The devil is not in the detail

I was in a small coffee shop in Sydney this week and was reminded why good retailers always talk about detail. Big or small, old or new, retailers, and even those who don’t own stores but sell their products and manage their brands via other people’s stores, believe the difference is in the detail.

Attention to detail is the backbone of great retailing. I am vaguely pedantic, and usually correct people who use the quote, “the devil is in the detail”, which means the bad stuff is always hidden. The best-known quote concerning detail, I believe, is from Vladimir Nabokov, who wrote Lolita. He wrote, “God is in the detail”, which means the good stuff is often hidden from the eye unless you look closely. Detail, seen or not, is what delivers a great quality of product or service.

This coffee shop, where I sat eating a very average and early lunch, has a great reputation for three key things: Very good egg and bacon rolls, consistently good coffee, and staff and owners with an amazing memory for your name and coffee order. Part way through my average lunch the owner, who is Chinese by descent, offered me a traditional Chinese tea just because she was making one for herself and her husband before the lunchtime rush started. No charge, just enjoy.

No big deal, just a very genuine and hospitable gesture from somebody in the hospitality industry. But it really resonated with me, and I got to thinking about the real detail ‘stuff’ that makes retailers and brands so successful.

Over the years I have seen or been involved with many successful brands. And one of the overriding trends among these brands is a consistent delivery of the small things that matter in their industry, sector or retail environment.

When Xbox first launched in Australia, every single live Xbox demonstration unit in-store was kept switched on, dusted and had new gaming titles installed in the units every day. Apple stores, no matter whether they are Apple owned or a reseller, never have anything other than a perfect display that’s visually identical irrespective of country or time of day. Nescafé Nespresso stores all smell of fresh, high-quality coffee and are staffed by passionate coffee experts who love the products, the machine and the coffee.

These three brands are now global, but weren’t when they launched. The basis for their retail success is that they found what worked in the last six feet of the sale of their own products, tested and tweaked, then agreed on the magic formula and didn’t stray from it: The secret sauce and best mix of herbs and spices, if you will. Then they rolled it out consistently, ensuring that every detail remained intact irrespective of geography.

Now nobody, brand or retailer is ‘up’ forever, as chief economist at AMP, Shane Oliver, reminded me at a pre-Olympics function last month. But if you do ever want to be ‘up’, or be near the top of your industry, sport or game, then understanding your strengths – the things that make you better than your competitors – and then doggedly ensuring that detail is never lost is probably the only way you are going to get there.

As CROSSMARK CEO, Kevin Moore looks at the world of retailing from grocery to pharmacy, bottle shops to car dealers, corner store to department stores. In this insightful blog, Kevin covers retail news, ideas, companies and emerging opportunities in Australia and across the world. His international career in sales and marketing has seen him responsible for businesses in over 40 countries, which has earned him grey hair and a wealth of expertise in international retailers and brands.

CROSSMARK Asia Pacific is Australasia’s largest provider of retail marketing services, consulting to and servicing some of Australasia’s biggest retailers and manufacturers.



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