I’m a strong proponent for letting the product do most of the heavy lifting at retail. Too often brands and retailers try to compensate for so-so product or a lackadaisical retail experience by adding more “stuff”: overwrought displays, complicated graphics or the perception of hands on customer service that turns out to be middling at best.
That’s why a recent visit to Naples Soap Company in Naples, Florida was like a breath of fresh air for all the senses. Naples Soap operates a handful of stores in Southwest Florida, the first of which opened in 2009. The store I happened upon is located in Tin City, which is an eclectic group of independent boutiques stationed in old fishing industry buildings on the waterfront. The original space occupied by Naples Soap wasn’t much more than a corridor when it opened, but has since grown into an extraordinary, airy shopping experience; an unexpected gem amongst obligatory (at least for this shopper) shell and t-shirt shops.
The entry invites guests to step inside with a large display window, outfitted for Valentine’s Day during my visit. Subtle branding and a soft blue-green facade help the Company fit into its surroundings while remaining true to itself. Lastly, crisp white light glows from the window and entry – a pleasant, guest attracting contrast to the dark Tin City corridors.
Without hesitation I stepped inside and was promptly greeted by a cheerful store associate. I smiled and said “hello“, but my eyes never left the wonderful displays of soaps, creams and other curious skin conditioning products. I don’t even shop for this sort of stuff, but my eyes couldn’t keep myself from staring. Yes, I bathe and practice (usually) good hygiene, but generally this sort of product would be lost on me, or at least the marketing demographic I represent. The walls featured a sea of cubed displays each lined with bands of colorful soaps. Tin baskets held round soups in an orderly fashion. Table tops supported stacks of perfectly aligned jars of body cream. Maybe it’s because of some underlying OCD, but I was enamored from the get-go.
Product was the main attraction here.
Getting clean never looked so good.
I wandered the store, taking in its clean boutique feel. In a complex world, the down-to-earth simplicity of it all was relaxing. I was in the mood to buy soap. Who gets in the mood to buy soap? The same blue-green color from the entry carries its way through the rest of the interior walls. Fortunately for Naples Soap, the space includes a few windows in the back of the store. This isn’t always the case at retail. They take full advantage of the natural light. I felt cleaner just walking around, bathed in light and the bouquet of scents in the air. Unadorned natural wood floors compliment the soft color of the walls and add some authenticity; sense of place. Are they the same floors from the 1920’s, I wondered.
There is nothing complicated about the displays. As far as I could tell, most of them are from an IKEA catalog. And why not, it all looked perfect as far as this designer is concerned. When product is king, the displays should do their job and then disappear. Clean white is, expectedly, the predominant color of choice for shelves and tables. Secondary work spaces dissolve under a coat of blue-green wall color. The overall look is typically cosmetic and boutique, but uniquely Naples Soap. The brand plays out from product, to packaging, to retail presentation, to associate-guest interactions, all working in concert. The product feels special because of the visual delight and attention to detail. Like any good boutique brand, it makes the guest want to explore, to learn and most of all: to buy.
I did take the opportunity to converse with a store associate to learn more about the product and the store. She was knowledgable and enthusiastic in explaining the various products, and telling my wife and I about the brand story. My favorite product, not that I’d use it myself per se, was a loofa soap, displayed fantastically on little stands; little visual pods of color that looked like a collection of sea creatures waiting to go home with me. Nearby glass jars held “bath bombs”: little spheres of happiness that you drop into your bath water after a long day battling the world (my descriptions, not theirs).
From a signage standpoint, everything is clear and to the point. Taking the time to explain products, benefits and brand but not “in your face” or a garish way. It’s there if you need it. Otherwise, if you’re like me, you can just take in the visual spheres, jars and blocks of colors beckoning to be picked up and smelled. Same goes for the packaging which is clean and consistent; doing its job to attract, protect and inform, but nothing more.
The point is, as I always say, so much effort is put into the details of product and packaging that why not let the fruits of that labor carry through to the merchandising. Far too often it’s all ruined at the last-minute by the merchandising. By no means is it easy to pull off simplicity in retail merchandising while balancing brand feel and keeping the focus on the product. More often than not it can go terribly wrong, and to a certain extent it depends on the product. At Naples Soap Company everything comes together to provide a delightful retail experience for guests.
In the end we (my wife specifically) purchased a few goodies, including a sample pack of soaps in a little corrugated sleeve with a silver ribbon. But I also took with me a great retail experience that leaves me with the brand at top of mind. Which should be the goal of any merchant.