Just got off the phone with Mike Huseby, CEO of Barnes & Noble.
He graciously scheduled a phone call with me after having excoriated me in a southwest Florida online journal.
He did that because I had published an article in that same online journal questioning whether Barnes & Noble would still be around next January.
In his printed response, Huseby called me an “odd Chicken Little” who believed that the sky was falling in on Barnes & Noble.
When we spoke, he had the tone of a man trying to swat a fly buzzing around his head, keeping him from getting his work done.
Huseby is curiously tone deaf. I wrote him a kiss and make up letter in which I mentioned that I had been a Barnes & Noble customer for more than forty years, which is probably longer than most Barnes & Noble employees have been alive.
In our phone call today, he told me that there are actually a few Barnes & Noble employees who have been with the company longer than forty years.
Mike, I think you missed my point.
I’m sure you have employees who have been around that long. I was just simply trying to tell you that I’m an extremely long-time customer.
I offered him a menu of items that Barnes & Noble could be doing in order to draw more people to the stores and take advantage of physical browsing, which you can’t do on Amazon.
He had absolutely no interest in any of the ideas, which included Barnes & Noble fellows-teens and college students who love books and could serve as goodwill ambassadors.
I told him that I had never seen a single event take place at the three Barnes and Nobles nearest my home, and that I’m in those stores constantly.
He offered to send me a calendar of events for those stores.
Thanks, Mike. That would be great.
I’d written that competing with the Nook against Amazon’s Kindle was like bringing a knife to a gunfight.
He told me that everybody loves the Nook technology. I don’t, but I guess I’m not everybody.
The very next day, he dumped the Nook altogether.
The conversation, which he directed, pinballed between his lack of interest in the suggestions I offered and at the same time his compulsive need to repeat to me, as if I mattered, that Barnes & Noble would continue to exist after January, 2015, and that there was no reason to rush to use gift cards.
I haven’t read too much Peter Drucker lately, but is this really the highest and best use of a CEO’s time?Taking a combative stance in a phone call with a guy who isn’t exactly famous but does get his stuff published all over the Internet?
I told him that in Barnes & Noble stores, it was all but impossible to find an employee, and when you did find one that wasn’t too harried from running around trying to do stuff, that employee probably didn’t know all that much about books.
He responded that the photo of a Barnes & Noble store that accompanied my initial article in the Florida publication was actually the Barnes & Noble location in Vermont where his 89-year-old mother shopped, and she always had a good experience.
I shook my head, which he probably couldn’t hear over the phone.
I could just imagine how those conversations went.
“You know, my son works for this company,” Mama Huseby would say.
“Really?” asks the bored bookseller, hoping to ditch the older lady and move on to some other task, which is about all Barnes & Noble employees do anyway. “Which store?”
“He’s the CEO,” Mama Huseby calmly replies.
“Yikes! Can I freshen up your latte?” the bookseller asks quickly, suddenly fearing for his job.
This really isn’t about Mike Huseby’s mother, or mine, for that matter, who started taking me to Barnes & Noble when Nixon was still president.
It’s about the fact that a company is trying to sell a product that people don’t really want that much of anymore-books. And despite the fact that, as Huseby pointed out both in his reply in the Florida journal and in our phone conversation, Barnes & Noble has plenty of cash.
Much more cash than I have in my wallet, in fact.
Cash is great. But what good is it if you’ve got a company that is stuck in a nineteenth century business model?
Going up against Amazon is a tough way to make a living. It’s really like bringing a knife to a gun fight.
So that’s why I say, make sure you use up your gift cards by the end of calendar year 2014.
Who knows what store chain will be occupying the ever-shrinking number of Barnes & Noble locations across the country as we ring in New Year’s 2015.
Once the company craters, Huseby could always get a job at BusinessGhost.
Unlike Barnes and Noble, we’re expanding.
And we’re hiring.
Get those gift cards moving, America.
While there’s still time.