I Don’t Think Retail Stores Are Going Anywhere

photo from Corbis.com

photo from Corbis.com

Maybe I’m naive but I don’t think physical “brick and mortar” (as the cliché goes) stores are going anywhere. Though, with a degree of good reason that does seem to be the word going around when having casual conversations about retail, or perusing the retail industry news sites. After all, online is prevalent, new and convenient. Stores can be a messy ordeal, limiting and inconvenient.

I recently met with several independent retailers and had some really nice conversations. Though one of the merchants I met had mentioned that they thought retailing wasn’t what it used to be like; that online retailers were going to put them all out of business. They were just waiting for retirement, then they’d close up their shop. As a retail designer, whose livelihood sort of depends on this sort of thing, I didn’t really know what to say. I mean after all, I may be biased. But frankly, in the scope of the daily tasks for my life’s work I don’t get to hung up on the online vs. brick-n-mortar battle.

So I’ve been thinking about it.

First of all, the economy tanking didn’t leave too many sectors untouched and certainly retail took a hit, regardless of where consumers were buying their goods. On the other side of the recession no one would argue the world is a different place.

Here we have online retailing presumably booming and old-fashioned stores on their supposed deathbed. Here are my thoughts:

It Depends On What You’re Shopping For

When I need a water filter, or rare commodity such as food safe bins for storing honey frames, yes I shop online. I need these items at the lowest price and I don’t have time to hunt all over Northeast Ohio for them. But if I, or anyone for that matter hopefully, needs something unique, immediately or something that tangibly needs to be evaluated, it’s hard to beat a traditional store. Especially if I want it today. On any given weekend I will goto Lowe’s seemingly fifteen times. There are customers who will not wait for Amazon to deliver a peach tree, car battery or children’s book. And of course there are those that will wait. Point is, for everything you can wait on, I’ll need today, and vice versa.

Some People Still Like To Shop

I love shopping. I don’t know if it’s because of my job or my job is a result of that love. I enjoy going to the store, hunting…pecking…talking to merchants, discovering and bring one or many things home with me. I like feeling special in well done store environments. I like spending time with my family in the car, going to the store and having a shared experience I can’t get whipping out my credit card and typing on my Apple keyboard at home. I think that people who like to get out in the world and interact with humans aren’t limited to just one demographic. There may not be as many as there used to be, but they still have a lot of buying power.

People Want Authenticity

I believe there is a large enough group of shoppers that, if they are going to spend money, they value the story behind what they are buying. They want to tangibly hold it, learn about it and buy it in person. Whether it’s locally grown food, unique crafted items, or an expensive handbag. Online has it’s limitations and doesn’t check off all of our emotional and primeval needs as humans.

Keep in mind, I do believe the marketplace is changing, so merchants need to adjust as well. But also remember, despite the adversity, there still are a lot of people in this world; you only need a small percentage to buy your goods or services to flourish.

So what to do?

Determine Why You Exist

I rhetorically ask this of clients all the time: why do you exist? Take the example of the shop owner who thinks brick and mortar is done for. Of course it is, unless you change the game in your favor. Looking around, why would anyone get in their car or hop a train to come here and buy this stuff? Why do you exist? Differentiate your product and your customer experience based on what sets you apart. Otherwise I’ll just go on Amazon or Etsy, click, click and wait for the UPS guy to ring the bell.

Communicate Your Special-ness To Guests

If your store looks the same as it always has: slat wall, a handful of display cases, prescribed layouts, random crap everywhere, then I have little incentive to once again travel all the way out to your place. If guests have to deal with down-trodden associates, poor customer service and a maddening shopping experience then yes, retail stores are dead. Guests are savvy and they don’t have a lot of money, give them reasons to get butterflies when they visit your store. Show them why your place is the only place to get that item or service.

Be Consistent In Everything You Do

I’m a strong believer that consistency can do much of the heavy lifting for you, so you can get back to keeping an eye on the big picture. So often merchants fuss over the details and never think about the big picture. Figure out what makes you special and make sure that drives everything you do. Every touch point guests have with your stores should either overtly or subconsciously connect them to you: from the parking lot, to the merchandising, to customer service to, get this, your online store or experience (yes you should have one of those too by the way). Consistent, consistent, consistent. Heck if I walk into the bathroom at your store it should be on brand with your philosophy.

Evolve, Adapt, Engage….Keep Working At It

It’s not an easy job (that’s where we can help you by the way, so you don’t get stressed out). You have to determine what sets you apart, pay attention to the detail, execute, then guess what? Stay with it. Listen to guests, do your homework, have a short and long-term goals, constantly work at it. Do not, please do not just set up a bunch of stuff on slat wall and old mannequins waiting for the door to open. Don’t cram a bunch of stuff in your store, put it all on sale and scratch your head. Guess where I can find a bunch of stuff crammed into a “store” on sale? Online. Is that why you exist?

Every retailer is different, but not every retailer acts differently enough to keep guests engaged and wanting to come back.

Brink and mortar stores aren’t all going away. But you do have to up your game if you’re going to be among those that flourish.

Best of luck to you.

I for one can’t wait to go shopping.

-Chris Weigand

President, Chris Weigand Design, LLC

Chris Weigand Design is a retail consultancy focused on helping independent retailers and brands connect with guests at retail. Chris has over 17 years experience as a designer, manager and consultant. His solutions can be found in over 30,000 retail doors from the largest chains down to one off displays in single stores. When he’s not working you may find him lost, on purpose, in a book store: a brick and mortar he hopes never goes away.

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Want Insight Into Your Designer Before You Hire? Try Pinterest.

Chris Weigand Design on Pinterest

Chris Weigand Design on Pinterest

Picking a designer, architect or agency can be daunting. You ask around for references, check out a few websites, review some of their past projects and interview them in person. All of this will likely give you a good feel for how they operate and their approach to your project.

When it comes to their aesthetic sensibilities or design philosophy that may not always be clear as day. While it is good to see how they creatively solved design problems for other clients, there is value in getting a feel for what inspires and drives your potential design team. As I was crafting our company’s Pinterest page, I started thinking: Pinterest is an awesome way to see how we think as designers. It affords a random stranger or potential client to see what we are inspired by, like and appreciate, as professional designers.

Pinterest is an all-encompassing inspiration board for our design team. When working on a project we almost always generate inspiration boards as part of our design research. While these internal boards are specific to the project, they often pull images from Pinterest (and other resources) that reflect who we are as designers; how we aesthetically and functionally will solve the problem at hand.

Here’s why I think a designer or agency’s Pinterest page is a good place to check out when trying to get a sense of their style and design aesthetic / philosophy.

Categorized – When creating boards in Pinterest I try to cover all ways design is inspired. There are categories for retail (our specialty), product, graphic and interior design. Architecture is well represented with its own category as well as home related design and decor. Fashion lives in separate categories for women and men. Rounding out the core boards is one for “Color”, “Nature” and world travel. I also like to include the occasional specialty board like “Global Spice” that is a combination of all of the above, with a focus on eclectic, cultural design. Lastly there are boards for quotes, celebrity / historic photos and “Fun” to give potential clients a feel for how we think beyond design.

Curated – The selection of pins on their Pinterest board usually is a curated. Each pin is there for a reason. Over time the boards and pins will be refined. Personally I browse the internet, other Pinterest boards, and even my own photos. Anything that stands out gets pinned immediately. Then I’ll come back and add or subtract. I’ll also look at the captions and re-word them to state why we like the pin. Curated boards are alive – like a living species that is evolving over time.

Trends – It goes without saying Pinterest is a great source for trends. I don’t know if anyone has studied the site to see if it actually influences or creates trends, but my guess is at the very least some trends start to see the light of day there. Most trend setters – individuals and companies – have a page on the site so it gives us access to a vast array of design trends that we can browse. If I’m seeing the same types of things over and over again, I’ll create a board on our page or for internal purposes.

Design Network – The company your designer keeps is another good indicator of their design approach. Take a look at who your design professional follows, and who follows their boards. I just started our company boards (I’ve had my own personal Pinterest page for a year or two) and we already have a few followers. I’m always excited to see people and companies following our boards, who we hold in high aesthetic esteem. It’s also a great way to discover “pinners” who have a great sense of style that aren’t household names…yet.

Inspiration – Likely the most important point here, you get to see what inspires a design team. What images, quotes, ideas do they gravitate towards. Keep in mind, any design pro worth their consulting fee will arrive at a solution that is appropriate to you and the situation regardless of their personal taste. But I feel as a client you should be interested in what inspires the person or team that you’re entrusting your project to. Seeing that philosophy manifested in a fascinating series of image boards is an awesome reassurance.

With all of this in mind, spend some time exploring your design professional’s Pinterest site. I think you’ll find that you will get a good feel for their design sense. Design is subjective and there are a variety of ways to arrive at really great solutions. If all designers were the same the world would be a very boring place. Pinterest is a great tool to use during your design professional search. Do yourself a favor and go exploring.

Have you used Pinterest when evaluating companies and professionals? 

What else, beyond what I mentioned, do you like about Pinterest?

Share you thoughts in the comments below.

-Chris Weigand, President – Chris Weigand Design, LLC

chris@chrisweiganddesign.com

Chris Weigand Design is a retail design consultancy specializing in helping product brands and independent retailers connect with guests at retail. We create visual merchandising, display, graphic and interior retail design solutions. We also can provide space planning, project management and sourcing services if needed. Check out our Pinterest page at www.pinterest.com/cweiganddesign/ to get a sense of our style and the latest trends we’re seeing. Contact us today if you’d like to discuss your project. We’d love to work with you.

Brand Meaning Is Evolving

Find your brand niche in the business ecosystem. RF photo via Corbis.com

Find your brand niche in the business ecosystem.
RF photo via Corbis.com

“Brand” must have more meaning now more than ever.

The word “brand” is ubiquitous these days. There are probably more articles on the topic on any given day than there are actual brands. Our consultancy throws the word around quite a bit too. I never did a count on our website or other media outlets but I’m sure the word is there dozens if not a hundred times. But what does it really mean?

While reading Nicolas Bordas’s insightful article I started thinking. What does it mean to have a brand in this day and age? To be a brand? In the “old-days” a brand was a cool logo, some advertising, and maybe a tag line that was subject to change. The branding work was handled by guys with fancy suits over martini lunches. It was likely the realm of larger companies; you didn’t worry about branding until you needed to worry about branding so to speak.

The reality was smaller companies, such as independent retailers and widget makers, were working on branding all along, but probably not consciously. It was just how they did business. What big-business spent big bucks on, came naturally for the mom-and-pop operations. Ironically while the larger companies paid to craft perceived authenticity, the little guys often oozed authenticity. If you wanted to know what a big brand stood for, you ate whatever their marketing team fed you. As for the small guy you went up and talked to them; saw first hand what they stood for. Although they probably couldn’t tell you what their “brand” was if you paid them. Sort of an ironic “authenticity gap” between perception and reality. I’m not sure how else to describe it. Also I’m sure somewhere in the middle there were brands that were probably best described as having “made-up” authenticity – woodsy sounding product companies located in someone warehouse downtown for example.

The point is over the course of the last few decades, with the advent of mass communication, peer review and access to information, the meaning of brand has evolved incredibly. The playing field is being leveled in many regards. You simply need a brand now more than ever.

And the meaning of your brand can’t be left to chance, or hidden behind smoke and mirrors.

Branding is no longer the luxury of large companies or the boutique cuteness of little ones. Everyone, big and small, is (or should be) scrambling to craft a brand message and communicate it to the world, or at least the audience that might buy what you’re selling. Your brand needs to be more than just a clever logo and flashy product design. Even Apple will tell you that.  It needs to be purposeful and comprehensive; permeating  throughout your organization in a real, tangible, meaningful manner. In fact the authenticity gap that was easily covered up in the “old days” is suddenly front and center. Every organization had better wrap its head around what their brand is and be able to communicate to customers why that brand exists, quickly and simply.

To do that successfully, the meaning of “brand” to your organization has to evolve. Figure out what your niche is; where you fit into the business ecosystem. Why do you exist? Delve into what your brand stands for socially, environmentally and from a business perspective.

And don’t try to fake any part of that message. Consumers are savvy, they’ll know if you’re trying to fool them. They’ll shut you down quicker than you can say “fourth quarter earnings”. Every organization has to be authentic to succeed. This is the new brand meaning.

When you come to a fork in the road, your well established brand philosophy is your roadmap.

Ingrain that authentic message into everything you do, internally and externally; every touch point. Build your business around that. Communicate with one voice. Nurture your brand and your customers. Establish feedback loops and evolve as necessary. If you do that then business life becomes simpler. You’re no longer solely focused on competition, you’re now focused on customers and your brand. The idea isn’t to take over the world. Concentrate on who you are and the rest will take care of itself. When you come to a fork in the road, your well established brand philosophy is your roadmap. It will answer every business question you have from what kind of soap is in the bathroom to how you’re going to rollout your next product successfully. Brand self-awareness trumps the latest business thinking du jour every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

You can argue that I over simplify things, but on the other hand maybe we spend too much time (and countless dollars) making things overly complicated. Evolving what brand means to your organization could be the secret to your success in this day and age.

What does “brand” mean to your organization? Share in the comments below.

Chris Weigand

President – Chris Weigand Design, LLC

Chris Weigand Design is a retail design consultancy that can help your brand message resonate with consumers in the physical retail space. From graphics, to displays to holistic interior designs, we create experiences for your guests that delight them and have them telling their friends how awesome you are. Contact us today so we can start working with you.