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: 10/23/2020

    Can Gap prosper without mall stores?

    Malls are dying but the right question, is could Gap and or Banana Republic maintain their brands inside the mall if malls weren't in trouble? If the answer to that is no, and it may well be, then I'm hard pressed to see how the online/outlet strategy works -- since for most people that means having an online presence alone. As far as Old Navy goes, slow and steady freestanding store growth may be the way to go. Athleta, on the other hand, might want to taper its ambitions a bit until it figures out how much of its allure comes from the fact that the banner doesn't have a store on every corner.
  • Posted on: 10/23/2020

    Can Target assure customers they’ll be safe shopping for the holidays?

    Gene Destroyer has nailed it. All of Target's efforts could be undone by irrational customers. I live in Michigan where the "pandemic is a hoax" crowd has knocked down an almost 80-year-old cancer patient, spit on employees, gotten into fist, knife, and gun fights over masks, and other assorted heinous behavior. Certainly for the majority of shoppers Target is doing what it can, and more than most. Does it make it the "easiest place to shop in the U.S.?" I doubt it, but it's a good start in the right direction. As we move from spike to spike though these extraordinary sanitation procedures lose their differentiation as areas go back down to mandated lockdowns and restrictions. If everyone has to do something you don't necessarily get points for volunteering to do it first.
  • Posted on: 10/23/2020

    Trader Joe’s and Wegmans satisfy, others falter, through the pandemic

    I think these chains stand out at least in part because they started with a more loyal customer base than their peers. Like everything else in life, if I like you I will tend to be more forgiving of your shortcomings, especially if you are still outperforming the competition. These five firms have different customer engagement policies, so I think it's less a case of having one "magic bullet" to keep service levels up that can be copied by all, and more a reward for decades of dedicated customer service. And, all of these companies not only gather mountains of data, they actually do creative and insightful things based on their analytics. Put another way, while some supermarkets have been "listening" to their customers, these four chains have been "hearing" what customers have been saying pre-pandemic. If you are looking for a starting point to improve customer service, this wouldn't be a bad beginning.
  • Posted on: 10/22/2020

    How crucial is last mile fulfillment to 7-Eleven and the c-store channel?

    First of all I think of "last mile" problems as being a seller issue, not a buyer issue. Logically, and functionally, driving to a store, shopping and driving home is identical -- in terms of last mile solutions -- to BOPIS, curbside pickup, etc. in that, in all those cases, the consumer is the "last mile" distribution agent. So if that is true, we should only be looking at cases where the seller -- in this case c-stores -- is the "last mile" distribution agent. What 7-Eleven has (potentially) done is simultaneously sweetened the value proposition from a consumer point of view, and outsourced the solution. That seems a viable approach. Hiring a kid to deliver a slice of pizza and a bag of Cheetos to some stoner at 4:00 a.m. doesn't, at least not to me.
  • Posted on: 10/22/2020

    Are immersive technologies ready to build online buying trust?

    I am extremely confident that immersive technologies are a step toward closing the sensory gap between the in-store and online experience. That said, the question assumes that immersive technologies couldn't enhance in-store experiences, and I think that's a superficial assumption. Behind the question is another, more dangerous, assumption -- that consumers still see the in-store and online shopping experience through the same rigidly siloed lens most of the industry does. I think that is a mission critical error. That said, which technologies are adopted and which are not is more dependent on ease of interface than potential function and features and how easily a given technology can be aligned with the consumer's other shopping tools. Since I have difficulty understanding the value of segregating channels of trade, I'll pass on answering the second part of the question other than to say that technologies don't ever set strategic direction they only enable it.
  • Posted on: 10/22/2020

    Amazon will pay you to know what you bought somewhere else

    As the old Motown song warns us, "a taste of honey is worse than none at all." Amazon's goal is, and always has been, to put together as complete a picture of the consumer as possible. Before I answer the question, let me take a slightly different approach from my fellow BrainTrusters. I think this make Amazon's problem worse, not better. Any component data analyst knows you can't optimize AI or shopping algorithms without complete data. Right now Amazon knows what Amazon knows, i.e., only what we purchase from it. Tossing a few more jigsaw pieces on the table doesn't necessarily make it any easier to solve the problem. In fact, it make may things exponentially more complex. The only way to get where Amazon wants to go is to have complete purchase level at a household and individual household member level, and that's worth a lot more than $120 a year. Now, as to the question. Amazon will try to use this data to augment its data streams in critical areas. That much is, I think, unarguable. Will others follow? Yes, but that's the wrong question. The right questions are: how long will it take for consumers to figure out the actual value of their data and demand that in exchange for the data; and, how long will it take for "consumer data agents" to emerge to streamline the process for consumers on one end and aggregate the results for sellers on the other?
  • Posted on: 10/21/2020

    COVID-19 Essentials is a startup designed to end with the pandemic

    The correct answer is, we just don't know. The operators of these COVID-19 concept stores clearly are thinking more like "pop-up" merchants than institutional brand builders and that makes sense. But don't most people already have "go to" sources for these products? Even my favorite tie maker, Dominic Pangborn, has a line of beautiful high-fashion masks out. So with PPE available everywhere from CVS to haute couture boutiques what would fuel these temporary concepts? Ah yes, broader contagion and a shortage of supply. I think some percentage (a minority certainly) of Americans will keep wearing masks post-COVID-19 -- assuming there ever is a post-COVID-19 -- but I'm not sure there will be enough of them to make a market. I guess we'll all know sooner or later.
  • Posted on: 10/21/2020

    Will Lowe’s customers ‘gift’ their homes for the holidays?

    First of all, call me a Grinch but do we really need more Christmas before Halloween promotions? Okay, that's out of my system. I do think there is something to the notion of "gifting" the home but, the question is, are consumers going to see Lowe's as the best retailer to turn to for Christmas trees? This holiday season is going to be a weird one with families being urged by the CDC and NIH to forgo traditional large family meals, fears of COVID-19/flu, the high probability of no or limited stimulus funding, small business closures, etc. In this environment are people going to want to do the family things they can outside -- like select their own tree from a lot or cut their own? My guess is yes. Will expansion beyond the core categories boost sales? Sure, some. Will the cost of these programs prove profitable? Tell you in January.
  • Posted on: 10/21/2020

    Will Whole Foods draw more Prime shoppers with one-hour curbside pickup?

    So I guess the question is, from a consumer's point of view, which is the more attractive value proposition: sit at home and have your groceries delivered to you, free within two hours; or, drive yourself to the store and get them in one? I'm not sure what the answer is. If you are paying a premium to be a Prime member, why shouldn't you have things delivered right to you? The quick answer is that pickup gives you more scheduling flexibility, but it also requires more effort. But on balance I agree with others here that "net-net" curbside pickup will attract for Prime members to Whole Foods and maybe even convert some folks to become Prime members. The only other real question is, given the labor and in-store traffic limitations will that be a good or bad thing?
  • Posted on: 10/20/2020

    Will virtual recruiting and onboarding hurt seasonal hiring?

    Of course it will be impacted, because vetting becomes at least marginally tougher. To me this isn't a pro/con question. To quote somebody whose advice is often questionable, "It is what it is." What's the alternative?
  • Posted on: 10/20/2020

    Albertsons offers a new refrigerated take on store pickup

    I think this is a "better" not "best" solution. It solves a supermarket's problem, we'll have to see if it meets a genuine, sustainable consumer need. On the upside, product quality in frozen and fresh should be less of an issue and it potentially mitigates some of the "slotting pickup" issue. On the downside it forces shoppers out of their cars and makes them touch things. As to what the next step is, let's see how consumers vote -- but my guess is that over time lockers might replace the current pick-up model.
  • Posted on: 10/20/2020

    Will Panera’s climate-friendly labels spur sales?

    In the long-term I think climate friendly labels will become more and more important. Right now though -- with somewhere between 30 percent and 40 percent of the American public being climate/science deniers -- I'm not sure it has any impact, and may even lose Panera a few fringe customers. So for now only, this falls in my file of: "Great PR clickbait - limited impact." Hopefully I'll have to revise my rating sooner than later.
  • Posted on: 10/19/2020

    Has Shein reinvented teen e-tailing?

    Shein has put together a pretty effective combination value proposition but if I had to isolate out one of the elements of that proposition I'd have to cast my vote for inclusion. Teenagers almost always think the worst of themselves and having a broad range of new, affordable, fashion items available in sizes that fit "real people" is a strong statement about the brand's recognition of, respect for, and affirmation of young people at probably the most fragile time of their lives.
  • Posted on: 10/19/2020

    Retailers need to prep for in-store COVID conflicts

    I live in Michigan where a frighteningly large percent of the population is still mourning a recent decision that bans them from carrying their AK-47s and Glocks to polling places in a few weeks. This is a serious issue. People are irrational on this topic, so I don't know how you train anyone - short of a licensed clinician - how to de-escalate political paranoia. And how are people not suppose to take it seriously when someone deliberately spits on you after telling you they are COVID-19 positive? Avoiding power struggles is great advice (for store owners trying to avoid lawsuits) but it's a little tough when somebody is physically assaulting you. We have to quit treating this like it is an issue of a single individual who is acting out in order to be recognized. This is a movement characterized by the worst case "us and them" scenarios. Shep Hyken suggests retailers take a cue from Delta -- good advice, but only if you remember that most flyers have few alternatives and airlines have the option to call in federal Air Marshalls to reinforce their policies. And they are being hypocritical too. Their, "You have to wear a mask unless you don't," i.e.,when you buy food, drink, etc., still allows folks shedding virus to spread COVID-19, just on the airlines' terms. As for the last question, every day I get up and think to myself things couldn't get worse in terms in terms of our public interactions and every night I go to bed realizing how wrong I had been. If you are counting on America regaining its perspective, logic, and rationality - I have a lovely bridge in Brooklyn for sale.
  • Posted on: 10/19/2020

    Should local book stores be taking on Amazon?

    Full disclosure, independent bookstores are my favorite kinds of retailers, ranking just slightly in my heart above indie music stores, art stores, and hardware stores - all of which I love. It's also true that I buy a ton of books online both directly from Amazon and on, a platform for indie booksellers owned by -- wait for it -- Amazon. I know my own favorite bookstore, for example, both protests Amazon and sells on AbeBooks. So biases firmly in place let me say that I think there are more pros than cons to the protest. Nobody is going to stop buying from an indie bookstore because it is protesting Amazon, and a few may be drawn into a store they otherwise might have bypassed. The issue isn't convenience or price. There's no question that, in most cases at least pre-COVID-19, Amazon is a cheaper and faster way to pick up a book. But indie bookstores offer so much more: lots of atmosphere, the thrill of the hunt if they have used titles, sage advice and suggestions, a collection of regular eccentrics wandering about, and signings, performances, parties, and community. So far at least, Amazon can't touch any of that. As for the messaging, I don't think it really matters. Indie stores are just telling the world they are still alive and kicking, and that's good enough.

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