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探秘好市多:倉儲式賣場中的魔法世界

Neal Gabler 2019年08月28日

作為全球倉儲式量販賣場的創始者,好市多早已成為一家現象級零售商。但隨著亞馬遜越來越強大,千禧一代消費者迅速成長,新一代高管接班在即,這家公司還能繼續保持其競爭優勢嗎?

圖片來源:視覺中國

走進西雅圖田園詩般的郊區小鎮伊薩夸,你絕對猜想不到,眼前這棟靜得出奇,看上去毫無特色,用米色磚和紅磚砌成的辦公樓,竟然是美國一家巨獸級企業的神經中樞。保安不只是揮手示意放行;她還會花些時間與你攀談。接待處擺放著一盤餅干,接待員會熱情地鼓勵你自行品嘗。沒有喧囂,只有一種平靜的感覺。鑒于這個星期的種種活動通常會讓一家公司惶恐不安,如此祥和的氛圍就顯得尤為不尋常。

就在這一周,全球第三大零售商,2016財年銷售額高達1160億美元的好市多公司(Costco Wholesale),正在同時經歷三件大事:來自世界各地的經理們飛赴這里參加月度預算會議;董事會會議;還有周末的年度股東大會。就在這個大家族匯聚一堂之際,好市多正在面臨一些逆風。在一個以薄利潤聞名的行業中,競爭加劇的威脅總是揮之不去,最大的競爭對手當然是以亞馬遜為代表的電商零售巨頭。此外還有吸引千禧一代的挑戰。匯率波動等原因導致好市多海外店鋪的零售額持續疲軟。好市多即將放棄合作多年的美國運通卡,轉而使用維薩卡。對于后勤系統來說,這種過渡往往是一場噩夢。

但所有這些問題似乎并沒有驚擾好市多的領導者們。他們知道,在一個猶如野兔的數字世界中,其倉儲式量販賣場模式使得這家公司似乎成了一只慢悠悠的烏龜。不過,他們堅信,他們將贏得這場競賽。好市多總是笑到最后。但很長時間以來,有件事一直縈繞在他們心頭。這件事與經濟無關,至少不是直接相關。它與身份有關。

好市多的行事作風更像是一個興高采烈的邪教組織,而不是一家沖勁十足的企業。讓高管們倍感驕傲的是,好市多的最高管理層幾乎全部提拔自公司內部。就連以說話直率,從不矯揉做作著稱,現年62歲的首席執行官克萊格·杰利尼克,也曾經是一位收集整理購物車的底層員工,98%的店鋪經理都有一線工作經歷。其高管團隊已并肩工作了大約30個年頭,他們既是同事,也是家人。但這也意味著,在月度預算會議現場,有許多白發蒼蒼的老者。

You would never guess by looking at it that the eerily quiet, nondescript beige-and-redbrick office complex in the bucolic Seattle suburb of Issaquah, at the foot of a small mountain range called the Issaquah Alps, would be the nerve center of one of America’s corporate behemoths. The security guard doesn’t just wave you through; she takes time to chat with you. The reception desk has a plate of cookies, and the receptionists encourage you to take one. There is no bustle, only a sense of calm, which is especially striking, since this is the sort of week that would typically engender corporate jitters.

It’s the week when Costco Wholesale, the world’s third-largest retailer, with $116 billion in sales in fiscal 2016, is hosting a triple-header: its monthly budget meetings, with managers flying in from all over the world; its board of directors’ meeting; and, at week’s end, its annual stockholders’ meeting. As the tribes gathered, Costco faced some headwinds. In a sector known for thin profit margins, there was always the threat of intensifying competition, especially from e-commerce retailers like Amazon. There was the challenge of attracting millennials. There were weakening sales at Costco’s overseas stores due in part to currency fluctuations. There was the pending transition from a Costco-branded American Express credit card to a Visa card, which would turn out to be a logistical nightmare.

But none of these issues seemed to faze Costco’s leaders. They know that their big-box stores make the company appear to be a tortoise in a hare’s digital world. Still, they’re confident they will win the race. Costco always has. But there was one thing they have been mulling for a long time. And it has nothing to do with economics, at least not directly. It has to do with identity.

Costco acts more like a cheerful cult than a hard-driving business. Its executives are proud of the fact that the company promotes almost exclusively from within. Even CEO Craig Jelinek, 62, plainspoken and without affectation, once collected shopping carts at a Costco predecessor, and 98% of the company’s store managers have risen through the ranks. Its top executives have been working together for 30 years, more or less, which makes them family as much as colleagues. It also means there are a lot of gray heads now at those budget meetings.

好市多的隱憂就在于此。在那個月的會議上,一眾高管溫情脈脈,頗有些傷感地送別了其中六位老者,他們皆是高級副總裁,現已退休。盡管他們終將被一些更加年輕的好市多人取代,但這種繼承方式引起了一個問題:隨著這家公司即將迎來成立35周年,這些接班人能否延續好市多的經營理念和企業文化?

超級文化

在好市多,這不只是一個問題。它就是問題所在。很多公司都在吹噓自身的文化。但很少有公司像好市多這樣,對企業文化如此驕傲,如此依賴。摩根士丹利零售業分析師西米恩·古特曼稱之為“超級文化”。他將其描述為,“如果我們繼續服務于顧客,讓他們心滿意足,這些顧客就會持續返回。”

好市多是一個零售巨人。其全球銷售額僅次于沃爾瑪,以及剛剛坐上第二把交椅的亞馬遜。需要指出的是,沃爾瑪擁有1.1528萬家店面,而好市多僅有715家。好市多是全球最大的精選牛肉、有機食品、烤雞肉和葡萄酒買主。它的堅果銷量甚至連著名堅果品牌Planters也望塵莫及。從包裝商品到飲料,再到服裝,其自有品牌科克蘭(Kirkland Signature)幾乎無所不售,它創造的銷售收入比可口可樂公司還要多。

And therein lies the concern. At that month’s meetings, there were warm and wistful send-offs for six of those gray heads, all senior vice presidents, now retiring. And even though they would be replaced by younger Costco lifers, the succession raises a question: As the company approaches its 35th anniversary, will the replacements keep Costco as Costco?

At Costco that isn’t just a question. It is the question. Lots of companies brag about their culture. But few are as proud of it or as dependent upon it as Costco is. Morgan Stanley retail analyst Simeon Gutman calls it a “super-culture,” which he describes as, “If we continue to serve and delight our customers, they’ll want to keep coming back.”

Costco is a retailing colossus. Its worldwide sales trail only those of Walmart, which has 11,528 stores to Costco’s 715, and Amazon, which just climbed into second place. Costco is the world’s largest seller of choice and prime beef, organic foods, rotisserie chicken, and wine (!), and it moves more nuts than Planters. Its private label, Kirkland Signature, which sells everything from packaged goods and beverages to apparel, generates more revenues than the Coca-Cola Co.

然而,盡管好市多如斯龐大,但它始終以自己并非一家典型的億萬美元級公司為傲。這就是文化的作用。高管們經常親自接電話。(CEO杰利尼克承認,“我可能會接一位收銀員的電話,她可能會抱怨說,‘我的工作時間不夠多。’” )他們的辦公室永遠敞開大門。倘若一位記者想預約一次采訪,他或她恐怕要費不少周折,這倒不是因為這家公司諱莫如深,而是因為它覺得沒必要成立一個公關部來安排這類事務。

“人們會爭先恐后地為好市多工作。”質量保證和食品安全業務副總裁,為好市多效力18年的克萊格·威爾遜自豪地說道。一旦加入,就從一而終。就工作1年以上的員工而言,好市多的員工保留率高達94%。負責會員制、營銷和好市多服務的高級副總裁保羅·萊瑟姆表示,“就算你扔給我一袋子錢,你也別想誘惑我離開這家公司。”他已在好市多干了37年。“我愛這里。”如果沒有人離開,也幾乎沒有人會被解雇。當經濟衰退和裁員潮襲來時,好市多的智囊團沒有讓一個人離職。杰利尼克說,“我們壓根就沒動過這個念頭。”恰恰相反,這家公司反而給員工漲薪,以幫助他們共度時艱。

But Costco, big as it is, prides itself on not being your typical multibillion-dollar company. That is where the culture comes in. Executives frequently answer their own phones. (“I may get a call from a cashier,” admits CEO Jelinek, “who says, ‘I’m not getting enough hours.’”) Its offices are open door. And it takes a journalist forever to arrange a visit, not because the company is secretive, but because it doesn’t feel the need to have a public relations department to make arrangements.

“People will bang down a door to come to work for Costco,” says Craig Wilson, vice president of quality assurance and food safety, and an 18-year Costco veteran. And once there, just about no one leaves. The company’s retention rate for employees who have been there a year is 94%. “You couldn’t throw enough money at me to make me leave this company,” says Paul Latham, VP of membership, marketing, and Costco Services, with 37 years under his belt. “I love it.” And if nobody leaves, almost nobody gets fired either. When the recession hit and most companies were laying off employees, Costco’s brain trust didn’t let anyone go. “It wasn’t even something that we thought about,” Jelinek says. Instead, the company actually raised wages.

從底層干起

克勞汀·阿達莫是這些員工中的一員。她代表著好市多的未來。當現年46歲,主修金融營銷的阿達莫從西華盛頓大學畢業時,她申請加入好市多,因為她的兩個姐姐在該公司會計部門工作。阿達莫原本希望在公司總部找份差事,但她被告知,在好市多,每個人都是從“倉庫”(該公司這樣稱呼其寬敞無比的店面)干起的。她最初的夢想就這樣破滅了。阿達莫抑制住自尊心,前往科克蘭。她在那里的工作是迎接會員,檢查收據。“朋友們都認為我瘋了。”她說。

Claudine Adamo is one of those employees. And she is Costco’s future. When Adamo, now 46, graduated from Western Washington University, where she majored in finance marketing, she applied to Costco because her two older sisters were working in the company’s accounting department. Her initial dream was dashed when, hoping to land at headquarters, she was told that everyone at Costco starts in the warehouse, which is what the company calls its capacious stores. Adamo swallowed her pride and went to Kirkland, where she greeted members and checked receipts. “My friends thought I was crazy,” she says.

25年后的今天,她正在被推薦為下一屆高管團隊候選人,后者將在未來某一天取代杰利尼克和他的團隊。而就在此時此刻,她和其他高級副總裁已經開始物色自己的接班人。在許多方面,阿達莫的故事正是好市多領導層的經典寫照。

此外還有好市多對待員工的方式。這家零售巨頭樂意為員工支付高薪(其平均時薪為22美元,遠高于沃爾瑪的13.38美元),并提供慷慨的福利——就連兼職員工也能享受充分的健康和牙科保險。就職一年后,新員工的退休儲蓄賬戶就可獲得股票期權獎勵。自由休假和探親假等傳統福利更是自不待言。MIT斯隆管理學院副教授澤伊內普·托恩說,好市多員工也被給予了更大的責任,由此造就了一支快樂和進取的員工隊伍。“他們不斷創新,不斷改進,這就是為什么好市多能夠給他們支付高薪。”托恩說。

阿達莫的整個職業生涯都是在這家公司度過的。在“倉庫”干了一年后,她成為一位庫存控制專家,負責向西北地區的店鋪配給糖果。她的晉升之旅仍在繼續:糖果采購助理,公司郵購業務(它后來演變為Costco.com)采購員,所有店鋪的計算機采購員。隨后,她還以商品經理的身份在南加州開設了一家區域辦事處。阿達莫最終返回西雅圖,出任家庭事務部副總裁,負責家具、小家電和家庭用品業務。她現在是消費電子、珠寶和辦公用品業務副總裁。

這是一段漫長的旅程,但正是這段旅程,讓她相信好市多不會屈從于下一個時尚理念的誘惑。“在好市多,你真的是從底層干起的,然后經歷每個崗位的磨煉,邊干邊學,在這種氛圍中一路成長。”

Now, 25 years later, she is being groomed for the next executive cohort, which will one day replace Jelinek and his team, even as she and her fellow VPs are already identifying candidates for the cohort after her own. In many ways, her story is typical of Costco’s leadership.

Then there is the way it treats its employees. Costco pays them well—an average wage of $22 per hour, vs. $13.38 at Walmart—and provides generous benefits like full health and dental insurance even to its part-time employees; a 401(k) with stock options after a year; and liberal vacation time and family leave. Zeynep Ton, an adjunct associate professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, says Costco employees are given greater responsibilities too, which makes them a happy and highly motivated workforce. “They are constantly innovating, constantly improving, and that’s why Costco can pay them a lot,” says Ton.

Adamo has spent her entire career at the company. After a year at the warehouse, she became an inventory-control specialist doling out candy to warehouses in the northwest region. Her company voyage continued: assistant buyer for candy, buyer for the company’s mail-order operation (which morphed into Costco.com), computer buyer for all the warehouses, general merchandise manager to open a regional office in Southern California. Adamo then returned to Seattle as VP of the home division for furniture, small appliances, and housewares. She is now VP of consumer electronics, jewelry, and office.

It has been a long journey, but the journey is the reason she believes Costco won’t succumb to the lure of the next trendy idea. “At Costco, you really start at the bottom, work your way through every position, learning along the way,” as she puts it, “growing up within the environment.”

幾乎每位高管都經歷過類似的成長歷程,包括CEO杰利尼克。“我知道收集整理購物車是怎么回事。”他說。“我知道打掃衛生間是怎么回事。我可以走進衛生間,告訴員工他忘記了清理小便池附近的哪一塊瓷磚。我知道采集農產品或者研磨生牛肉是怎么回事。所以當你和員工交談時,你并不是某個騎著大白馬從天而降,不食人間煙火的貴族。他們知道你來過這里,干過這事。”長期擔任首席財務官的理查德·加蘭蒂如是描述公司文化:“沒有蠢蛋”。

總是做正確的事

好市多的每個人都會告訴你,這家公司的文化直接來自吉姆·辛內加爾,一位身材矮小,留著一撇小胡子,慈愛可親的老人。現年80歲的辛內加爾是好市多聯合創始人,曾經長期擔任CEO(1983年到2012年)。時至今日,你每天仍然可以在伊薩夸總部看到他的身影。辛內加爾反過來將他的經營理念歸功于索爾·普萊斯。1954年,這位脾氣暴躁的律師在圣地亞哥創辦了堪稱倉儲式賣場鼻祖,奉行低價批量銷售原則,主要服務于小企業的FedMart公司。最初在FedMart工作時,辛內加爾還是一位年僅18歲的大學生。他很快成為普萊斯的門徒,特別認同后者在大蕭條期間目睹人們漫天要價之后領悟到的黃金準則:總是做正確的事。

1983年,西雅圖律師杰弗里·布羅特曼主動聯系辛內加爾,并提議兩人攜手創辦一家自己的倉儲式賣場。在他們的構想中,它不僅僅是一家公司,更是一項使命;它不僅僅是一門生意,更是一種營商方式。“做正確的事”過去是,現在仍是該公司的口頭禪。它可能聽起來很陳腐,像一個空口號,但好市多員工們真的在努力踐行。(阿達莫說她每天都會聽到這句話。)

Just about every executive has grown up that way, including CEO Jelinek. “I know what it’s like to shag carts,” he says. “I know what it’s like to clean bathrooms. I can come in and tell you where you missed the tiles around the urinals. I know what it’s like to cull produce or to grind beef. So when you talk to people, it’s not somebody coming in off their white horse. They know you’ve been there and done that.” Longtime CFO Richard Galanti has a term for the company’s culture: “jerk-free.”

To a person, everyone at Costco will tell you that its culture comes directly from Jim Sinegal, now 80, a short, grandfatherly man with a brush mustache. He was Costco’s cofounder and its CEO from 1983 to 2012, and he is still a daily presence at the Issaquah headquarters. Sinegal in turn attributes his business philosophy to Sol Price, a gruff attorney who founded FedMart in 1954 in San Diego—the original warehouse store that sold in bulk, primarily to small businesses, at good value. Sinegal began working at FedMart as an 18-year-old college student and became Price’s protégé, subscribing to the golden rule of business that Price drew after seeing people gouged during the Depression: Always do the right thing.

In 1983, Seattle attorney Jeffrey Brotman approached Sinegal with the idea of opening their own warehouse store. They conceived of it as more than a company. It was a mission—as much a way of doing business as a business itself. “Do the right thing” was and still is the company mantra. It may sound corny—or like an empty slogan—but employees really try to live up to it. (Adamo says she hears the phrase every day.)

它意味著永遠不要欺騙供應商、客戶或員工。它意味著直面錯誤,主動矯正,而不是被迫這樣做或找借口。(當好市多發現一件他們此前宣稱100%絲綢質地的襯衫其實并非絲綢的時候,他們主動聯系每一位購買者,并退還價款。)它甚至意味著堅持一項無條件退貨政策,盡管他們知道它會被一些客戶濫用。“我過去總是認為自己很優秀,誠實,很有信譽,我現在也這樣認為。但當你遇到吉姆時,你會由衷地發出驚嘆,‘哇!’”首席財務官加蘭蒂說。正如辛內加爾所說,“文化不是最重要的事情。它是唯一重要的事情。”

盡管這種道德律令特別嚴苛,但辛內加爾的管理風格絕非如此。他創造了一種非正式的,沒有一絲脅迫感的環境。在這種氛圍下,沒有人害怕犯錯誤,沒有人耍手段謀利。在好市多,平等主義猶如空氣一般無所不在:無論是辛內加爾,還是現在的杰利尼克,好市多CEO領取的薪酬遠遠低于大多數同等級別公司的掌門人。(杰利尼克說,“我掙的錢足夠好了。”他的基本工資還不到70萬美元。)就連停車位也是按照工齡長短,而不是職位高低來分配的。

It means never trying to gouge vendors or customers or employees. It means facing up to mistakes and making them right without being forced to do so or making excuses. (When they discovered that a shirt they had advertised as 100% silk wasn’t actually silk, they contacted each purchaser and refunded the money.) It even means maintaining a return policy without restrictions, though they know it’s abused by some customers. “I always thought I was pretty good and honest and reputable, and I do think I am,” CFO Galanti says. “But then you meet Jim, and you go, ‘Whoa!’” As Sinegal puts it, “Culture is not the most important thing. It’s the only thing.”

Though the moral imperative was stern, Sinegal’s management style was anything but. He created an informal, unintimidating environment in which no one was afraid of making mistakes and no one was jockeying for position. Egalitarianism permeated everything, from Sinegal, and now Jelinek, taking a substantially lower salary than most other corporate executives of their standing (“I make more than I’ll ever spend,” says Jelinek, who earns a base salary of just under $700,000) to assigning parking spaces on the basis of seniority, not hierarchy.

伊內普·托恩表示,好市多“激光般地專注于為客戶創造價值,” 其運營系統致力于惠及客戶,而不是投資者。“一個傳統的零售商會說,‘我買進這件商品花了29美元,我想以35美元的價格賣出。’” 辛內加爾說。 “但我們會說,‘這件商品我是90美元買進的,我想降價,以18或17美元將其賣出。’這已經成為我們的營商之道。你必須不斷思考,如何以更低的價格將商品和服務推向市場?” 當然,人們欣賞好市多員工待遇好這一事實。“但如果我們把商品價格提高一點點,我想他們就不會關注這檔事了。”他開玩笑說。

好市多是一家追求高效率的公司。比如,其基本費用(包括銷售費用、一般費用和行政費用)只占總收入的10%,而沃爾瑪則為20%左右。體現好市多效率的事實包括,它不做廣告;它的商品選擇有限——好市多只有3700種商品,遠低于沃爾瑪和亞馬遜,后者的商品類別分別為14萬和5億。這使得好市多能夠與供貨商討價還價。加蘭蒂表示,好市多的分銷系統能夠填充其95%的貨運能力,這是一個聞所未聞的數字。

好市多不得不一切從簡,因為布羅特曼和辛內加爾早早就立下一條規矩:任何一件品牌商品的價格上調幅度不得超過14%;自有品牌科克蘭的零售價不得超過其成本的15%。這是一條不可侵犯的紅線,它是好市多的價值主張。(低售價在一定程度上被每年55美元的會員費所抵消,會員可享受在那里購物的特權。會員費收入占好市多利潤總額的3%。)正如該公司的計算結果所示,鑒于汽油和碎牛肉等商品的利潤率極低,好市多的平均價格上調幅度是11%,遠低于沃爾瑪(24%)、普通超市(30%)、家得寶和勞氏公司(35%)。

Costco, says Zeynep Ton, has a “laser focus on creating value for the customer,” and its operating system is dedicated to benefiting customers, not investors. “You look at a traditional retailer, and he’ll say, ‘I’m getting $29 for this item,’” says Sinegal. “‘I’d like to get $35 for it.’ We look at it and say, ‘I’m getting $90 for it. I’d like to get it down to $18 or $17.’ And that’s got to be the MO of running your business. You have to constantly think, How can we bring goods and services to market at a lower price?” Sure, he says, people like the fact that Costco pays its employees well. “But,” he jokes, “if we raised the prices a little bit, I think they could get past that.”

Costco is a lean company. The company’s spending on basic overhead—the selling, general, and administrative category—is only 10% of revenues, compared, for example, with about 20% at Walmart. Among Costco’s efficiencies are the fact that it doesn’t advertise; it has a limited selection—only 3,700 products compared with 140,000 at a Walmart superstore and half a billion at Amazon. That allows Costco to drive hard bargains with suppliers. And it has created a distribution system that, according to Galanti, fills 95% of its freight capacity, an unheard-of number.

Costco has to be lean because Brotman and Sinegal long ago established a rule that no branded item could be marked up more than 14% and no Kirkland Signature item more than 15% over cost. It is an inviolate line: the very value proposition of the company. (Prices are partly offset by a $55-a-year membership fee, which customers pay for the privilege of shopping there and which constitutes 3% of Costco’s profits.) As it has worked out, given the very low profit margins on items like gasoline and ground beef, the average markup at Costco is 11%, which compares with markups of nearly 24% at Walmart, 30% at supermarkets, and 35% at Home Depot and Lowe’s.

好市多絲毫不能容忍任何商店的售價低于自己。公司食品和雜貨副總裁南希·格里斯表示,“如果我們發現有哪家店面的商品售價比我們更低,”好市多將在“日落前”下調價格。不過,好市多永遠不會做虧本生意。

辛內加爾還有一項不可侵犯的價值主張:售價低不能意味著質量低,因為他知道,倘如此,好市多會失去客戶。“質量,質量,質量。”好市多商品首席運營官道格·舒特說。“我們最大的挑戰是,確保商品質量一如我們宣傳得那樣好。”好市多有一個嚴格的質量保障體系。從腰果的大小到殘留在桃子罐頭上的果皮數量,這家公司事無巨細地測試一切商品。1993年,在Jack-in-the-Box快餐店爆發大腸桿菌之后,好市多特別擔心碎牛肉的質量,最終決定建造一家自己的牛肉加工廠。這家工廠每15分鐘就會對牛肉進行一次測試。現在,它甚至在內布拉斯加州啟動了一個牛群飼養試點項目。

好市多的利潤率只有2%。這個微不足道的數字一度讓華爾街抱怨連連。無需贅言,大多數零售商都在竭力擴大利潤率。“我們的文化是違反直覺的。”從Price Club跳槽至好市多,現擔任該公司董事的理查德·萊本森這樣說道。“向員工支付盡可能高的薪酬和最好的福利,同時堅持低利潤率原則,以盡可能低的價格銷售商品。”但這樣做是因為,辛內加爾總是覺得,如果你滿足了客戶和員工,你最終也會讓投資者心滿意足。

如今,華爾街幾乎與8100萬好市多會員一樣迷戀這家零售巨頭。瑞銀集團零售分析師邁克爾·拉瑟表示,這家公司始終恪守其創立原則:“以非常注重價值的價格提供高質量產品,公平對待客戶和員工。”他補充說,好市多不必重新考慮與亞馬遜等野兔競爭。“好市多的模式在今天仍然與20年前一樣有意義。我們不認為這真的會改變。”

變與不變

變革通常被視為一種商業需要,但在伊薩夸,人們并不這樣認為。好市多的高管偶爾會援引百年老店西爾斯作為前車之鑒:如果失去身份感,即企業文化,一家曾經偉大如斯的公司也難以擺脫關門大吉的命運。

好市多不愿重蹈覆轍。“這家企業將不斷演變,”杰利尼克說。“你需要做出改變。但你不能改變的是,如何對待人、吸引人,包容人。這不能改。”抵抗變革并不容易。一說到變革,往往就會談及電子商務。好市多擁抱電子商務的速度一直很緩慢。例如,競爭對手山姆會員店允許客戶在線訂購,然后在商店提貨,而且不必離開他們的汽車。除藥店之外,好市多不提供這樣的服務。通過收購電子商務網站Jet.com,沃爾瑪升級了其在線銷售庫,以便更好地應對亞馬遜的咄咄攻勢。但好市多和華爾街似乎都不認為這筆收購會構成威脅。好市多有會員費,會員們似乎很享受在實體店購物的樂趣。事實上,他們增加了去好市多購物的次數,從幾年前的每3?周一次,增加到現在的每周一次。

在最近一次財報電話會議上,首席財務官加蘭蒂詳細闡述了好市多的電子商務問題:“我們認識到我們的網站面臨一些挑戰。”他告訴分析師。“在接下來的幾個月里,下單所需的點擊次數將大幅改善。在未來六個月或八個月內,網站的搜索功能也將出現一些大的改進。”加蘭蒂補充說,“便利性從來都不是我們的優勢所在。我們的成功向來基于價格和價值,質量和數量。我們確實認識到,便利性也是一種價值。我們將大大改進我們的工作。但這并不意味著我們會在兩個小時內就會把貨物送到你的面前。”

盡管如此,如果你認為好市多應該仿效亞馬遜,不妨再想想:正如一位分析師給我指出的那樣,杰夫·貝索斯推出的亞馬遜金牌會員服務其實是在仿效好市多的會員模式,而不是好市多正在采用亞馬遜的電子商務模式。這位分析師甚至認為,由于好市多擁有一支訓練有素的員工團隊,它或許比電子商務公司更適合服務客戶。就連你或許認為更喜歡用手機購物的千禧一代,也正在成為好市多的忠實擁躉。在好市多的客戶中,千禧一代是增長最快的人口群體。總的來說,這家公司的會員正變得越來越年輕。

好市多面臨的問題并非公司之外,而是公司內部的千禧一代。華爾街仍然看好這家公司,但讓分析師有點擔心的是,在如今這群老臣子相繼離開之后,好市多還會是我們熟悉的那個好事多嗎?“我認為這種卓越的文化可能會一代代相傳下去。”摩根斯坦利的古特曼說。“但我們并沒有很多例子,因為大多數零售商都相對年輕。我們還沒有見證過一家零售商的元勛們即將在事業高峰期離去的情形。”而在好市多,這一幕正在開啟。“所以我擔心,權杖交接后的好市多究竟會發生什么事情。”

當他退休時,辛內加爾選擇時任總裁杰利尼克作為自己的接班人。杰利尼克表示,他現已開始規劃自己的繼承計劃,盡管沒有人認為這一天即將來臨。他說,好市多有一個高管交班十年規劃。克勞汀·阿達莫表示,早在離職前,辛內加爾就制定了一項計劃,邀請迅速崛起的高管們“相互認識”,而杰利尼克也在延續這項計劃。

瑞銀集團的拉瑟似乎吃了定心丸。他說,“他們擁有非常強的板凳陣容,”而且在任何情況下,“文化都不是依附于某一個人的。”盡管如此,誰都不能保證接班人將永遠拒絕誘惑,不會把好市多轉變為一家更酷更快,非常不一樣的公司。“從下面來的人也懂得這種文化嗎?他們是否出身于這種文化?這是他們經歷的唯一工作嗎?”好市多董事會成員萊本森這樣問道。這些都是極其迫切的問題。

阿達莫的職業生涯給予所有這些問題以肯定答復,而且還注入了另一劑強心針。“這項事業的終極核心是,你不僅要在工作中做正確的事,而且它會涉及到你生活的各個方面。”

這就是為什么好市多很可能在未來很長時間內,仍然是我們熟知的那家零售商。數十載光陰轉瞬即逝,這家公司始終在灌輸一種現在比以往更加竭力堅守的經營理念。或許還需要再經歷幾十年,以及一些目前不可預見的事件,才能削弱這種理念。(財富中文網)

本文的一個版本發表于2016年12月15日的《財富》雜志。

譯者:Kevin

Costco is determined not to let any store undersell it. “We look at anyone who beats our price,” says Nancy Griese, VP of corporate food and sundries, and Costco will change its price to compete “by sundown.” Still, Costco will never sell at a loss.

Sinegal had one other inviolate value proposition: Inexpensive couldn’t mean cheap, because he knew Costco would lose customers that way. “Quality, quality, quality,” says Doug Schutt, Costco’s chief operating officer of merchandise. “Our biggest challenge is making sure the quality is what we say it is.” Costco has a stringent quality-assurance program to test everything from the size of cashews to the amount of skin left on canned peaches. After the E. coli outbreak at Jack-in-the-Box in 1993, Costco was so concerned about its suppliers of ground beef that it built its own beef-processing plant, where the meat is tested every 15 minutes. Now it has even started a pilot project in Nebraska of its own cattle herd.

Costco profit margins are a whisper-thin 2%—a figure that has caused grumbling on Wall Street in the past. Most retailers, needless to say, aim to expand margins. “Our culture is counterintuitive,” says Richard Liebenson, who came to Costco from Price Club and is now a member of the board, “paying people the highest wages possible and the best benefits in a business where you’re working on a very low margin and you’re trying to sell merchandise for as little as you can.” But that’s because Sinegal always felt if you satisfied customers and employees, you would eventually satisfy investors too.

Nowadays, Wall Street is nearly as smitten with Costco as its 81 million members are. Michael Lasser, a retail analyst at UBS, says it is a matter of the company being true to its founding principles: “delivering high-quality products at very value-oriented prices and being fair and treating its customers and employees with respect.” And, he adds, Costco doesn’t have to rethink itself to compete with hares like Amazon. “Costco’s model remains as relevant today as it was 20 years ago,” Lasser says, “and we don’t think that is really going to change.”

Change is usually considered a business necessity, but not in Issaquah. Costco executives occasionally invoke Sears as a cautionary tale of a company that was once great and then lost its sense of identity—basically, its culture.

Costco is determined not to let that happen. “The business will evolve,” says Jelinek. “You’ll make changes. Where they won’t be able to change is how you treat people, how you engage people, how you include people. That can’t change.” Resisting change isn’t easy. That topic tends to lead to talk about e-commerce, which Costco has been slow to adopt. For example, rival Sam’s Club allows customers to order online, then pick up the order at the store without getting out of their cars. Costco does not offer such a service other than at its pharmacy. For its part, Walmart upped its online-selling arsenal, to better keep up with Amazon, with its purchase of e-commerce site Jet.com. But neither Costco nor Wall Street seems to think the acquisition poses a threat. Costco has its membership fees, and members seem to enjoy the physical shopping experience. Indeed, they’ve increased their visits from once every 3? weeks just a few years ago to once every week now.

Galanti addressed Costco’s e-commerce issues in some detail on a recent earnings call: “We recognize our site has had some challenges,” he told analysts. “You’re going to see in the next few months a big improvement in the number of clicks [needed to place an order]. You’re going to see in the next six or eight months some big improvement on search.” Galanti added, “We’ve never been big on convenience. Our success has been based on price and value, quality and quantity at the lowest possible price. We do appreciate that value also is convenience. We’re going to greatly improve what we do. But it doesn’t mean we’re going to get something to you in two hours.”

Still, if you think Costco should be emulating Amazon, consider this: Jeff Bezos’s company has adopted Costco’s membership model with Amazon Prime, as one analyst noted to me, rather than Costco adopting Amazon’s e-commerce model. Ton even thinks that because Costco has such a well-trained workforce, it may actually be more adaptable in serving customers than e-commerce companies are. Even millennials, who, you might assume, would prefer shopping via their phones, are coming onboard. They’re Costco’s fastest-growing demographic. Overall, the company’s membership is getting younger.

It isn’t the millennials outside the company who are the issue; it is the ones in it. Wall Street remains bullish, but analysts have some concerns that Costco might age out of itself. “I think these transcendent cultures probably move from generation to generation,” says Morgan Stanley’s Gutman, “but we don’t have a lot of examples because most retailers are relatively young. We haven’t seen a retailer where this generation is going to be exiting at their peak,” which is what is beginning to happen at Costco. “So I do worry when a changing of the guard happens.”

When he retired, Sinegal finessed the problem by tapping Jelinek, then the company president. Jelinek says he is already planning for his own succession, though no one thinks it is imminent. He says the company has a 10-year plan for executive replacements. Before he left, Sinegal had already instituted a program in which he invited rising executives to “get to know each other,” says Claudine Adamo, and Jelinek has continued it.

UBS’s Lasser is reassured. “They have a very strong bench,” he says, and in any case “the culture isn’t based on a single person.” Despite that, there is no guarantee successors will permanently resist the temptation to turn Costco into a cooler, faster, different company. “The people who are coming up underneath—do they know the culture as well? Were they born into it? Was it the only job they ever had?” asks board member Liebenson. Those are pressing questions.

Adamo’s career answers all of them in the affirmative and adds one more fillip. “When it comes down to the extreme core of what we do,” she says, “it truly is that you get not only to do the right thing at work, but it goes to all aspects of your life.”

And that is why Costco is likely to remain Costco for a long time to come. It has taken decades to inculcate a philosophy that is now more fiercely held than ever—and it will likely take decades more, and events that are currently unforeseeable, to weaken it.

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