Listen To Your Customers Or Somebody Else Will

Today we are going to talk about a book publisher named H.M. Rowe. This company was a century-old company that published books and textbooks, they commanded offices in Chicago, San Francisco and of course my hometown Baltimore, Maryland.  It was named for Doctor H.M.Rowe an engineer that grew up in Western Pennsylvania. He moved to Baltimore shortly after meeting  Warren Sadler who convinced Doctor Rowe to start publishing books. The company then spent over a hundred years producing books, specifically textbooks and books that taught skills, a legacy that fit Doctor Rowe to a tee. In 2015, after being in business for 120 years the company was auctioned…. What happened?

Listening to the owners tell the story it almost seemed surreal. They represented the legacy of Dr. Rowe and overtime they went from hundreds of employees down to only three. The three employees that worked there till the end had been working there for over 20 years. The owners blame the demise of the company on two distinct factors. The first-factor being hurricane Katrina, H.M. Rowe’s biggest customer was the New Orleans school district and they accounted for almost sixty percent of the yearly sales. The second-factor Dummy books. We have all seen these books they are titled stuff like Typing for Dummies, Dog Care for Dummies, and some of my favorites Parenting for Dummies, and Sex for Dummies.  These are the things that the owner told herself were the reasons for the companies demise. In fact, the reason was way more simple than that. So simple that they failed to understand the most basic level of what a company is for and what is the function of a business. Have you figured it out?

They didn’t listen to the customer………. Most people can’t wrap their minds around what this has to do with their business, but it is a universal law of business. You have to listen to your customers, and if you do not produce a product that your customers want and make it the way they want it, those customers will go elsewhere. The book industry has changed, and the days of carrying around textbooks were coming to an end. After Hurricane Sandy took its toll on New Orleans some schools were abandoned, and others were forced to rebuild. The ones that were rebuilt, were rebuilt with technological advances built into them so that there was no need for textbooks.

And the dummy books… seriously you can’t blame your competitors for finding fun and interesting ways to sell books. These handy, bite-sized versions of textbooks cost 1/3 of the cost of a textbook.  The market changed and people at H.M. Rowe failed to make changes that keep up with the market. Instead, they cast blame, scaled-down, and eventually closed their doors. What if H.M. Rowe took their textbooks online, and created a catalog that was digital? Would they still be in business? What if they chopped up their textbooks into smaller sizes, and sent them to retail? Nobody can really say how that would have turned out for them, but what we can say is by doing nothing they were forced to close.

This is a tale that is universal, some of the biggest businesses have failed due to the failure to recognize how the market’s change. The CEO of Microsoft laughed at Steve Jobs when the first iPhone was brought out at the Mac World convention in 2007….. Heres a clip if you don’t believe me. Also in 2007 Jim Keyes became the CEO of Blockbuster video shortly before taking the company bankrupt due to Netflix and Redbox. Want to learn more about that click here. point is when company’s do not satisfy the needs of the customer, somebody else will, and the customer will leave.