Last night I opened one of my personal e-mail accounts and found the following letter waiting for me from Borders CEO, Mike Edwards. Now, I haven’t done anything to change the size of the image of the letter. This is exactly as it appeared in my inbox. So, imagine how unimpressed I was to start off. Any way, here’s the letter. My comments follow.
So let’s start at the top.
“For generations, Borders stores have been . . . ” Generations? Well, I guess technically you could say that since Borders has been around for approximately 40 years. However, to me it sounds like Edwards is trying to pull the wool over our eyes by implying the company has been around a lot longer than it has.
“[B]eacons of enlightenment and education” — Wow! I didn’t know I’d gone there for enlightenment. I thought that’s what museums and the like were for. Obviously, I never truly appreciated my local Borders.
“As Borders moves forward, our commitment to you is to be a best-in-class bookseller” — Gee, I’d have thought this would have been their commitment prior to having to file bankruptcy. Could this be one of the reasons they are in their current position?
Well, at least he’s upfront about filing for bankruptcy, even if he leaves out the fact they forgot to do little things along the way like have a viable internet presence in a timely manner, offer e-books and have a dedicated e-book reader that is part of Borders like the Kindle or Nook, etc.
“Borders pioneered the in-store experience, providing customers with a vast assortment of books in a warm, relaxing environment — and we intend to build on this….” — Vast assortment of books? Have they been in any of their stores recently? The last time I walked into a Borders, I had to hunt for books, pushing through shelves and displays of games, gee gaws and other non-book items before I found this “vast assortment of books”. The problem was, none of the books I was looking for happened to be in stock. But, go down the street to B&N and there they were — in their much larger and more diverse stock. As for “warm, relaxing atmosphere”, that, too, is a thing of the past in too many of their stores. In fact, one of the stores they are leaving open in my area — much to my surprise — feels like an empty warehouse when you walk in. Too much room and too little stock…of any sort. How in the world are they going to fix this when distributors like Ingram have halted shipments to them?
While I’m glad they are honoring their gift cards and you can continue to use their reward card, my advice is to redeem those cards as soon as humanly possible. There is no guarantee Borders will continue to honor them. And don’t get me started on their reward card. I quit using it because they kept changing the terms of it. And now they want you to pay for it — or at least for the “upgrade”. Sorry. Not gonna happen.
“Borders.com is operating as usual.” — Okay, but with limited offerings because, gee, they aren’t getting the books, graphic novels, audio, etc., they used to since they haven’t paid their bills.
“eBook libraries are perfectly safe” — It’s interesting to note that they don’t say because Borders is going to come through this all right. No, they say it is because Kobo will keep them safe and will continue to sell ebooks through Borders. But how long will this last if Borders can’t pay them?
“Borders will continue to maintain its strong national presence” — Pardon me?!? Strong? If it was strong, it wouldn’t be in this position. If it was strong, it wouldn’t be closing 200 stores and saying in its bankruptcy filings it may close another 75 on top of that. As it stands, they are closing a third of their “strong national presence”. Obviously, their definition of that terms differs greatly from mine.
“Over the next several months, we will build on our core strengths as a great bookseller” — Again, huh? Not only have they shown over the last several years they are anything but a great bookseller — and this is a shame considering how the company started — but the core strengths of the company’s beginning have been left behind by their corporate model. So, what strengths are they talking about? It sounds to me like they’re saying they aren’t really going to change. Sigh.
“[C]losing underperforming stores” — how do they define “underperforming”? Of the stores being closed in my area, the ones that always had the best customer service, the best stock and customers in them whenever I went in are the ones closing. Again, I think this is one of those situations where “we have a failure to communicate”.
“Over the next several months, we will build on our core strengths as a great bookseller with the goal of emerging as the destination of choice for the millions of customers who shop our stores each year.” OMG, let me count the different ways this statement seems so wrong. First, he once again says Borders is going to build on their core strengths. As I said earlier, these are the same core strengths — if you want to call them that — that led them into bankruptcy. I want to know what they are going to do differently. Secondly, and so much more telling in my mind, is the fact that he isn’t looking to expand their customer base. He is looking only to make Borders the destination choice “for the millions of customers who shop our stores”. Why in the world does he think he can bring Borders out of bankruptcy with just the same customer base?
That pounding you hear is my head hitting my desk, time and time again.
As I’ve said a number of times, I want Borders to survive. But this letter does little to help me believe it will. Perhaps, instead of trying to build on the status quo, management actually needs to try to figure out what went wrong and why and then find ways to correct the situation — and do it before even more of their employees face the loss of their jobs.