D-Day and the End of the Bloomingdale’s Catalog
Whenever things go wrong and I get depressed, my wife Peggy says, “Cheer up, nobody is shooting at us.”
I used to know Francey Smith, who ran the Bloomingdale’s catalog for years. She was a marketing genius who combined database wizardry with great merchandising savvy. She was one of the best in the world at what she did.
Now the Bloomingdale’s catalog, which has been around since 1886, is being killed off by Macy’s. It has an active file of 472,609 12-month mail-order buying households. A ballpark estimate would be that each household has an average of four people, which means a total of 1.8 million customers with household incomes around $90,000 who spend an average of $190 per order.
With gasoline flirting with $4 a gallon, a war costing $20 billion a month, millions of people being kicked out of their homes and a recession settling in, the catalog and retail businesses are reeling.
So do you give up? Throw in the towel? Say, “The hell with it?”
Peggy and I just got back from Normandy and an intensive three-day immersion in the carnage of World War II and the D-Day invasion. People were shooting at us on June 6, 1944, and an estimated 4,000 troops were killed in 24 hours.
For many, it was tempting to give up and say, “The hell with it.”
But nobody did.
Marketing and War
I did a lot of reading before leaving for Normandy—the official U.S. Army account of the planning and execution of D-Day, as well as Cornelius Ryan’s classic account, “The Longest Day.”
In the history of warfare, nothing like the invasion of France had ever been attempted: shipping 326,547 troops, 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of supplies across 90 miles of ugly seas and putting them ashore in five days on roughly 70 miles of heavily defended beaches and cliffs.
The logistics were staggering, starting years before deciding precisely where to launch the cross-channel invasion and how to pull it off.
It was not unlike marketing, where you get inside the heads of the people you want to reach, and then figure out their objections and how to overcome them.
What truly fascinated me were the gimmicks, gadgets and inventions—from a simple child’s toy to giant six-story, movable structures—that the planners and their staffs came up with. Among the ideas that contributed to the success of D-Day:
* The Cricket On the night of June 5, 17,000 British and American paratroopers and glider troops descended into Normandy intent on capturing some bridges and destroying others, cutting communication wires, taking out gun emplacements, and generally creating utter confusion. The night was black, and the men’s faces were blackened. They had flashlights but could not use them because their positions would be given away to the enemy. How to communicate? Somebody came up with the idea of giving every soldier a child’s metal cricket toy—a piece of metal that, when squeezed, clicked twice. If a soldier saw a dark figure, he would click the cricket once. The response was two clicks. No response and you shot the guy. Reproductions of “Le Criquet” are on sale in museums all over Normandy and go like hotcakes.
* Mulberries How do you land vehicles from ships a thousand yards offshore onto a beach? The revolutionary solution was the creation of artificial ports code-named Mulberries: 200-foot-long hollow, concrete caissons six stories high that would be towed across the English Channel and sunk offshore by opening cocks to allow seawater in. The idea was at first pooh-poohed by the planners, but Churchill caught wind of it and ordered the project to go forward. Floating roads were built to shore, and trucks could drive out, be loaded directly from the vessels and drive back to shore. The remains of these Mulberries can be seen off Omaha and Gold Beaches today.
* Flail Tanks The Germans planted thousands of mines along the beaches and fields throughout the invasion area. A South African artillery sergeant, A.S. du Toit, came up with the idea of mounting two 6-foot arms in front of a tank with a series of chains on the crossbar that rotated, furiously flailing and slapping the ground as the vehicle moved forward to set off land mines in its path and clear a safe passage for the infantry. These were introduced in the North African campaign and then used to great effect in Normandy, saving countless lives.
* PLUTO (Pipe Line Under the Ocean) Trucks, Jeeps, armored vehicles and weapons require vast quantities of gasoline, oil and lubricating oil. Without these, the invading armies would go nowhere. On D-Day, the little harbor of Port-en-Bessin between Gold and Omaha Beaches was captured by the British after a furious fight. The following day, a small cargo ship filled with engineers docked at the port. Off-loaded and quickly constructed were specially designed pre-fab oil storage tanks. Pipe sections were snapped together and attached to undersea pipes that ran all the way back to Shanklin on the Isle of Wight and Dungeness to the west. The mammoth pumping station was disguised as an ice cream factory. The essential fluids that kept the war machine moving were flowing into France within hours.
* FUSAG: The Great Pas-de-Calais Ruse The obvious landing point for the invasion was Pas-de-Calais—the Straight of Dover where England and France are separated by just 20 miles. The Allied planners realized early on that this entry into France would not support the vast influx of men and matériel, and chose instead the five beaches near the city of Caen—Sword, Juno and Gold (British and Canadian forces) and Omaha and Utah (American Army). This was the great secret of the European War. To fool the Germans, Calais was bombed nightly, causing the enemy to believe it was being softened up for an invasion. A vast propaganda machine created a flurry of fake radio messages describing a huge buildup of equipment and masses of troops under the feared Gen. George S. Patton Jr., commander of a totally fictitious First U.S. Army Group (FUSAG) in the Dover area. When the actual invasion finally came, the Germans believed that FUSAG was real and the Normandy action was a mere diversion. They failed to throw everything they had at the Allied invaders.
Of course, a number of screwups in equipment planning occurred on the part of the Allies as well as the German defenders. Among them:
* Tank Skirts Large canvas skirts were fitted over the tops of 35-ton Sherman tanks, causing them to float low in the water and look like innocuous rubber rafts. Equipped with small propellers, these tanks were designed to operate in seas with no more than 1-foot swells. On D-Day, 32 tanks of the 741 Tank Battalion were launched from a mother ship 6,000 yards from shore into 6-foot seas, and 25 of them went straight to the bottom with virtually no escape for the crew. Only two arrived on the beach. Shortly thereafter, three additional tanks landed, but all five were knocked out within minutes.
* Rip Currents The American and British Army planners were clearly not sailors. They did not figure on the fierce rip currents that roared parallel to the landing sites, which caused the square-sided, fully loaded landing craft with relatively weak power plants to skitter out of control and end up thousands of feet away from their intended destinations.
* German Generals Not Owning Their Jobs On the morning of June 6, German commander Marshal Erwin Rommel was grabbing a quick visit home in the town of Ulm. His deputy, Gen. Hans Speidel, realized at once that he was watching the actual Allied invasion and ordered into the fray the 12th and 21st SS Panzer Tank Divisions held in reserve in the Caen and Calais areas.
Hitler, back in his eyrie in the Bavarian Alps, was a night owl who routinely went to bed at 3 or 4 a.m. and slept until noon. No one dared wake Der Fuhrer, even though 5,000 ships were off the coast of Normandy, and Allied troops and equipment were streaming ashore. Hitler had also been duped by the Allies’ FUSAG propaganda campaign, and he countermanded Speidel’s order for tank reinforcements. By the time the Panzers were unleashed, the Allies had a foothold, and they were too late.
Interestingly, none of the above is an actual weapon of destruction. Rather, all were support elements—transportation, communications, management and propaganda efforts—and missteps.
If I had to list the eight most important factors responsible for the Allied victory in World War II, I would pick the following (I’m sure readers who are military history buffs would have other choices):
1. 2,751 Liberty ships were constructed in 16 shipyards from 1941-1945;
2. The 562,750 “deuce-and-a-half” trucks were built by General Motors that moved personnel, ammunition, fuel and supplies;
3. 639,245 Jeeps were built between 1941 and 1945 by Willy’s and Ford;
4. 20,094 Higgins Boats—assault landing craft designed to carry troops and matériel from mother ship to shore;
5. Approximately 10,000 C-47 transport planes built during the war by the Douglas Aircraft Co.;
6. The code-breakers—the Enigma machines operating in Bletchley Park, outside London, and the U.S. Navy cryptologists that deciphered the Japanese naval codes;
8. FUSAG: The Pas-de-Calais Ruse that faked out the Germans and greatly minimized resistance when the invasion was finally launched.
All these support elements made it possible for the troops to fight, planes to bomb and strafe, and ships to sink ships, as well as confuse the hell out of the enemy.
In the world of catalogs and direct marketing, the support elements mean world-class warehousing and shipping; order intake capabilities; smooth customer service; and, above all, a single, highly efficient marketing, inventory and accounting database.
What is badly needed: a system whereby employees are not considered chattels, but rather every employee is encouraged to continually think outside the box about new ways to market and run the organization more efficiently and profitably—to dream up the equivalent of crickets, Mulberries, PLUTO and flail tanks. What’s more, a system should be in place to evaluate these ideas and reward the inventors with extra cash if their efforts are adopted.
When we are finally out of Iraq, the price of oil is dealt with and the recession is gone, people will start buying again, and it will be easier to have a catalog—or direct marketing program—in place rather than to start over from scratch.
Meanwhile, Francey Smith, where are you when you are really, really needed?