Three Secrets – Get Ahead

How can we possibly keep up?  Many readers ask for clues on how to keep pace  with the modern world’s relentless change.  How can we possibly stay in step with all the new things and the changes?

Nonsense.  Forget keeping up… Let’s get ahead instead!

west jefferson

Ray’s Hardware.  West Jefferson, Smalltown USA.

Long gone.

Ray’s announced its closing years ago, I think the day after Walmart said it was opening a super store nearby.

This was the iconic American hardware store… hardwood floors blackened with generations of dirt, mud and oil from farmhands to mechanics.   They creaked as one moved along three buildings full of stuff,  every hardware made by mankind… from copper pots to buckets to canvas.   All the nuts and bolts known were there and buckets of nails.  They were weighed, brown paper sacks full, in a zinc bucket hanging on a scale.

The monumental loads of stuff and paints for the house barn or the artist as well, rarely left one wanting, but you could hardly find a bit of it.

First time I was there looking for moth balls.  There was not a chance of finding them myself, but the staff knew everything… where everything was and how to use it.  They did not lead you to the place, but helped you solve the problem.

I am glad I had a few years to know Ray’s hardware inside and out.  I even bought one of their incredible copper pots.  I have never really found a good use for it, but it’s special anyway, sitting here at the farm.

Sadly Ray’s Hardware has been long gone.   They could not keep up.

On the other hand just a few miles away, Mast General Store did adapt and leaped ahead. 


Mast General Store

The Mast General Store shifted from a needs based business plan to a story based model using the store’s history dating back to 1883 when it was known as “the store that had everything”.

#1: Make yourself adaptable.   Mast’s success shows the first example of how to get ahead.  The store changed its business plan back in the 1890s before internet retails shook brick and mortar retailing to its foundation.


Ray’s Hardware sold hardware.  Mast General Store looks like an old time hardware store, but sells things like high end clothing brands Patagonia, Toad & Co, Oboz, OluKai, Chaco AND Kuhl.

In fact you could say that the store is cool.  You will not see many farmers or mechanics or contractors there.  Mast offers an old time feel but the footwear, outdoor gear, toys, books, music and all the other wares are absolutely modern.  Sales get a nudge from nostalgia, but the actual goods have adapted to new markets. The prices, like a Frosty Tipped Fleece pullover for $135 or tee shorts at about $20 bucks, have adapted as well. Mast’s sales story is aimed modern youth oriented high end markets.

Even a US president visited. (1)


#2: Get personal.   This is the second secret.  The virtual world has isolated us so much that personal contact grows in importance.  A New York Times article “Now at Saks:  Salt Rooms, a Bootcamp and a Peek at Retail’s Future” (2) provides a good example.

The article tells how one of the Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship store in New York City has been devoted to upscale fitness products and unusual New Age remedies.

The floor is called the Wellery and features items such as a room with a Pink Himalayan salt booth.  Kiosks offer avocado juice and futuristic fat removal processes.  There are group fitness classes taught by ex-convicts.   You can get vegan nontoxic nail treatments that do more than look good. They claim to “help with focus, memory, increased confidence and overall wellness.”

An instructor with a class at ConBody at The Wellery. At ConBody, ex-convicts lead workouts.

A Sak’s executive explains how this store is leaping ahead.  “Selling stuff in stores is not the answer,” he said. “You have to build an emotional connection with them. Where else can you take a fitness class and buy a Chanel handbag?”

#3: Find your niche is the third secret.  Another business in New York shows the power in this secret and is explained in a Wall Street Journal article “One NYC Indie Bookstore Survives By Being Small And Specialized” (3).

The article says: New York City’s Posman Books is bucking a trend.  Other booksellers — both independents and big chains like Barnes & Noble — are closing stores in Manhattan, but Posman is getting ready to open its fourth store in the city. It’s one sign that some independent bookstores are managing to thrive despite the problems that have beset booksellers in recent years.

Posman’s Chelsea store is one of three that the small independent chain currently operates in Manhattan.  The other two are in Grand Central Station and at Rockefeller Center.  Each one, says Mutter, caters to a specific market, and that niche marketing is one reason Posman has succeeded where others have failed. The Grand Central store is aimed at commuters; the Rockefeller Center store caters to tourists and travelers; and the Chelsea Market store is filled with cookbooks.

Leaping ahead is better than keeping up and when one is small and focused they have a better change of grabbing the newest technology before the big companies do.  I saw this pay off for our small phone company here in Ashe County.  Because they had the oldest  systems, they leapfrogged into the most modern fiber optics system.  Now our county has one of the highest percentages of fiber optics connections in the US and our standard broadband is 45 mbps up and down.

In the middle of nowhere we have better connectivity than most of the nation and as location, location, location shifts from foot traffic to bandwidth traffic, this creates enormous added value.

Make yourself adaptable.  Add personal touches to your products or services and select a niche.  These three secrets can help you leap ahead in the modern world, wherever you are, whatever you do.


(1) obama asks for candy at Mast general store during Boone stop

(2) Saks salt room bootcamp

(3) One NYC indie bookstore survives by being small and specialized




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