Urban Retail Safari

Photo of Cliff Courtney
Date: 2011-07-12 19:11:48 // Categories: Trends,
By: Cliff Courtney
Date: 2011-07-12 19:11:48 // Categories: Trends,

On The Hunt With Retail’s Big Game Hunters

New York is the darker side of the country’s retail capital. Recently, Zimmerman Advertising invited Chief Marketing Officers, Presidents and CEOs of major retail brands to explore nearly a dozen species of retailia on its Retail Safari. This was a trek to find the polarizing retail brands worth studying: Some newly hatched and destined for franchising nirvana, others older than dirt and vibrant as hell. And still others, perhaps cautionary tales for a million other start-ups.

First stop, Flatiron district’s FoodParc. FoodParc is a food court that can best be described as modern playground for food, all enabled with a new technology platform for ordering, order tracking, and social media engagement.

Critical Takeaway:
As the bulk of retailers catch up to aps and e-tail, what is the next level of technological innovation in retail? Beyond facilitation and socialization, technology must also engineer infatuation and dedication.

Russ & Daughters
The Jungle’s Rarest of Species
The masters of retail value something even greater than profit, and that’s sustainable and scalable profit. In the case of Russ & Daughters, the sustainable is legendary, but the scalable is heresy. R&D is a just under 100-year-old world, mouth watering, stomach smiling experience.

Critical Takeaway:
NYC’s Russ & Daughter’s, Junior’s, Katz’s, Serendipity, Carnegie Deli… all prove that a retail establishment that mirrors the neighborhood where it resides becomes part of that city’s vibrant living body, not an artificial limb.

The Zen of The Jungle Beast
In SoHo, the Safari pours into the Japanese fashion giant Uniqlo. Think Gap meets anime, deconstruction meets expansion, and street style fashion that makes other apparel merchants watch and shudder. To doubt the potential in its deceivingly simple casual wear is to ignore parent company Fast Retailing’s pledge to hit $11.9B in profits by 2020. This was the Safari’s undeniable beast in waiting.

Critical Takeaway:
Don’t be so myopic about building a brand: Sometimes un-building a brand, deconstructing brand artifice and democratizing the simpler offering is what connects.

All Saints
Survival of the Fittest
All Saints is England’s sexiest retail import since the Jaguar XKE. And while in some way easy to clump it with the other similar trend-friendly stores like Topshop and Aritzia, All Saints bolding eschews the less than $100 item which is traditionally retail’s sweet spot.

Critical Takeaway:
A cocktail of impeccable taste and peerless distinction can justify even jaw dropping prices for Gen-X moms in a (relatively) stable economy.

Merely two doors down from All Saints is Topshop, another British import complete with Kate Moss inspired line being its best play for fame in the American retail jungle. The Broadway store alone, at 60,000 square feet is the chain’s second largest outlet, but the most interesting part of the store is The Boutique, which is a “secret” space upstairs, off the not so beaten path as it were. Follow the flower art on the floor and when you can smell the fresh flowers, you’re there. But on balance, it’s not enough to compensate for a somewhat amorphous retail concept.

Critical Takeaway:
Brand DNA is easily mishandled a la brand portability. Just because a brand rules Britannia – think Tesco’s underwhelming foray into California – doesn’t mean it’ll play, let alone reign in rural America. If you’re importing, go big or go home.

J. Crew’s The Liquor Store
The Liquor Store
The Liquor Store, J. Crew’s preppy wear is literally housed in this New York landmark 1825 brownstone complete with the original wood bar. Shop with more than 20 people and it becomes Manhattan’s most claustrophobic retail experience.

Critical Takeaway:
Standard measurements don’t apply when it comes to evaluating 300 square feet in a chain comprised of approximately 2MM. And that successful brands never stop experimenting. Partly out of paranoia, sure, but also because without experimentation, without street level retail labs, there is no jungle, only zoo.

The Limelight Marketplace
Three Watering Holes
Welcome to the coulda been, shoulda been retail Petri dish. The Limelight Marketplace contains everything from pizza and herbal tea outlets to a shop for edge-of-footwear-fashion Pumas and indie jewelry, there are too many concepts in too small a space.

Critical Takeaway:
The only thing more heinous in retail than a misguided concept is a strong concept with misguided merchandising and marketing.

Morimoto's Restroom
The Safari Stalls
It’s on to a quick bathroom break – all in the name of retail science – at Japanese restaurant Morimoto. But the kitchen is closed and we’re not here for sushi. This respite from the jungle’s heat is for the bathrooms. In Morimoto’s case, cleanliness is beside the point. These spotless spaces are defined by rock your socks off experience: A mirror-created infinity garden rests behind the stalls, replete with pink orchids. But its toilets, with each one containing an array of aerators and water streams that make you smile, marvel, and blush all at the same time.

Critical Takeaway:
Retail word of mouth is not always where you expect it. Take something small and make it special.

ABC’s Carpet and Home Store
Out Of The Bush, On To The Oasis.
The Safari’s last stop was ABC’s Carpet and Home Store on Broadway. Ten floors of wow. Where humongous antique carpets from Europe combine with Indian chic, unique jewelry and drop dead linens (400 plus thread count) and other luxurious goods from around the globe, all sitting majestically under impossibly high ceilings and over vintage wood floors. ABC serves as a stark reminder of how expansive retail’s umbrella really is. Retail is indeed both the retail zoo that is Columbus, Ohio as much as the New York jungle.

Critical Takeaway:
In the end, retail means buying low and selling high. But within that simple postulate breeds a million ways to rise or fall, differentiate or die: Whether differentiation includes a seemingly plain polo shirt, 300 square feet of cool, the paranoia to avoid growth, a barely imaginable commode, flowers that draw you in and technology keeps you coming back, and a dozen more moments of pause.

And so for us retail anthropologists, the Safari becomes a focal point in imagining how to better serve, honor and grow today’s most dynamic retail brands.

Final Critical Learning:
If you’re heading into the retail jungle, best to bring along a big game hunter.

To book your Safari, or for a deeper dive into the journals of Zimmerman’s Retail Safari, please contact Expedition Leader Michael Goldberg.