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What Do 5 Monkeys & The Apparel Industry Have In Common?

A colleague of mine recently shared with me the story of “The 5 monkeys”. Some of you may already know this story, but please bare with me for a moment while I share with you the version of this story I heard. Some years ago, scientists placed 5 of our nearest evolutionary relatives in a glass cage. The cage was equipped with a steel ladder and at the top of the ladder was an extremely attractive bunch of bananas. Unbeknownst to the monkeys, the researchers had also rigged the glass cage with a high-pressure shower system that gushed ice-cold water at fire-hose speeds.

As you would expect, the monkeys climbed all over each other in their haste to get up the ladder to the bananas. But as soon as any of the monkeys made any progress up the ladder, the researchers turned the tap and doused them in a high-pressure, freezing cold shower. The tap was turned off. The monkeys tried again and the tap was turned back on again. After a number of repeats the monkeys gave up and – while they looked up at the bananas lustfully – no further attempt was made to get to the bananas.

Then the researchers did an interesting thing. They took one of the monkeys out and replaced him with a new monkey that had no knowledge of what had gone on beforehand. Obviously he immediately looked around at what he assumed were lazy, useless fellow primates and decided if they were that stupid he would take all the bananas for himself. He began to climb the ladder but before the researchers had reached for the tap, the other 4 monkeys attacked him. He tried again and again and they beat him into submission.

One by one the researchers replaced the monkeys and watched the same results every time. New monkey tries to go for the bananas and the group beats him up until he desists.

Eventually there were 5 new monkeys in the cage – none of whom had ever been doused with icy-cold water. Once again they replaced one of the monkeys and the same thing happened. While having no knowledge whatsoever of why they were doing it, the monkeys behavior was conditioned by a sense of fear for which they had no history or sense of context. In effect they were saying to one another ‘we don’t do that around here but we don’t really know why other than a belief that bad things will happen if we do’.

Now lets look at the contemporary apparel industry.

We launch Winter in February (the hottest month of the year) and go into full Winter clearance mode in May (before Winter has officially even started). We launch Summer in July (the coldest month of the year) and go into full Summer clearance mode from the end of November (before Summer has officially even started). Shoppers desperate for Winter clothes in July or Summer clothes in February struggle through the dregs of left-overs in the vain attempt to find something in their size.

We do the same thing every year and struggle to excite shoppers, manage inventory and grow margin. Thank god for the strength of the Australian dollar!

See any similarities to the 5 monkeys?