Ryan Mathews

Founder, CEO, Black Monk Consulting

Ryan Mathews, founder and ceo of Black Monk Consulting is a globally recognized futurist, speaker and storyteller. Ryan is also a best selling author, a successful international consultant and a sought after commentator on topics as diverse as innovation, technology, global consumer trends and retailing. He and his work have been profiled in a number of periodicals including Wired, which labeled him a philosopher of e-commerce and Red Herring, which said of him, “It’s Mr. Mathews’ job to ask the hard questions”. In April, 2003 Ryan was named as “the futurist to watch” in an article on the 25 most influential people in demographics over the last 25 years by American Demographics magazine.

His opinions on issues ranging from the future of Internet pornography to ethnic marketing have appeared on the pages of literally hundreds of newspapers and magazines including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Business Week, Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press, Advertising Age and American Demographics. A veteran journalist, Ryan has written cover stories for Fast Company and other leading magazines has been a frequent contributor to National Public Radio’s Marketplace on topics related to innovation. He is widely regarded as an expert on consumers and their relationship to brands, products, services and the companies that offer them. Ryan has also done significant work in related areas including supply chain analysis, advertising and new product development.

Ryan is the co-author (with Fred Crawford) of The Myth of Excellence: Why Great Companies Never Try To Be The Best at Everything (Crown Business), which debuted on the Wall Street Journal’s list of Best Selling Business Books. Myth was named to the bestseller lists of Business Week, 1-800 CEOREAD and other business book tracking services. It was also a bestseller on, whose Business Editors selected it for their list of the twelve best business books released in 2001. Writing about Myth Federal Express chairman, president and ceo Frederick W. Smith called Ryan an “exceptional strategic thinker.” A.G. Lafley, president and ceo of The Procter & Gamble Company said the Consumer Relevancy model advanced in Myth was, “…the best tool I’ve seen for incorporating consumer wants and needs into your business.” Ryan is also the co-author (with Watts Wacker) of The Deviant’s Advantage: How Fringe Ideas Create Mass Markets (Crown Business), which received uniformly high reviews from the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, Fortune, the Miami Herald and Time magazine. He was also a contributor to the best selling, Business: The Ultimate Resource (Perseus). Ryan is currently at work on his third book (again with Fred Crawford), tentatively titled, “Engagement: Making Sense of Life and Business” which addresses issues as diverse as a new model of branding and the search for the elusive global consumer.

A frequently requested keynote speaker Ryan has addressed a wide variety of subjects in his speech practice from the future of beauty to the future of house paint. His audiences have included labor groups such as the United Food & Commercial Workers Union; not for profit organizations like Planned Parenthood; associations from the Photographic Retailers Organization to the Grocery Manufacturers of America; academic institutions like Michigan State University and Pennsylvania State University; high technology forums such as Information Week’s CIO Boot Camp and Accenture’s E-Business Symposium; consulting audiences including Cap-Gemini, Ernst & Young and Deloitte & Touche; to consumer goods manufacturers from Sherwin Williams to Procter & Gamble, Kellogg’s, Coca-Cola and numerous others. He has worked and spoken extensively in Europe for clients including Grey Advertising, Musgrave, Ltd, the British Post and Unilever. In addition to speaking and his other areas of expertise Ryan has done significant client work in organizational development as a facilitator and scenario planner.

Ryan received his BA from Hope College in Inner Asian history and philosophy and did his graduate work at the University of Detroit where he studied phenomenological ontology. He is a Kentucky Colonel and his reputation and experience as a chili authority won him a seat on the International Chili Society’s board of directors. He has also served on the Advisory Board of the Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management at Michigan State University’s Eli Broad College of Business.

  • Posted on: 12/04/2019

    Do independent liquor stores need a rehab?

    Ben -- Everyone knows that you are looking for a good price on "Mad Dog" when you walk in the door. But seriously, I think you've nailed this one. The arcane post-Prohibition rules that set up the three-tier distribution model protect any number of bad business -- and ultimately anti-consumer -- practices. Once those antiquated laws are changed, many independents and distributors are going to be in trouble. And spot on again about the need to differentiate, always an independent operator's most potent secret weapon. Finally, completing your rhetorical troika, it's clear that in the future the only things that will save undifferentiated independents will be proximity/location and convenience. Also, as Ron mentioned, there's no question that once price normalization occurs, the cannabis market will take a significant bite out of the entire industry. The thing I found really interesting about this study is that apparently having kids drives you to drink, a conclusion most parents can independently confirm.
  • Posted on: 11/26/2019

    The RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge: Old Navy vs. T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods

    I actually don't like either of these spots. Rather than declare a tie, or a marginal winner, as some of my kinder BrainTrust peers have, I'm giving two thumbs down to both spots.
  • Posted on: 11/21/2019

    Is Target killing department stores and specialty clothing chains?

    Target's success comes at the expense of any mid-tier, undifferentiated, generalist department store. I think we all know who they are. I expect Target to have a solid holiday season and that its momentum will continue into the New Year.
  • Posted on: 11/21/2019

    Should Starbucks stick with its open bathroom policy?

    Like other BrainTrusters, I am not overly impressed by the study's methodology and, by extension, its conclusions. "My" Starbucks is close to a homeless hub. When the weather turns cold or inclement the Starbucks fills with the homeless and the bathrooms become, in objective fact, trashed. More worrisome, many of the homeless folks camped out all day and night need showers and clean clothes, many are on medication and or substance abusers, and a minority are actively disruptive. None of this particularly bothers me, but there is no doubt that it negatively impact "dwell time" on the part of a fairly significant percentage of target customers. Perhaps even worse, this puts the staff in the crosshairs of a seemingly intractable problem. On the one hand, most associates sympathize with the homeless often reaching into their own pockets to get them a hot drink on a cold day and they are in any event bound by policy to treat even non-spending customers as though they were the most loyal of customers. On the other, they have to address complaints from "regulars" who feel intimidated, threatened, etc., or who find the bathroom conditions unacceptable. The real answer to this question is to address the issue of homelessness in an effective manner at the community level. These are human beings after all and some of the "negative" aspects of their behavior are the direct result of lack of access to basic services. Open bathrooms are always a potential problem, whether they are near the homeless or next to a university. The alternative however often results in people who have nowhere else to go to relieve themselves in more public spaces. It is a tough needle to thread. There are no simple answers.
  • Posted on: 11/21/2019

    Kroger brings the farm closer to the table

    Europeans have long been more concerned about food sourcing and production than we have been in the U.S. So is this potentially a good idea? Absolutely. Better still, locate the "garden" on the roof or the side of the store and fuel it with solar panels. But while it will no doubt generate a good bit of good PR, the issue ultimately is -- can enough sustainable demand be generated to cover the cost of equipment, energy, etc. incurred in a chain-wide rollout? I'm not sure the answer to that question is yes -- at least now.
  • Posted on: 11/20/2019

    Will a hack ruin Macy’s Christmas?

    I'm sure it will, although -- given Macy's other problems -- I'm not sure how the impact could, or should, be calculated. I'm not sure how Macy's addresses customer concerns unless they, in fact, take radical and sustainable steps to securing its database.
  • Posted on: 11/20/2019

    Should Santa be a loyalty program perk?

    In a word, "No," Santa shouldn't be a perk. As to what Harrods should do, how about hiring more Santas with separate entrances and exits?
  • Posted on: 11/20/2019

    CBD and plant-based meats are the next big things in store brands

    I am a little bearish when it comes to jumping on these bandwagons. CBD holds a good deal of promise in certain categories, but we are a little way away from having standardized formulations. Standardization will come when the big CPG players invest and it's likely the completion will then move to purity (higher) and price (lower), so I'm not sure what retailers should, or shouldn't do, until the market settles. As to plant-based protein products, they are processed foods and so we will have to wait to see how big the market is once the hype settles down.
  • Posted on: 11/19/2019

    Can a Soho pop-up relaunch Tupperware’s party?

    Tupperware is an artifact from an era of larger families, home-cooked meals, and big kitchens with plenty of storage space. It also was a product of a time when, predominantly, women had diminished access to lucrative "side hustles" and time to build community among their peers. In other words -- it was an innovation in a long-gone era; one, by the way, in which it had little effective competition. What the brand needs today is a revolution, not a pop-up. At best the pop-up may appeal to a retro market. I don't think it's an effective move long-term.
  • Posted on: 11/19/2019

    Are Americans ready for a DTC shopping holiday?

    There are two separate questions here. Is direct-to-consumer (DTC), as Armstrong envisions it, a step up from traditional internet commerce? Without a doubt. Do consumers need another holiday-season shopping holiday? Hard to imagine. The more "special shopping days" we create, the less "special" they become, their image fading into the exploding landscape of what has now become a non-stop period of July through January "holiday" discounting. As to the second question Armstrong clearly has several dogs in this fight, so he's hardly an objective observer, but he is absolutely correct that a more dynamic DTC platform is long overdue.
  • Posted on: 11/19/2019

    Chick-fil-A Foundation changes charitable giving and controversy follows

    Chick-fil-A's current problem vividly demonstrates the potential dangers to brands when they take positions on "moral" issues in an increasingly polarized world. If they held the traditional line, they would be under constant attack from the LGBT+ community, its supporters, and other progressive critics. If it changed positions, as it did, it becomes the target of certain evangelicals, the right-wing media, and some percentage of its existing customer base. Put more simply; damned if they did, damned if they didn't. They were, and are, in a literal no-win position. One can assume the chain's corporate morality ran afoul (sorry) of its commercial interests. Having gotten itself in this position my advice would be to "stop digging" by going silent for six months or so, at least on this issue. It's not the most effective strategy but, sadly, that ship has sailed. The only other viable option is to hold the new line, but drop discussions of "God's judgement." By continuing to cast this decision in religious terms they alienate the Religious Right while continuing to alienate the Progressive Left. Best to focus on chicken for a while.
  • Posted on: 11/18/2019

    What will happen now that Five Below has gone above $5?

    Did dollar stores collapse as a channel when some items went above $1? Nope. Will a limited price hike on selected items kill Five Below? Unlikely, at least if all things remain equal and it's managed well. The issue with pricing is rarely actual price, but rather overall price perception. And until they change the brand name, the pricing impression most consumers will get is that most of the items are cheaper than they are at other stores.
  • Posted on: 11/18/2019

    Will a purpose-driven site do good for Zappos?

    I think that the risk/reward economics are pretty simple -- at least initially. Zappos won't have much upfront investment and if it works, i.e., if consumers actually buy the way they say they buy, the upside is fairly significant. The issue isn't whether consumers -- especially late Millennials and Gen Zers -- believe in issues like sustainability and organics, it's whether they are really ready to spend against those beliefs. That said, we are talking about 150 brands here, not 15,000, so the program is manageable. And many of theses brands are small, niche players -- so even a 2 or 3 percent hike in sales spells big success. As to how large the broader opportunity is, whatever the size of the market, it's likely to be controlled by the prime movers. You really don't want to be the 125th retailers or brander to discover their corporate conscience.
  • Posted on: 11/18/2019

    Dunkin’ introduces online holiday pop-up

    It's interesting -- and smart -- that Dunkin' chose to do a "virtual" pop-up. It offers several advantages. They can create FOMO through scarcity demand modeling, i.e., "Act now. Supplies are limited," especially since you can't physically see the inventory levels. But interesting doesn't always equal successful. Is there an unmet need for peppermint scented gift wrap? Is the world ready for peppermint lip balm? I guess we'll soon see. As to opportunities for other retailers and/or brands, the more "cultish" the audience for the QSR, the higher the degree of potential success.
  • Posted on: 11/08/2019

    Gap Inc.’s CEO steps down. What comes next?

    Going forward, the ideal Gap strategy can be expressed in three words -- Fix The Brands! It's great that your grandfather wore Gap jeans to Woodstock, or that your mother dressed you in Old Navy clothes before you had any say in personal fashion expression because they were cheap, or that Banana Republic captured a slice of micro-chic for six months in the 1970s ... but it's not enough to turn things around. I don't know Mr. Peck but I'm sure he is smart, and it sounds like he did a lot of badly needed block-and-tackling on the supply chain and technology fronts. That just wasn't enough to resurrect the brand. Peck was like a worker spending all his labor and materials fixing a leaky roof on a house without doors. The rain couldn't get in, but neither could anyone else.

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