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Enterprise Marketing & Promotions Management

The Lion Sleeps Tonight… Retail Survival Begins With Each and Every Sunrise.

By / April 2018


Historically, retailing is a marathon without a finish line. Today, retailing is still a marathon without a finish line, but now it has to be run at sprint speed. Sears Roebuck was founded in 1893. The Kroger Company was founded in 1883. Both are around the same age, over 120 years old. Both were the innovators and disruptors of their era and subsequent eras. One company has adapted to present day and future realities. The other—as it closed its last store in Chicago this week—has not. And … today, even Amazon management has to remember that it is not the only river in the retail jungle.

In the fall of 1991, I walked a store for two hours with Sam Walton. We talked about how retailing was changing. He told me his favorite motivational story for his management team—the story of Lions & Gazelles. Sam was the ‘real deal!’

Side Note: In 1961, 55 years ago, I was graduating from high school and the Tokens, a doo‐wop group, had the most popular song in America — The Lion Sleeps Tonight. You might want to click here. The Tokens set the mood for the rest of the story.

The Folk Tale of Lions & Gazelles

Folk tales are the ‘simple truths’ of, the reality of, human history. Folk tales are… simple, universal, memorable stories. They are the generational wisdom that from our past, help us to understand our present and guide us toward a future.

Sam Walton… Defined the Relevance of the Folk Tale of Lions & Gazelles
In late 1991, 25 years ago, I had the privilege of walking a store with the late Sam Walton. During our walk through, I asked him what kept him up at night. He said the continuing challenge of change brought about by competition and technology. He thought the old folk tale of Lions and Gazelles best described the challenge—the threats of change. Sam told me that every senior officer at Walmart had a reminder plaque in their office that read:

“Every day in Africa a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows that it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you better be running.” – anonymous

As we finished our walkthrough, Sam said, “Remember, it no longer makes any difference whether your company is over 100 years old, or 50, or a startup. The future of everything is essentially defined by the ‘next sunrise.’ Whether your company is a lion or a gazelle … you better be running!”

Contributed by Ron Lunde, Senior Marketing and Advertising Executive & Market Strategy Consultant

Ron held senior management positions in grocery retailing including Supervalu, Grand Union and Price Chopper. He was also a Sr. VP. at the Leo Burnett Advertising agency. Ron is credited with introducing Space and Category Management systems to the industry as well as working with the Price Chopper team to introduce and deploy the first data driven frequent shopper program in the US. He was also a consultant to the Financial Accounting Standards Board in developing the Issues that govern the accounting requirements for all trade promotion and marketing expenditures. Lunde currently serves as a Market Strategy consultant to retailers and CPG brands.


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