Fenway Park at 100
Fenway Park will turn 100 years old this week, and it’s no small achievement. Longevity has not come easily to Boston’s crown jewel of a ballpark, however. Over the years there have been any number of moments that seemed to signal the ballpark’s demise.
As recently as 1999, ownership declared Fenway “economically obsolete”, and unveiled a detailed proposal for replacing it with a new, modern ballpark. In 2001, the Red Sox, along with Fenway Park, were sold to a new ownership group, who promptly declared that there was tremendous value in the old place, and that as far as they were concerned, Fenway wasn’t going anywhere.
Over the next ten years, the new ownership set out to renovate Fenway Park. Every offseason, they undertook a series of projects, both large and small, to make over what had been a rather rundown and shabby place into a gleaming showcase. The highlight of these renovations, and the most visible, was to add seats to the top of Fenway’s famed Green Monster.
The impact on the ballpark, and on the fan’s experience there, went far beyond renovations. Fenway was rejuvenated, reinvigorated and transformed. What was old was made very, very new again. It has become a tourist must-see when the Red Sox are out of town, and an incomparable baseball experience when the team is home. Economically obsolete has become a cash cow.
Many independent retailers today are trying to find ways to reinvigorate their businesses. There have been a lot of headwinds over the past few years and top-line growth has been hard to come by. But there’s a lot that any independent retailer can learn from the story of Fenway Park.
Customers respond to distinctive. Some of the most successful independent retailers I’ve worked with have very unusual stores. There’s nothing cookie-cutter about their space. Often their stores are the legacy of its bootstrapped beginnings. Other times, there was a recognition that an offbeat space was perfect for what they were trying to create. In every case, however, these retailers recognized that their distinctive space was a distinctive asset, and actively sought to create their image and identity around that distinction.
Customers also respond to new. People naturally seek out new experiences, that, by definition, are very stimulating to the senses. Once something has been experienced several times, however, it begins to lose its luster, and people seek out the next new thing. It’s especially true in retail. When stores, presentations and assortments get stale, customers turn elsewhere.
There’s no such thing as standing still. The world is always going forward, so if you’re standing pat, you’re falling behind. What was distinctive becomes familiar. What was new becomes old. Fenway Park, however, is an inspiration. What was familiar can again become distinctive. What was old can be made new again.
There’s a lesson in that moment in 1999 to tear down and replace Fenway Park. It was inside-the-box thinking. That’s what we typically do with old buildings – we tear them down and replace them with something new. Transforming a one-hundred year old ballpark into something new was very much outside-the-box thinking. Transformational thinking is almost always outside-the-box. That makes it uncomfortable, and it’s why it’s so easy for independent retailers to become trapped in seeing things and doing things the same way they always have.
Transformation is not easy. It’s not comfortable. But that’s what makes it so special in customer’s eyes. Transformation takes the old and familiar and makes it new and distinctive and exciting again. That’s what draws customers. When you’re in the neighborhood, check out Fenway Park to see for yourself how it can be done.