I was fortunate enough to do a walking tour of the trendy SOHO area of New York Tuesday afternoon with retail consultants David Polinchock, Marge Laney and her team at Alert Technologies and Kristine Bellow. It was a perfect afternoon for shopping New York, clear blue skies, chilly temps and people crowding the sidewalks of Broadway. I made a decision, if I got great customer service, I’d buy something, if not, no dice.
Since Michael Jeffries, the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, accepted the Gold Medal Award at NRF, our first stop was their flagship Holister shop.
OK I get that I’m not their target market since I’m a 50-year-old guy, BUT this shop was like going into a dark bar. Spotlit were half naked buff boys with a beautiful young girl next to them dancing to the club music. OK, get it, atmosphere.
Holister pier cam
They had live cams of the Pacific Ocean at Huntington Beach towards the back, above, another nubile couple. No interaction with the people going in and out – without shopping bags.
It’s like they were paid to be at their own party watching the party-crashers. The energy said, “This is our place.” A few “’sup”s were heard.
Retail isn’t all smoke and mirrors – someone has to pay for the goods or you’re just making yourself happy; its all for you. In the book, Why Is It Always About You? : The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism the authors identified what she called the seven deadly sins of narcissism:
- Magical thinking – Narcissists see themselves as perfect using distortion and illusion.
- Entitlement – Narcissists hold unreasonable expectations of particularly favorable treatment and automatic compliance because they consider themselves uniquely special.
- Exploitation – can take many forms but always involves the using of others without regards for their feelings or interests.
- Bad Boundaries – In the mind of a narcissist, there is no boundary between self and other.
Those attributes seemed right on with this store. I agree with their philosophy of not discounting but Abercrombie’s line of ultra dark brown stores are off putting and don’t encourage fun and all the attributes you think of a young brand. Oh yeah, where were the lines of shoppers? Not there but down the street.
At Uniqlo, the Japanese juggernaut out to give H&M and Forever 21 a run for their money. The store is all in white with the very colorful sports separates lining the walls like an early Gap with every color of the rainbow. A bit utilitarian for my taste but people were shopping, holding items up, asking their friends, talking, laughing. Granted their items were half the price of Holister and the unisex styling could feminize the baddest bad boy but people were buying.
On to Timberland where we encountered a true “green” store. They’ve made a great destination store that fits their image; the young man engaged me from the moment I went in pointing out all the ways they had used reclaimed materials.
A nice touch behind the register was the map of the parks around NYC – clearly this is not a cookie-cutter store. While I was considering a pair of Smart Wool socks the young man told me about how well they worked so I got a couple pair at $20 each. What happened next was truly remarkable.
At the register, the manager happened to notice my badge under my jacket from the NRF convention. “What do you do in retail?” she asked. I told her then she asked, “What could we do better to increase our sales do you think?” WOW, you could build a business on this young woman.
I told her, “The young man probably could have pointed out a pair of shoes to go with the socks. You have a wonderful store and nice employees so your job now is to build each transaction; each customer needs to buy more product. Once they say, ‘yes’ it is much easier to say it again and again.” She thanked me and off to Top Shop.
This is a great British import. Three levels of young hipster clothes with add-ons represented with every display, integrated with every rack, suggested in every window. Just wished I saw employees engaging customers. For such a mammoth store, some sales training (like my Five Parts to a Sale perhaps?) could ignite the true potential they have. Again, another bright store with shoppers and shopping bags.
J. Crew Men’s
A stop at the Madewell women’s boutique from J. Crew was an interesting novelty, displayed attractively with unusual items mixed in with what looked like vintage Americana women’s clothes now made in China. The J.Crew men’s store next door was better displayed and felt more authentic with their limited choices of items and apparel.
It was time for some sugar and since we were nowhere near the legendary Magnolia Bakery, spotted a tiny little walk-up window for cupcakes: 3 for $3. We ordered three and were surprised when the young woman handed them in a paper muffin liner – all three. Donut holes would have been a better comparison.
Just down the way was a luggage store using one of my favorite misleading signs in retail, “90% Off ALL BAGS.” Then you got close enough to read the full sign, “Everything On Sale Up To 90% Off All Bags.” Jeez, give me a break. Oh yeah, no one in the store.
Made it all the way to the Burton store, which is designed like a ski lodge for snowboarding and found their Cold Room.
Three or four air conditioners were running to make it even colder than outside. Very smart move as snowboarders would want to try on the gear to see how they could move and out on the sales floor, could easily get overheated and walk without buying. A bonus is they have a different local artist come in monthly and redecorate it.
Last stop was Lululemon and if you haven’t heard of this extraordinary store for yoga wear you must. Their philosophy, business model and products merge into a great experience. From the moment we were greeted to when I asked about their yoga pants for men to the young woman asking me about what I’m using now, selecting a pair for me to try on, and her shepherding me back to the dressing room where I was met by another associate, this is how all retail should be.
I quickly tried the pants on, a bit too quickly as the young woman was waiting outside with a size smaller and another style. While chatting, I learned about their goal planning session they had held in their store the previous Sunday and how much the saleswoman was jazzed with her five-year goal.
Above the displays were actual SOHO yoga instructors’ pictures with their information. A remarkable experience and, since I have started yoga in the New Year, I purchased a pair of downdawg pants for $89.
So what could you learn from this trip down Broadway in Soho:
•If you want to be different in retail, just make sure they’re buying it.
•The right person can make all the difference on your sales floor
•A pretty store is nice but one with a story is better.
•Lighter stores seem to have more visitors than dark
• Some merchants still feel they can “trick” customers with signs and products that don’t live up to expectations.
•If you’re hungry for cupcakes – go to Magnolia Bakery and get one of the real ones.
Walking tours are a great way to get to know any brand whether it is Rodeo Drive, Michigan Avenue or your home Main Street. Noting the good often gives inspiration to try something new in your store which helps peak curiosity in your shoppers. Noting the bad can make you look at employee training and even displays in a new way as well.
In April, the Retail Doctor’s Guide To Growing Your Business will be out from Wiley & Sons with special emphasis on how to display correctly to improve sales.