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Cushman & Wakefield Retail Newsline: Reinvention: Lessons from Burt Reynolds

Week of September 17, 2018
By Garrick Brown

Reinvention: Lessons from Burt Reynolds


Last week, film icon Burt Reynolds died. I had eagerly gone to many of his films of the late ’70s and ’80s, including Smokey and the Bandit (I and II), The Cannonball Run (I and II) and even the insanely awful Stroker Ace. If one were to compile a list of the ten worst movies ever made, these five would all be contenders. (In my defense, I was just a kid and growing up in an era when everyone around me had feathered hair and wore bell bottoms, polyester, and, unironically, trucker hats.)

Reynolds would later lament his movie choices (he turned down being James Bond, Han Solo and a slew of other iconic roles) and regret that his posing in Playgirl likely overshadowed what he thought was the best work of his career, his breakout role in the 1972 classic Deliverance. He admitted he typically chose roles that suited his desire to have fun onset over those that were challenging, and that worked for him for a long time. Reynolds would later quip that he was “number one five years in a row at the box office. But what’s really stunning is that no one until me had gone from number one to number thirty-eight in one year.”

Reynolds would re-emerge from his darkest days of the mid-1980s with a small independent film, Breaking In, which surprised many considering he seemingly had only chosen projects that required the bare minimum of effort for much of the previous decade. This led to his Emmy winning turn in the television series, Evening Shade and his critically-lauded, Oscar-nominated role in the Paul Thomas Anderson epic Boogie Nights.  He still had his share of duds (he was Burt Reynolds, after all), but he will likely now be remembered more for Boogie Nights than Stick, Rent-A-Cop or Striptease.

So what does Burt Reynolds’ career have to do with retail? Honestly, not a lot – except for the fact that Reynolds successfully reinvented himself, a process that American retail as a whole is undergoing, and one many retailers must do to survive in the emerging world of newCommerce.

Consumer tastes shift quickly. I would argue that some of the chains that have already failed and many of those on all of our collective bankruptcy watch lists may be guilty of what Reynolds did for a large portion of his career: choosing what’s easy over what’s more challenging. But in the world of retail, if you don’t challenge yourself to constantly evolve with – or ahead of – your consumers, challenge will inevitably be forced upon you, regardless of whether you choose it or not.

Those of you who have seen me speak at events have already heard me hammer a basic premise about retail. There are only three things that get consumers into your store or your shopping center: convenience, value, or experience. For decades, convenience is what drove growth.  It sparked the emergence of 1,000+ unit-plus chains whose real estate strategy was to be everywhere. It also helped spur greater Wall Street involvement in retail, which necessary to fuel behemoth chains but in exchange required new efficiencies (like eliminating local buyers) at every level to maximize profits.

The retail story playing out before us is far more nuanced than the so-called “apocalypse” some would lead you believe is underway.  But keep in mind those three things: convenience, value, or experience.  We created a vast bricks-and-mortar retail world where the act of going shopping became bland, dull, and even unpleasant for many consumers. In the old convenience-driven model, experience – including customer service – was secondary.  And in turn, that environment made it easy for a retailer like Amazon to come in and shake things up.

In our new retail paradigm, categories that have been impacted by newCommerce have two choices: be about value or be about experience. If you’re in one of the categories feeling the heat, you better start reinventing yourself right now.  After all, no one wants to be remembered as the Stroker Ace of retail.

Garrick H. Brown

This post is commentary from the latest edition of our Cushman & Wakefield Retail Newsline, which you can subscribe to for free by e-mailing garrick.brown@cushwake.com.

Garrick Brown serves as Vice President, Retail Intelligence for Cushman & Wakefield throughout the Americas. He is one of the leading retail real estate analysts in the United States; speaking frequently at industry events and regularly quoted on retail matters by the Wall Street Journal, the CBS Evening News, NBC News, CNBC, National Public Radio, Women’s Wear Daily and dozens of Business Journals and other industry publications.

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