If you want it, you’ve got to pay for it

Kirjoittaja on New Yorkissa varttunut ja Helsingissä naisistunut copywriter.

Dear Mom,

There’s an old saying here that “If you can’t find it at Stockmann, you don’t need it.” A generation or two ago that might have been true. Now, not so much. It’s no secret that Stockmann has been flailing for a long time. There have been quarterly losses, layoffs, and craploads of stuff on the sale racks.

Since it’s always held a special place in the hearts of Helsinkians, I guess Stockmann felt they owed it to us to be honest. (Kind of like when Bill Clinton came clean to the American people about the blow job felt around the world.) They made a YouTube video admitting that they’d let us all down by letting their trademark quality slide. They vowed to change.

That sounds nice, but as Pekka Nykänen wrote in yesterday’s Kauppalehti, the biggest part of Stockmann’s problem isn’t that the store has lost its grasp on quality, it’s that the majority of Finns don’t care.

What they do care about is price. Yes, Finns value timeless design – in fact they invented it. But this is also a country of H&M-loving penny-pinchers who are willing to drive miles and wait hours in the freezing cold to get their hands on a free bucket.

According to Nykänen, “The department store era in Finland is over.”

But does it have to be?

Nykänen is right that Stockmann’s strategy is wrong. But if you ask me, the real problem isn’t that Stockmann is already “too focused on quality”. It’s that it doesn’t have the balls to aspire to luxury.

I’ve written to you about this before. The Finns’ absolute obsession with mediocrity never ceases to amaze me. Working in the ad industry, I see this aaaaall the tiiiiime. “We want to be careful not to over promise.” “Staying humble is really important to us.” Well, you get the idea.

And speaking of ideas, here’s one. What if Stockmann was to take the bold step of going from “laatu” (boooooring) to “luxury” (exciiiiiiiting)?

In the US, for example, luxury retailers are outperforming mid-level department stores like Stockmann left and right. And since Stockmann doesn’t have a chance with those bucket-obsessed consumers, focusing on those who actually want and are willing to pay for luxury brands and service just might work.

Ok, ok, I know what you’re going to say – the US economy is doing much better than most European economies right now, and God knows we can’t count on the hoards of Russian euros we usually see here when the sales are on. But still.

The point is that when you’re in sink or swim mode like Stockmann is now, sometimes the best thing you can do is… well… anything but the same exact thing that got you there in the first place.