in Bentonville, and the need for outside expertise disappeared in the face of superior internal competencies. We may never see ad agencies or supply chain folks embedded in Amazon headquarters, but my guess is that -- over time -- internal teams will be the most common model adopted by scaled agencies and suppliers.
  • Posted on: 12/17/2018

    Are retailers getting over their SKU management hurdles?

    First of all, let's be realistic. Many SKUs get to -- and stay -- on the shelves because of trade funds, not actual consumer demand. Secondly -- outside of retailers such as Aldi, Trader Joe's and a handful of others -- most stores are still carrying way too much inventory because they either want those trade dollars or they really don't know their customers well enough to know what to kill and what to keep. Velocity reports/hurdle analysis is one way to know what to keep stocking but it doesn't help you figure out what you should be stocking that you currently aren't. Sol Price, the founder of Price Club, used to talk about "the intelligent loss of business," i.e., not stocking "dog" items and letting the customer cherry pick the competition. So hurdles are one tool -- and a valuable one -- but not the only tool retailers should rely on. Great retails like H-E-B, Wegmans and may luxury branders know two things some retailers don't -- who they are and how they want to differentiate themselves and, even more importantly, who their customers are and what they want. And that's how they build their inventory models.
  • Posted on: 12/17/2018

    Will porch pirates ruin Christmas?

    Well, it's been great for Ring and other home surveillance services but it is a serious, and growing, problem. I suspect this isn't going to stop people from shopping online and I also suspect we are going to eventually see some serious injury or possibly loss of life as people try to "bait" porch thieves onto their property and then "make a statement" through violence. The idea of having things delivered to the FedEx Office or UPS is the safest solution and the day may come when people are willing to trade off a bit of convenience for security and guaranteed delivery. Of course, there is a another scam no doubt brewing out there -- people ordering a high-end item, receiving it, and reporting it stolen to e-tailers providing refunds and/or second shipments. Watch for it, because that will change things quickly.
  • Posted on: 12/17/2018

    RH’s new location is a ‘luxury compound’

    Well as with any of these prototype units you have to wait and see what actually happens as opposed to what pundits believe will happen, but given the success of RH's other upscale efforts it looks -- at least at first blush -- to be a natural. I suppose one could make an argument for lots of other brands adopting a similar approach and the possible location list would look like a compendium of the elite's playgrounds. BUT the elite don't want to party and relax in a freestyle "mall" of elite retailers. Napa wouldn't have quite the same appeal if every upscale retailer in America ran in and built their own compound -- not to mention what it would cost them to "buy in" or complications getting building permits through hostile zoning boards.
  • Posted on: 12/14/2018

    Does Starbucks have a big delivery opportunity?

    Not to mention the temperature issue. Even considering things like thermoses, warmers, insulation packs, etc., the coffee would either have to start its journey being heated to too high a temperature or arrive not quite hot enough. I often stand behind hipsters in my local Starbucks who order their lattes at a specific temperature. Of course they get it at the same temperature everyone else does, but they think it has been custom-brewed just for them. And these are the kind of folks that would stick a thermometer into the coffee and reject it if it has had a degree too hot or cold. Even the idea of delivering en masse to an office hasn't been thought through. When was the last time you were in a large corporate office -- or a small office for that matter -- that didn't have one or more coffee stations, a kitchen or a foodservice area? So ... if it makes no sense for an individual, and it makes no sense in a corporate setting -- well ... you get the idea.
  • Posted on: 12/11/2018

    Should Amazon buy Target?

    The real question might be not does Amazon need a physical retail presence but rather, if they do need an expanded physical presence, do they want to be stuck with the existing Target network or would they be better off building/leasing their own locations on an opportunistic basis? I like the idea -- in theory -- of a USPS takeover. Of course -- among several thousand things -- the pension plan liability, (which I don't think they could realistically get out from under) would keep that from every happening, but you raise a good point. Can Amazon continue to grow without its own dedicated distribution arm? What happens if all the existing carriers suddenly raise their rates? So, if not the USPS, maybe DHL's North American operations makes some sense. BTW, you do get extra points for the idea of getting the government out from under the Post Office, but the idea of a "Forever Amazon" stamp might curl our retail friends' collective toes.
  • Posted on: 12/07/2018

    IKEA assembles holiday messages to drive sales

    I suppose it all comes down to how you interpret the idea of "brand." If you mean you want people to remember IKEA, then "Maybes" -- the first spot -- is probably the most effective. If you define the exercise as representing the brand values then all three work, although I thought the trans-generational messaging of the "Magic Man" spot was perhaps a touch stronger than the other two. They were all well done.
  • Posted on: 12/06/2018

    What is the dollar value of trust?

    Great point Ian. Trust is most clearly manifested during periods of conscious risk. But trust is also a risk-mitigation vehicle. So, for example, when a lower income shopper goes to Walmart, they "trust" they will receive good products at reasonable prices. In this example, Walmart's performance over time mitigates the risk of a poorer shopper minimizing the value of the small number of disposable dollars they have available to them. The risk of not being able to make the money go far enough is certainly always there, but again it is mitigated by experience as opposed to something more dramatic, say, you walking off a 30 story building because you trust me when I say you will be safe. And this is exactly why "trust" isn't something branders can -- or at least should -- promise. You are spot on. It is a spiritual experience that lives in the hearts and minds of the consumer who chooses to bestow it -- or not to bestow it -- on a brander.
  • Posted on: 12/06/2018

    What is the dollar value of trust?

    I have to question the premise here. Trust isn't something a retailer "creates," it is something customers bestow on retailers as a result of their experience with them. A retailer cannot promise, "trust," -- their trustworthiness is either validated or refuted in real time by their customers. And exactly how much should a customer "trust" a retailer who strives to "be as relevant as budget permits"? Why is trust linked to economic performance? Does this means that in tough years branders can feel free to misuse data? And data security is only one aspect of how customers measure trust, not the only criterion. So if my data is secure, but my customer service experience is horrendous and/or a brander misrepresents the products they manufacturer or sell -- am I suppose to still trust them? I agree with Phil Masiello. He calls the methodology "ridiculously flawed" -- and he's right. It's either that or hopelessly naive.
  • Posted on: 11/21/2018

    Candytopia’s pop-up museum puts AR on display

    I've done a fair amount of work in AR and I am -- more or less -- a believer in its potential. But even I would say that 98 percent of its promise is just that, still promise. At this point AR looks to me to be a bit like VR -- a technology chasing a use case. Sure, it's fun and there have been some very creative uses of it. And, for many, Candytopia -- which sounds like a bit of a nightmare to me -- may well be one of them. But AR won't become an indispensable weapon in the retail arsenal until a broader group of consumers is comfortable with it, which tells me that we have to first find an AR application that makes lots of folks' lives better by addressing a lifestyle need they have, and then we can start looking at broadly deployed AR applications at retail.
  • Posted on: 11/21/2018

    Will loyalty programs drive market share gains for Lyft or Uber?

    First of all I want to look at that Lyft offer. Access to more experienced drivers? What does that mean to potential new Lyft customers, that they take their chances until they build up enough rides? Seriously, people seem to be Uber customers or Lyft customers and -- while the twain do meet -- my guess is they will end up rewarding existing customers more than attracting new ones. Because of the Uber Eats feature, Uber looks to have the more attractive program, but I would have to see them side by side to make a final determination. As to the last question, these companies might just want to leverage customer data a tad more effectively than most loyalty programs do.
  • Posted on: 11/21/2018

    Waitrose disses John Lewis’ Elton John Christmas commercial

    Let me reverse the order of the questions. I don't think the Waitrose spot hurts, "The Boy In the Piano," at all -- and the relative number of views seems to confirm that. And we are talking about England after all where the cultural humor models are ... well let's just say different than they are in the U.S. So I guess it comes down to a simple question, "Is it better to use media to show you have a sense of humor or to send a more focused message?" Again, this is the U.K., so the answer isn't obvious. I guess my bottom line is that people might watch "The Boy and the Piano," more than once, but the Waitrose spot is clearly a one-view commercial. Once you've got the joke it isn't going to get any funnier the second time around.
  • Posted on: 11/20/2018

    The RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge: Big Lots vs. Dick’s Sporting Goods

    Ian, if you are thinking like I do ... you should be scared.

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