Retailing Florida’s Paradise Coast

As we returned to frigid northeast Ohio from the relative tropics of southwest Florida I would like provide a brief overview of our trip. We made time to visit stores and galleries over the course of our time in Naples. If you’re interested in visiting ‘Florida’s Paradise Coast’ for yourself, check out the visitor’s bureau website here.

The 5th avenue shopping district is the hub for quaint boutiques, galleries and restaurants. Park your car and take a stroll.

The 5th avenue shopping district is the hub for quaint boutiques, galleries and restaurants. Park your car and take a stroll.

I’ve been visiting southwest Florida my entire life. For the last two decades we found a “hometown” away from home in Naples. It has been interesting to see the region, centered on route 41, grow over the years. There are definitely a proliferation of strip malls and residential developments. Before the economy receded traffic and buildup was out of control. In my opinion the recession tempered things a bit, which means you can get around a little easier (still it can be a pain most of the time). For the retail market as far as I can tell you still have an overabundance of stores, many of which are in new locations. Which unfortunately means there are whole shopping centers just sitting empty. While this isn’t the case everywhere, you can still see it here and there; a symptom that is evident back here at home as well. Seemingly fine strip malls, and quaint shopping villages sit vacant.

But that’s not to say it is all doom and gloom, the area has a vibrant active lifestyle that definitely caters to the better off, but even us average folk have plenty of places to shop or at least window shop. After all these years of visiting, I could finally see myself living in the area, at least for a few months a year; if I had the means (which I don’t). For anyone who likes to explore, discover and go shopping, Naples is a great place to go. Here are some places to consider visiting.

5th Avenue

At the intersection where Route 41 turns into 5th Avenue you’ll find what is probably the number one shopping destination in town. There is a mix of art galleries, boutique shops and fine dinning establishments. During peak season (think December to April), especially when the weather is nice, go down to 5th Avenue in the evening for drinks, dinner and then a stroll amongst the shops and galleries. There is a nice mix of touristy shops as well. Each merchant uniquely displays their products and the overall feel is in line with the local feel.

Tin City

Within walking distance from 5th Avenue, over on 12th Street on the water you’ll see a cluster of ramshackle brightly colored buildings set amongst a makeshift marina: that’s Tin City. It’s an old fishing complex that was converted into a rambling indoor mall of sorts. While it’s at the opposite end of the spectrum from 5th Avenue, every visitor to Naples should stop. From t-shirts, to candy to seashells and wine, there is a little bit of everything and the kids will love exploring as much as you will. To say the style is eclectic is an understatement but it is a delightful change of pace compared to sterile malls and mass retail.  The authenticity is great, and while there are some design disasters from a retail standpoint, everything seems to work and add to the charm. It’s also the perfect place to grab a beer and eat seafood while watching boats go by from one of the two restaurants. There are a few real gems in the place, including Naples Soap Company.

A trip to Naples isn't complete until you visit Tin City. Here you can see shells and other accessories simply displayed on block and board shelves at Shells Etc.

A trip to Naples isn’t complete until you visit Tin City. Here you can see shells and other accessories simply displayed on block and board shelves at Shells Etc.

Old Naples (3rd Street South)

Hopping back in the car, zig zag south to Broad and 3rd Street to find a touch of “Old Naples”. Park in front of gallery row and set out on foot to discover shops, fine art galleries and streets lined with old, brightly painted, Floridian buildings. With eagerness I stumbled upon the Plaza on Third Street. It was a wonderful, quaint outdoor mall with tons of shop and restaurant spaces. Only problem was it was virtually abandoned. Cupping my hands I peered into empty windows, imagining what it must have been like in its hey day. Blue tile looking back at me from under a layer of dust in a sushi bar. Now lifeless windows holding only the fashion ghosts of days past.  Music still played from courtyard speakers, adding an eerie touch to my stroll.  I counted maybe two stores still in business. It was really weird and really a shame because the space is incredible from a retail standpoint.  I’d gladly trade any number of strip malls or mass retail outlets to see this place flourishing again. I suppose guests have moved on to other locations – but it’s such a clean canvas – it would be interesting to work with, crafting something amazing again.

There are still plenty of shops and other points of interest in the sleepy old neighborhood. It’s definitely worth a stop and a nice rest from the hustle and bustle to the north. Take the area in on foot.

The Plaza on Third is one of the nicest retail spots in Naples. The problem is it's vacant right now.

The Plaza on Third is one of the nicest retail spots in Naples. The problem is it is vacant right now.

What I call "Old Naples" features a gallery row - opposing galleries divided by Broad Avenue. Park in front and take a you can take in the entire neighborhood on foot.

“Old Naples” features a gallery row – opposing galleries divided by Broad Avenue. Park in front and take a you can take in the entire neighborhood on foot.

Expensive cars are ubiquitous in southeast Florida. Though a Ferrari, like this one parked on gallery row, is still fairly rare. Usually you're just stuck in traffic with Bentleys and Aston Martins.

Expensive cars are ubiquitous in southeast Florida. Though a Ferrari, like this one parked on gallery row, is still fairly rare. Usually you’re just stuck in traffic with Bentleys and Aston Martins.

Route 41 (Tamiami Trail)

Bisecting the area north of downtown – beach areas on one side, inland property on the other – is Route 41, the Tamiami Trail. It’s a legendary road that will take you all the way to Miami, with a stop off at Everglades National Park along the way if you backtrack south and east.

Driving north you’ll see that through the years they’ve built store upon store, plaza upon plaza all along the route. If you need the more pedestrian things in life, you’ll likely find yourself waiting at a light on Route 41 to get to Walgreens or Publix (and about 10,000 other stores). It’s a real mix of classes; it’s not uncommon to see a Bentley or Aston Martin parked next your Toyota in the Walmart parking lot. One example of the build up: we spotted three Publix within about 5 miles of each other on Route 41. Apparently there are plenty of people in the area to warrant that much retail.

Here are a few photos from local stores, including some examples of letting the product do the work. As you know, I don’t think you always need displays to sell product.

I love these simple frosted acrylic signs in Publix, along with the freestanding letters.

I love these simple frosted acrylic signs in Publix, along with the freestanding letters.

Publix does a nice job letting product be the hero on their end cap. Also their visual merchandising is interesting while still packing in the product.

Publix does a nice job letting product be the hero on their end cap. Also their visual merchandising is interesting while still packing in the product.

The Essentia water end cap at Publix plays up the product packaging to great effect.

The Essentia water end cap at Publix plays up the product packaging to great effect.

From the PGA Superstore, a good example of letting the packaging do the work. You don't need a display and graphics to tell each product is different but all of them in the block are Calloway golf balls.

From the PGA Superstore, a good example of letting the packaging do the work. You don’t need a display and graphics to tell each product is different but all of them in the block are Calloway golf balls.

Waterside Shops

Tucked away off of Seagate Drive and Route 41 is a real, albeit small, outdoor fashion mall. Back here in Ohio, indoor malls have given way to outdoor malls over the last two decades; which totally befuddles me. Why would you want to shop outdoors in an area where it snows eight months of the year?  Now in Florida, I can see the allure of shopping outdoors, and the Waterside Shops do not disappoint. The list of stores is canted towards the high of high end: Tiffany & Co., Brooks Brothers, Coach. Everything is merchandised in a classy manner without much needless embellishment. This is definitely the best place to go window shopping, as the windows rival any that you’ll see in the “big city” or cosmopolitan coasts.

Just try remember which blue Bentley in the parking garage is yours.

Waterside shops feature high end retailers and plenty of window eye candy for shopper and designer alike.

Waterside shops feature high end retailers and plenty of window eye candy for shopper and designer alike.

The Nordstrom at Waterside has an e-bar which I'd never seen before in our Nordstrom back home. It's a nice little coffee shop at the store entrance.

The Nordstrom at Waterside has an e-bar which I’d never seen before in our Nordstrom back home. It’s a nice little coffee shop at the store entrance.

The Ralph Lauren window at Waterside provides an exploration vibe, perfect for southeast Florida.

The Ralph Lauren window at Waterside provides an exploration vibe, perfect for southeast Florida.

There are plenty more places to explore and satisfy your entertainment, dining and shopping fix beyond what I’ve written about here. We did not go this time, but there is a great indoor mall right off of Route 41 in case that’s your thing as well. The best part is that the weather is almost always perfect so getting out isn’t always a chore like it is back home. The retailers have a large population to serve and it appears that they are doing a good job giving the people what they want. Beyond retail there is plenty to see and do including fishing, parks, art shows….whatever you could want really. Combine all of that with pristine beaches and you’ve got the fixings for a fantastic visit.

If you have any questions, would like to learn more or if you’re a retailer is interested in working with our consultancy, please don’t hesitate to contact me.  Email chris@chrisweiganddesign.com

Check us out on the web at www.chrisweiganddesign.com

-Chris

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Getting Clean Never Looked So Good

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 facade of Naples Soap Company in Tin City features a wonderful window front display that is unexpected in an otherwise rambling collection of indoor boutiques.

The facade of Naples Soap Company in Tin City features a wonderful window front display that is unexpected in an otherwise rambling collection of indoor boutiques.

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.

Tin trays are perfect for holding these soap rounds in an orderly fashion, and are a nice nod to the local architecture.

Tin trays are perfect for holding these soap rounds in an orderly fashion, and are a nice nod to the local architecture.

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).

My favorite display in Naples Soap: these loofa soaps.  I'm guessing it's not something I would use but the idea, and presentation, is fantastic.

My favorite display in Naples Soap: these loofa soaps. I’m guessing it’s not something I would use but the idea, and presentation, is fantastic. They looked like something that washed up on a nearby beach. How awesome is that.

Bath bombs at the ready to make real life go away forthwith. Just add water.

Bath bombs at the ready to make real life go away forthwith. Just add water.

Simple packaging and unadorned product samples invite guest interaction.

Simple packaging and unadorned product samples invite guest interaction.

Most retailers would stuff as much product in here as possible, but that would be a disservice to the product and shopping experience.

Most retailers would stuff as much product in here as possible, but that would be a disservice to the product and shopping experience.

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.

If you find yourself in Southwest Florida make a point to stop by one of their locations to discover Naples Soap Company for yourself. Until then you can find them online also at www.naplessoap.com

-Chris

Circular windows add a bit of whimsy to the space and help connect what was previously two spaces.

Circular windows add a touch of whimsy to the space and help connect what was previously two spaces.

Even the wrapping station adds to the experience. Do I need it wrapped? Well now I do.

Even the wrapping station adds to the experience. Do I need it wrapped? Well now I do.

Work areas add a cosmetic feel while allowing further guest interaction with product.

Work areas add a cosmetic feel while allowing further guest interaction with product.

Repetition is a great way to feature product. Here associates make sure jars are oriented in the same direction. Open containers beckon exploration which is a key trait of the boutique experience.

Repetition is a great way to feature product. Here associates make sure jars are oriented in the same direction. Open containers beckon exploration which is a key trait of the boutique experience.

Signage is simple and focuses on product.

Signage is simple and focuses on product.

With a nod to the beach table tops and shelves are adorned with tasteful sponges and starfish.

With a nod to the beach table tops and shelves are adorned with tasteful sponges and starfish.