The Business Lesson from “You’ve Got Mail”

January 11, 2018

What’s on my mind today: How quickly things change. Just because the world worked one way in the past or even now, doesn’t mean it will look like that in the future. A lesson the movie “You’ve Got Mail” reminded me of.

What brought this to mind was a podcast I was listening to. The podcast was about movies that were made in 90s and 2000s that seem crazy now because of how the world has changed. An example they used that stuck with me was the movie “You’ve Got Mail”.

For those that don’t remember the plot here is quick synopsis from (all-knowing) Google: Struggling boutique bookseller Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) hates Joe Fox (Tom Hanks), the owner of a corporate Foxbooks chain store that just moved in across the street. When they meet online, however, they begin an intense and anonymous Internet romance, oblivious to each other’s true identity. Eventually, Joe learns that the enchanting woman he’s involved with is actually his business rival. He must now struggle to reconcile his real-life dislike for her with the cyber love he’s come to feel.

Now we all know that Foxbooks is meant to represent big box bookstores like Barnes & Nobles and Borders Books. In 1998, big box stores were putting more and more mom and pop stores out of business. This plot made total sense in 1998, but just 10 short years later, the landscape looks totally different. Borders Books is out of business and Barnes & Nobles is struggling under the weight of Amazon.

What about those mom & pop/indie bookstores? They are thriving. Between 2009 and 2015, small bookstores have grown by 35%! The part of the industry that was once on the ropes, is now enjoying success.

Why? Because they focused on something technology like Amazon cannot provide: A sense of community and connectivity. They are becoming where neighbors can meet, and customers can support a local small business.

The takeaway? Don’t let the past or even the present distort your core values. Put the customer at the center. Always be asking “how can I delight my customer?” Sure, there will be serious storms, but if you are constantly focused on bringing a disproportionate amount of value to the customer, you will win in the end.