Jones, president, CEO and a director of Borders Group since July and a
former executive at Saks, Target and Warner Bros., among other
companies, has had "some interesting jobs in my past and I've enjoyed
just about everything I've done," he told Shelf Awareness
. He enjoys
his new job at Borders, too--for the most part.
At Borders, he deals with "the brightest group of
people I've ever worked with" and likes the many creative people both
at the company and in the business, including authors and publishers,
and loves books. But there is much to work on at the company. "As soon as we get the business cranking the way I want it,
I will enjoy it even more," he said.
Not that he minds the challenge. "The worst thing," he commented, "is
if a new CEO comes into a company and can't see anything to change."
In a wide-ranging interview, Jones identified many
areas that Borders needs to improve and has begun addressing--from
systems to buyers'
responsibilities to in-store merchandising to branding to signage to
electronic strategy. Overall, he said, "There are a lot of things
we do well, and a lot of things we can do better. We have a solid
foundation in people and programs." With an extensive background in
retail, he draws on
basic sales principles to address many of these issues. "I want us to
be much more product and merchandising focused than we have been
previously," he noted.
He has also drawn on suppliers for help. During his first
few months at Borders, Jones met with the heads of the major
"you get to be the new guy only once," as he put it, he asked the
publishers for feedback and criticism about Borders. "I had heard that
as a merchandising organization, we might not be as effective as our
competitors," he said. "So I asked what do our competitors do better?
What can we do better? I asked for a candid conversation and promised
anonymity." The publishers responded, he said, and he praised them for
"really doing their homework" and getting back to him with a range of
One of the many items to come up was something that Jones called "a
revelation": Borders's buyers don't travel to New York City, which all
but one publisher said was a disadvantage since the buyers can't
develop the same kind of relationships they might otherwise.
"Publishers travel to Ann Arbor," he said, "but still something is
lost." Jones, who had assumed buyers went regularly to the center of
U.S. publishing, noted that "our buyers are willing" to travel
New York, but because of how their jobs are structured--they are
responsible for buying and allocating books, and must do so on separate
systems for Borders and Waldenbooks--finding time is difficult. As a
result, the responsibilities of the buyers will likely be realigned "so
buyers focus on what they do best"--buying books, music, etc.--and
travel to the Big Apple.
Already some evidence of Jones's influence is visible in
stores. "There is a focus in terms of merchandise presentation and
signage," he said. "We've added more clarity and are getting credit
with our customers for what we have." The company is also attempting to
"properly merchandise" more impulse-buy items. Jones said he wants
especially to boost the nearly $25 average ticket amount of Borders
customers, whose purchases are low "based on the time they spend in the
In a related vein, many in the industry will be glad to hear that
category management is being deemphasized. "It's from another era,"
Jones said, "and whatever we do, we won't call it category management
because that left a bad taste. It was too singularly focused and
publishers financed a lot of this. Several were frustrated." Still, he
said that the program was based on "good, solid merchandising
principles." He continued, "I've worked in mass market, specialty and
department store retailing. I've touched all the bases. Some things are
consistent and work anywhere. For one, you have to differentiate. The
customer has to be able to see that you do something better than your
competitors. You have to take a stand. They have other things they do
better; you clearly have to be the best in some things."
Based on his years at Warner Brothers and in the entertainment
industry, "I learned the power of brands, building brands and
consistently offering brands," Jones continued. "Harry Potter, Batman
and Superman were so much more than just movies. We can apply elements
of that here." Of course, customers won't buy books by publisher, but
"authors are a brand," he said, citing John Grisham, Carl Hiaasen and
Borders is working on a strategic plan that it will present in the
first quarter next year. A key part of that will address technology. As
Jones put it, "Our mission is to be the headquarters for knowledge and
entertainment. How do we do that without embracing the Internet and
digital technology?" He said that Amazon.com, which has been Borders's
online fulfillment company for the past five years, has been "an excellent
partner, but we have to look forward to see what's right for our
What's right is "being able to blend more connectivity between what
happens in the stores and on the Net," Jones explained. "We want more
control over the Net and to build relationships with customers."
Whether the company continues to work with Amazon or not, "some things
will have to change."
He also praised the Borders Rewards program, which was begun early this
year, and has connected with more than 13 million customers already. He
noted that the free program has both advantages and disadvantages
to Barnes & Noble's loyalty program, for which customers must pay
to join. On the one hand, B&N's straightforward discount to members
is easy to understand, but Borders has signed up many more members,
leading the company to gain valuable data and a regular way to
communicate with customers.
A longtime reader who spent many hours as a customer in Borders before
company, Jones now has much less time to read than he would like. "I
read a lot, but it's mostly reports, periodicals and analyses." Still,
he just started Nature Girl
Hiaasen and recently read former Citigroup and Travelers head Sandy
Weill's The Real Deal: My Life in Business and Philanthropy
. "He came
to Ann Arbor, and I spent some time with him and wife, Joan," Jones
said. "I admire his success and philanthropy." Jones also admires
Weill's management approach, one that is seemingly old-fashioned but as
basic and solid as some of the general retail principles that Jones
learned working at a variety of companies. "Weill never used a
calculator, a BlackBerry or a computer," Jones continued. "Dealing with
people directly was most important to him."--John Mutter