There are a number of trite sayings that migrate from sports into business.
- Fish where the fish are.
- Skate where the puck is going, not where it’s been.
- Keep your eye on the ball.
Stuff like that. Easy enough to say and often even easier to ignore. This type of advice has become the business platitude version of Muzak. Except for right now in the world of retail.
It’s become obvious that “the fish” aren’t in the malls. “The puck” isn’t heading anywhere near there. The “ball” is hard to see. When the world as we have known it is slip-sliding away, it can be helpful to fall back on folk wisdom borrowed from other pursuits, imported from simpler times. There’s a basic truth to the simple thoughts that has made these sayings so memorable.
So today we find retailers and brands heading to where their shoppers actually are. If they’re not in malls, where are they? Our MIA shoppers have become nomadic, heading to museums, parks, concerts, football games, cruises, bars, movies, festivals, even state fairs. Thus, savvy merchants are packing up shop and heading to where people actually want to be. There’s even a Fashion Week catwalk extravaganza on the Queen Mary II. That’s where couture meets a captive, well-heeled audience hungry for an experience.
The nomadic shop works for some important reasons. One, it does not try to be all things to all people. Indeed, it has the luxury of focus. If you’re an outerwear brand deciding to hit the road for autumn tailgates throughout the Big Ten campuses, you already know the price points of your customers, the required size ranges and, most importantly, the limited number of styles you’ll offer. This targeted marketing is shaped by the nomad model: You’re going to pack up your tent and head out of the parking lot in a few hours, so returns aren’t high on the list of priority services, ditto gift wrap.
As ByReveal, one of these remarkable small format boutique firms phrases it, it’s about providing “unexpected things in unexpected places.” There’s a logic to being in the stadium parking lot where you typically see portable grills and bars. What is more surprising and delightful is the possibility of the range of cool stuff for impulse purchase.
In the world of packaged goods, there’s always an animated discussion about the POD, e.g. the Point of Decision. It’s the torture test moment. The Point of Decision for pop-up retail is the context in which the shopper finds you. Does it make sense? Do you belong there? Does it belong there? A warm coat in a football stadium does. The nomadic retail content must fit its nomadic clientele’s mood and yet it must also surprise. It must also delight. Amuse. It must also feel like a discovery. My personal discovery.
Part of the nomadic phenom is the ability of one brand to pop-up within the context of another, bigger, maybe dumber or at least older, staid one. How so? Imagine you can buy band tour memorabilia without having to fork over the cash for the StubHub ticket. Guns N’ Roses bespoke leather jackets, mingle with t-shirts and bomber gear and take over a huge chunk of, where else, the old CBGB, which now just happens to be the John Varvatos shop on the Bowery.
Another joy is the just-in-time ability of a focused brand like Kith to partner with Nike and shoehorn itself into a pop-up in Soho, just for the traffic heavy, August back-to-school rush. Two-twelfths of the usual annual rent poor menswear Atrium had to dig up and ultimately couldn’t.
Pioneer ByReveal goes beyond the simple thrills of “fishing where to fish are” to task themselves with a larger nomadic mission: “Building businesses that advance the creative industry.” This young startup does its part by picking one young discovery a year to serve as Designer in Residence. This year it’s Ethan Hirschy of NAHTE, the custom handmade-to-order menswear brand that sources vintage, vegan, and limited-edition fabrics locally. Just step inside and we’ll take your measurements. Then whoosh! Just imagine: If bespoke goes on the road, what category can’t?
Beyond the actual purchase experience, nomadic retailers provide the real-world equivalent of an advertisement come to life. We may be daunted by the notion of looking for a red stretch peplum top or discomfited by the prospect actually spending serious money for gold multi-hoop earrings when we have other tasks on our to-do lists. But picture this: You exit the Whitney Museum on the High Line in New York, flush with the joy of having done something “good for us,” or stroll along Lincoln Center Plaza before a ballet or movie and you run into a nomadic shop in either grand venue with Rachel Zoe wardrobe options or bespoke menswear brands. The discovery alone is enough for a second look, whether we buy the luxieries right there or not. Right place, right time engaging with new brands can lead to some happy customers…sooner rather than later.
As those happy folks at Nordstrom’s website often remind us, “Want it Today? Order it now and pick it up in the store.” This seems to be an excellent use of online pop-up retail. Brands meet the shopper more than half way. We tell our clients to move beyond shopper engagement and get all the way to brand enchantment. It’s hard to make an online retail experience into an enchanting one. However, when it means bypassing the entire depressing in-store experience with poor service and your-size-out-of-stock, combined with the drive, the parking, the schlepp … having your purchase delivered right to your car, could be retail bliss. Nomads enter and exit the retail scene on wheels.
Another reason to bow down to the power of the nomad is simply because there’s a terrific opportunity to learn about the customer. What does she really like about what she likes? What keeps her from purchasing it right this very minute? Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of a telephone or mall-based survey, but in this context, it’s an old-school conversation.
Let’s face it, who wouldn’t rather head to a park, hang with friends and engage in some open-air spending on items curated for the moment? The mall may be dying, but the shopping thrill doesn’t have to disappear. in fact, the thrill is moving quite nicely along the line of the puck. Head there and bring out your nomadic self.