John’s record of accomplishment — he is also a sought-after consultant, motivational speaker and author — makes other executives take note when he shares his ideas.
John has much to say about consumer products, brand building and retailing, but his current focal point is personal health and the need for businesspeople to take better care of themselves.
That message was borne of personal experience. It was discovered that John had thyroid cancer after a friend suggested that he undergo a rigorous executive physical at UCLA Health. After the cancerous portion of the thyroid gland was removed during surgery that lasted three hours, the 48-year-old John is, in his words, fine and happy, but the health scare gave him a new sense of mission.
“What I realized at that time was that entrepreneurs generally don’t take care of themselves,” he says. “They’re always saying they don’t have enough time, and we’ll get to it tomorrow; first I have to do other things that are needed for my business. I finally realized the hard way that early detection is extremely important.”
Diagnosed in March, John indicates that it took some time before he was sure he wanted to share his story. “At first I didn’t want to go public about it, because I didn’t want anyone to think that I’m dying, which I’m not,” he says. “I realized how important it is to share with people about the value of colonoscopies, mammograms, pap smears, endoscopies and other tests.
“That one’s of the things that I’ve been talking about in my speaking engagements. I want people to look at me as an example and say the reason he can run around the way he does and have whatever form of success he has is because he takes care of himself first, so he can then be around to take care of everything else. People need to know that if you address health problems early enough, you have a very good chance of beating them.”
John, who is now further strengthening FUBU through the launch of a mobile app and collaboration with other brands, has equally compelling insights about the current state of the retail market. Traditional merchants, he asserts, have to change quickly or wither away.
“From the retail perspective, when you’re getting people into the stores, you now have to create a lifestyle or there’s absolutely no reason for them to be there,” he says. “I like the concept of what Macy’s is doing with its flagship store in Manhattan. The idea is to turn that store — which is one of the most globally recognized, iconic retail spaces — into the Disneyland of retailing. If you can do that, together with a lot of live streaming and other things that cause stickiness, you can pull off what you want to do.
“But a lot of retailers are going to fail, because I don’t see the stickiness. There’s no reason for me to go to most big department stores anymore. Until they, together with their vendors, create a lifestyle, and stay connected from a digital standpoint — streaming and things of that nature — they’re going to fall by the wayside.”
While acknowledging the impact of e-commerce in general and Amazon.com in particular, John asserts that for consumer packaged goods makers, many of the hurdles they face are the same as ever.
“If you look at Amazon as just a different platform, you realize that we’ve always had different platforms to sell on,” he says. “So how are you going to create a movement and/or a culture around your brand? Whether consumers are buying it on Amazon, or whether they’re buying it in a traditional store, or whether they’re buying it on the street, how are you going to create something like that? That’s the biggest challenge.”
A more formidable assault on the status quo may come from suppliers that eschew established retailers — both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce companies — and appeal directly to shoppers. “The people that I see being successful today are doing that,” says John, citing the example of Bombas, AquaVault and Leesa Sleep, three of his most successful companies on “Shark Tank.” “They’re doing subscription models or straight pay-per-click buying on Facebook or Instagram. Those companies are targeting consumers in their markets and converting them.”
On a more reassuring note for those involved in community pharmacy, John believes those retailers will have more staying power than many others.
“I think health, beauty and wellness is going to be one of the last areas that has a strong standing in retail, because people want to go in and touch and feel products, and get consulted about various things, so those retailers have a good opportunity to stay where they’re at and/or grow,” he says. “But a lot of the other consumer packaged goods suppliers and those who sell them have to make sure they change with the times.”
Even if pharmacy operators prove unusually resilient, it is clear that the pace of change in the consumer market will continue to accelerate, and that members of the trade class must adopt the entrepreneurial spirit that John embodies if they want to secure as important a role in the future as they have today.