Research Roundup

What's on Your Menu?

Questioning traditions can result in improvements.

November 24, 2012

I love to cook, so Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.

We enjoy the traditional fare: turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie. And, like other families, we have recipes that appear year after year after year… after year.

Traditions are comforting. But I like to mix things up a little. Why must we succumb to boring green bean casserole? So, I challenge my audience.

One year I abandoned our traditional white bread stuffing for a cornbread and bacon recipe. Not well received. Another year, I splashed apple cider into the gravy: too sweet, they said. A move to stretch their palates with the inclusion of pecans in the pumpkin pie resulted in raised eyebrows and pursed lips.

Ah, but I was on to something with the butternut squash dinner rolls. Boring green bean casserole was improved with abandonment of mushroom soup in favor of homemade cream sauce. Cranberry sauce is delightful when it is cooked down so as not to saturate one’s plate…

It seems that questioning traditions can result in improvements.

Thought-provoking readings this week challenge us to consider the merits of established business traditions, too. In “The Downside of Traditions,” we are asked to “deeply question the traditions of the past…and focus on reinventing the future. It’s time to question. To imagine. To innovate.”

The author suggests that we often “blindly follow the past” at work so we “don’t have to do the hard work of critical thinking in the present.”

Further, think about “What Traditions are Hindering Your Business’ Growth?” Here, we are encouraged to ask our teams “why?” This will help us “discover processes and systems that might need to end or be refined” and possibly unearth new or more efficient ways of getting things done.

Are Black Friday traditions changing?

Another holiday tradition is Black Friday shopping, but research shows both consumers and retailers are challenging established shopping practices.

Has Black Friday Worn Out Its Welcome?” eMarketer asks. Retailers are moving up holiday marketing and many are opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day in anticipation of big sales.

“Cyber Monday” shopping has also become prominent. Survey reports show “41% of US consumers…would shop a few days later on Cyber Monday. In addition, most respondents said they planned to spend less this year on Black Friday than they had in 2011—while a majority of Cyber Monday shoppers planned to spend more than they did a year earlier.”

Another gift-related newsflash: “Stores Offer a Better Deal than Banks on Gift Cards,” says American Banker. This is because fewer retailers charge fees, and many do not set expiration dates.

“The key takeaway for consumers is that they’re going to get the most value from store-branded gift cards,” says a analyst. “The benefit of general-purpose cards offered by banks and credit card companies is that they can be used anywhere, but because of the fees, you would be better off giving cash.”

Shop around and learn “Smartphones and Tablets Essential for Holiday Shopping.” Consumers are tech-savvy. Reportedly, 55.3% “of mobile device owners plan to use a smartphone or tablet for holiday shopping…to research products, make purchases, find…stores, or assist with other shopping tasks.”

Of this group, “42.6% say they are most likely to use their device while shopping in stores or online.”

And smartphone owners are becoming more prevalent. “Smartphone Penetration Crosses 50% Threshold; Apple iOS Gains on Google Android.”

Consequently, consumption of mobile content is on the upswing:

Do your marketing traditions allow you to connect with the changing technological expectations of your members?

Small business traditions questioned?

“Small business banking customers, and the economic catalyst that they represent, are not having their expectations fully met by their banks,” says J.D. Power and Associates

Perhaps service-oriented credit unions have an opportunity to challenge the traditional use of banks by this market. “Even given the value that small business banking customers represent to financial institutions, they experience more problems than do retail banking customers and experience fewer of the basic customer-service elements, such as being greeted by name and being thanked for their business, which significantly impact satisfaction.”

Traditional lending patterns to small businesses have been affected by our economy, according to “How Did the Financial Crisis Affect Small Business Lending in the United States?” by the Small Business Administration.

Small businesses are struggling with gaining access to credit. “Bank lending to small firms rose from $308 billion in June 1994 to a peak of $659 billion in June 2008 but then declined by almost 18% to only $543 billion in June 2011.”

Another finding:  “Bank size had a significant negative impact on business lending” and banks younger than five years old had a “significant positive relation” on business lending. “Regulators should enact policies to encourage the formation of new banks as a way to increase business lending.”

Lending to Small U.S. Businesses Plunged in September to the Lowest Level in 14 Months…” corroborates Reuters in a PayNet Small Business Lending Index. The overall financing volume to small U.S. companies “dropped to 94.1 from a downwardly revised 108.9 in August…”

Evidently, companies are experiencing distress as “Accounts overdue by 30 days rose to 1.24% of the total… Although the rate is low by historical standards, it was the first rise in delinquencies in more than two years.”

Can you help reinvent these lending traditions?

Maybe the tradition I inflict upon my fellow diners every Thanksgiving is one of culinary surprise. “What is she going to reinvent THIS year?” they may ask.

Some of my gourmet innovations have been successful while others failed. I need not totally abandon traditional offerings in search of improvements to keep things interesting and palatable for my audience.

Sometimes I just tweak them a little. Curiosity and a healthy appetite always bring my family to the Thanksgiving table, no matter what I serve up.

Your members are curious and hungry. What’s on your menu?

LORA BRAY is a research librarian at CUNA.