Sounding Board: Consulting the stars

Should retailers look toward astrology when making business decisions? In this economic climate, why not?

“When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guLen Lewiside the planets
And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius”

For those of you who remember the ‘60s, bell-bottoms, shoulder-length hair (yes, I had it!) and a certain self-righteous innocence, these lyrics might ring a bell. But hey, this is the 21st century. Forget about peace and love. What is the best time to open a new store and should you put off that merger until the moon is in Aries?

No, I have not been blazing up a doobie or communing in the backwoods of Oregon. There are people out there that use astrology to make business decisions. This is not just a “what’s your sign…?” kind of thing or newspaper horoscopes, which professional astrologers equate to racial profiling. There is a whole new field called astro-economics, which true believers see as an essential new business science and competitive tool.

Scoff if you will, but who would not like to have the inside track on future economic conditions, the best time to build new stores or launch new products.

Let’s face it. In some ways retailing is an industry already packed with prognosticators and soothsayers. Sure, we all look for the latest and greatest in customer analytics and price optimization software. Journals are filled with headlines screaming “predictions for 2013” quoting the usual array of futurists, Wall Street pundits, academics and consultants. Maybe we are missing something. For thousands of years and through countless civilizations, astrology—the movement and alignment of planets, stars, the sun and moon—has been hailed as the one true “science.” Note to FMI planners—It couldn’t hurt!

J.P. Morgan, a billionaire when it really meant something who built companies like U.S. Steel and the Great Northern & Pacific Railroad, used astrology to make business decisions and investments. Walt Disney consulted astrologers to time movie and theme park openings. Nancy Reagan had a White House astrologer on call to tell her husband about the best times for foreign travel and when to sign bills into law. I guess he did not look at his chart before making that cinematic classic, Bedtime for Bonzo.

Noted physicist Albert Einstein was a believer, as were Sir Issac Newton and Benjamin Franklin. Businessmen in Asia have been utilizing astrology for centuries.

Before there was a pharmaceutical industry, astrology was a required course in medical schools. You have to wonder if Pfizer consulted the charts before marketing Viagra. Kind of gives new meaning to the term “Leo rising”—especially if your name is Leo.

Now, it has been said that for every outspoken proponent of astrology, many others are still “in the closet” about their astrological bent. I wonder how many retailers out there consult their charts before making major decisions or how many did not and suffered the cosmic consequences.

Let’s take one example—when Mercury is in retrograde. For 2013, this happens February 23 through March 17, June 26 through July 20 and October 21 through November 10. Practitioners say this is the time to catch up on paperwork and rethink planning.

On the other side of the astrological coin, travel is difficult during these periods with more accidents and delays, missed plane connections, lost luggage and problems with hotel rooms, rental cars and computer malfunctions. Mercury in retrograde, is also a bad time to sign contracts. If you do, be prepared to regret it.

I’m a reporter by trade and facts are what guide my work, but personally, I am moving to a more reputable business tool—psychics!

There is a nice lady known as the Coffee Psychic who pours cream into her coffee and sees letters, numbers and other signs. I don’t know if half-and-half or skim works as well. But apparently, 2013 going to be a good year for the White Sox and a bad year for earthquakes in California. She did not say anything about new store formats.

The problem is if this catches on, I’ll never get a table at Starbucks!

Len Lewis, a regular Grocery Headquarters columnist, is a veteran industry journalist, commentator and editorial director of Lewis Communications. He is the author of The Trader Joe’s Ad­venture—Turning a Unique Approach to Business into a Retail and Cultural Phenomenon. He can be reached at lenlewis@optonline.net or at www.lenlewiscommunications.com.

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