The Creative Destruction of the Retail Industry

Amazon Has Changed the Retail Landscape

Amazon announced this past week that it will be adding 100,000 new full-time jobs in the US in the next 18 months. Having spent the early part of my career in the retail industry as a store manager for Macy’s, I like to still keep up with the news and goings-on in the retail industry.

What’s so interesting about the news from Amazon is the news from the big traditional retailers that is happening at the same time. Macy’s closed 40 stores in 2016 and announced it will close 100 more in 2017, recently listing 68 of those stores getting the ax. In addition, Sears Holdings announced that it is closing 150 Sears and KMart stores, and JC Penney recently announced it will be closing a bunch of its stores. I’m only touching on the major retailers here and there are dozens of the small retailers closing stores as well that are too numerous to list.

Obviously, Amazon and technology have fundamentally changed the entire retail landscape. The big traditional retailers didn’t see it coming and didn’t, or couldn’t, keep up. They seem to be heading in the direction of some smaller retailers, Blockbuster and Borders who are a shell of what they once were or no longer even exist.

I remember being asked by one of my employees back in the early 2000’s when I was a store manager for Macy’s what I thought about online retail putting traditional retail out of business. My employee was very concerned and I told her that I doubt companies like Amazon would ever be much of a threat to the big retail giants like Macy’s, Sears, JCP, etc.  After all, people like to go out and shop, handle merchandise, try things on, and talk to and interact with other people. I thought online retail would certainly have it’s niche (books, music, etc.) but didn’t think it would ever pose a serious threat to traditional retail.

Boy was I wrong!

Really wrong.

The news that Amazon is planning to hire 100,000 people at the same time the big traditional retailers are announcing huge store closings and layoffs tells you everything you need to know. Amazon has successfully changed the way people like to shop and I  include myself in that change.

Frankly, I love shopping on Amazon and because I’m a Prime member, I get “free” shipping for most of what I buy from them. Yes I know it’s a gimmick but it does make me feel special!

I find it a pain to go to the mall  and much easier to find what I want online where the selection is unlimited I click a few times and then get a package delivered to me in a couple days! I find it very satisfying.

There are some who are criticizing Amazon complaining that the jobs they are creating are low paying jobs. This is true, however, most retail jobs in general, have always been low paying jobs anyway so it looks to me that they are basically just replacing many of the jobs that the big traditional retailers are cutting.

There are also a lot of good paying jobs at Amazon, just as there are/were at the traditional retailers. There is the buying organization, management, HR, recruiting, IT, and other support services.

Amazon also makes an interesting claim that they sustain an additional 300,000 jobs due to their marketplace business:

Amazon has said that its employment figures alone do not capture its full effect on jobs. On Thursday, the company said its marketplace business, through which independent merchants sell goods on the company’s site, sustained 300,000 additional jobs in the United States.

And sure, Amazon has had some growing pains and had some bad press about their workplace culture but in talking with some of my friends who work there, they are making efforts to improve.

Jeff Bezos and his team have done an amazing job building their company from an online bookseller to a full line store and fundamentally changing our shopping behaviors. They’ve been aggressive and innovative and it’s been fascinating to watch.

Amazon is leading another round of creative destruction in the retail industry where one form of the retail industry is being replaced by a new and much more innovative one.  Shopping malls with  big anchor stores are being replaced by online retail just like downtown shopping districts were replaced by shopping malls back in the 1950’s -1990’s.  And I’m sure we will see something replace online retail in the future.

Creative destruction is tough.  It’s tough on many people. But creative destruction is also good and necessary for advancement and growth. If we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t have all the things that make our lives so much more enjoyable. All you have to do is look back 50 years, 100 years, 200 years and see how far we’ve come and it was all because we allowed creative destruction run its natural course.

Don’t forget to take the survey on today’s subject about Amazon and the creative destruction occurring in the retail industry.

Downsized…

Job Search Human Resources Recruitment Career Concept

Well crew, I was downsized this summer. Ironically, my last post before this one was about the trouble in the energy industry and how employers in the industry are downsizing. The company I worked for is a uranium mining company and they are having a very difficult time in the current economic climate of the energy and uranium mining industries.

Sometime around May and June, things started getting, shall I say, very uncomfortable at work. My gut was telling me something unpleasant was about to happen soon.

Ultimately, my fears and intuition were accurate and I was sent packing along with approximately 20% of the company. They eliminated almost all of the administrative staff and several folks out at the mine. It was a rough day.

From what I understand, they are now down to a bare bones team to support and operate the mine. It was, in retrospect, something that needed to happen as the company has been struggling for several years hanging on and hoping the market would improve. We had even done earlier Reductions in Force.

Instead, the market continued to decline as the uranium spot price fell. It’s a great company with a lot of great people and I wish them the best and I really hope the market will improve soon!

Enough about my former company and on to the next phase of my life.

So now I’m without a job and looking for work. I’ve never been unemployed in my 32 year career. I knew exactly what I needed to do to find a job but I had never had to actually do it.

After taking a few days to lick my wounds, I brought up my resume, which I’ve been keeping updated every quarter, and wrote a cover letter. When I had these ready, I started my search by contacting several recruiters with whom I’ve worked with in the past. I searched on Linkedin, Indeed, CareerBuilder, and others as well as checking out the career pages of some organizations that interested me. I also contacted my network, who I’ve kept in touch with for years, and let them know my situation and asked them for help.

I was excited to get an interview right away with a tech company in the Denver area. They were looking for somebody with start-up HR experience. I built the HR function from the ground up at my former company so I was a prime candidate. I was thinking how great this would be to land a job within a month! No such luck. I went through the entire interview process and ended up a finalist along with one other candidate but lost out. Dang. Back to the drawing board.

My strategy is to apply to all the Senior HR jobs ranging from SR. HRBP to VP of HR. I’m applying for everything to which I’m qualified in organizations where I think I will be a great fit. I’m very interested in software and tech companies.

My thinking is that the more jobs to which I apply will make my resume and cover letter better as I refine and tailor each to the particular job description highlighting my experience and skills appropriate to that job. I’m also taking every interview in order to improve and refine my phone and face-to-face interviewing skills.

My initial resume and cover letter were modeled after a sample from a podcast that I think very highly of. Unfortunately, after getting only that one interview request out of the first 30 applications (a measly 3% return rate), I decided I needed to completely overhaul and re-tool both documents.

I did some online research and found some samples that caught my eye (key point) and modeled my new resume and cover letter from them. It was like night and day. From the 57 applications I sent out with my newly re-tooled resume and cover letter, I got 11 interviews (an excellent 19.3% return rate)! I kept refining this new version and finally hit on a winner as most of those 11 interview requests came through more recently and six of them are still active.

My philosophy is to simply jump in and start doing before everything is perfect. Before my resume and cover letter are perfect, before the perfect company has a job available, or before the perfect job pops up. If I waited for perfect, I would probably still be waiting. Instead, I learned from my mistakes, made improvements, and I now have six active interviews as of this posting.

I also learned that I’m a strong face-to-face interviewee but was a weak phone interviewee. Unfortunately, the phone interview is the screen for the face-to-face. I did poorly in the first few phone calls and was quickly rejected. So I changed and improved my phone interview technique after doing some research and tried out some new things. This resulted in several face-to-face interview opportunities.

Jumping in before anything was perfect and refining and trying new things until I got positive results are the best advice I can give you.  Don’t be afraid to put out something far from perfect (heck, look at this blog and podcast!). I can tell you the more you do it and work on improving as you receive feedback, the better the end result will be.

It’s a tough slog trying to find a senior level HR job. There are days when I feel depressed but I’m the type of person who has a natural positive and enthusiastic outlook on life. I just keep plugging along, working hard and knowing that I will find the right opportunity.

It keeps me going knowing I will find the organization that will be the right fit for me and for whom I will be the right fit for them.

Trouble in the Energy Industry

ID-10081858

Image courtesy of dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Working for an energy company based in Colorado and Wyoming, I pay very close attention to all the employment events that happen in the energy industry.

Sadly, we are currently experiencing a serious downturn in the industry.  Just recently, on 3.31.2016, two separate coal mines in Wyoming laid off a total of 465 people.  Peabody Energy cut 235 employees at their flagship North Antelope Rochelle mine, the largest coal mine in the US, and Arch Coal cut 230 employees at their Black Thunder Mine.

The reason behind the layoffs is due to three things.  First, as in most mining operations, when the price of the commodity is high, operations ramp up and production is increased.  This almost always leads to an over supply in the commodity which brings the price of the commodity down.  Right now, there is an over supply of coal in the US.  The nation’s coal fired power plants currently have approx 95 “days of burn” stockpiled which is the highest level since 2010.  The power plants are saving their coal which is reducing demand and bringing down the price.  Second, cheap natural gas is taking away from the demand for coal.  The coal in Wyoming is competitive with natural gas when gas prices are $2.25 per million BTUs.  Right now gas prices are below $2.oo and are expected to remain there through 2016.  And finally, the unseasonably warm winter has made it difficult, dropping weekly shipments from western US mines to below 7 million tons compared to 10 million tons per week last year at the same time.  Year to date, US coal production is down 30 percent compared to last year.  It all has to do with basic supply and demand economics.

These recent announcements along with a series of other layoffs in Wyoming have impacted the local economy and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.

Colorado has also experienced a series of energy industry layoffs but they will be able to better absorb the impact since the Denver area economy is much more diverse that Wyoming’s.  Wyoming, I fear will continue to suffer.

During the summer of 2015, most of the counties in Wyoming had ridiculously low unemployment rates but now, only a few months later, the rates are significantly higher.  Wyoming is the nation’s smallest population and a sizable percentage of that population is in the energy or energy related industry. There isn’t a lot of economic diversity in the state so when the boom is on, everything is wonderful.  But when the bust is on, things get tough.  Unfortunately, I am seeing the beginnings of another bust.

Despite this dire economic news, I have to give strong kudos to Wyoming Governor, Matt Mead who quickly responded to the layoffs by deploying the Wyoming Business Council, the Wyoming Department of Insurance, the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, and the Wyoming Community College Commission to help the people in the communities impacted by the layoffs.

These state agencies immediately partnered together and set up temporary community resource centers for the people who were laid off.  They quickly set up centers in Casper, Douglas, and Gillette and were opened from 10-7 on 4/1 through 4/4.  These resource centers were staffed with experts who assisted people with unemployment insurance, job training opportunities, health insurance, and community health services.

In addition, the Department of Workforce Services offices in the same three cities extended their hours to 8-7 on 4/1 through 4/4 where they were available to provide information on unemployment insurance enrollment, job training counseling, job search assistance, and resume preparation.

I love the fact that Governor Mead quickly responded to the situation and did what he could to provide help to all the people who lost their jobs.  I have found that Wyoming has an excellent organization in the Wyoming Workforce Services.  I have worked with these people often and have found them to be very professional and helpful in all of their services.  They are good people who have the best interests of the Wyoming workforce at the top of their priorities.

It’s good to see a state government marshal it’s workforce services so quickly when there is a crisis.  I applaud Governor Mead and all the good folks who work at the agencies for quickly stepping up and trying to help these people out.  I fear many will move out of the state in search of other work but I hope many will be able to find work in Wyoming.  It’s such a small state without the economic diversity of most other states.

We’ll see how this all shakes out and I’ll keep you updated as things continue to develop.