Where can real retail find real growth? Can it? Or are we doomed to the daily lamentations, ringing of hands and rending of garments as news slouches towards us of yet another chain which has gone bump in the night. Farewell Dress Barn.
Next? We can bemoan fate, or can we possibly imagine a pathway forward for innovative retailers and/or fledgling startups? Herewith, my three favorite high-potential retail concepts.
First up. The simplest: Duds Hub. You get it, right? A Grub Hub for apparel. If strangers on bikes can bring nachos, burgers, wings, sushi, gyoza and more marvelous and varied bistro fare, warm and toasty, to your door, why not jeans from Gap, tights from Bloomies and shoes from that sweet boutique you passed by on your way home yesterday? What stands in the way of that kind of convenience innovation? Imagination.
Yes, for sure, a 2.0 version, or maybe more likely 4.0 version would have the various goods delivered by stylists astride stylish scooters in fashion-forward colors, able to cart some alternative options in a fab sidecar. But for now, just guys on bikes working for a wee tip. This is how off-the-shelf technology coupled with a joyous willingness to meet the consumer where they live, reimagines and reinvigorates the joy of shopping.
But Wait, There’s More
Ready for Idea #2? First take a walk down any street in any major city. Observe what has survived the onslaught of retail, writ small and large. In New York you’ll see vacant shops with signs noting their immediate availability. You’ll note a Dunkin’ every three or so blocks. Then, of course, the Duane-Reade, CVS and Walgreen outposts. Probably some kind of walk-in healthcare clinic. Ignore all that. Ignore the burger joints, Chinese take-outs, bank branches and the corner grocery and bodegas which have survived the incursion of afore-mentioned drugstores with their current obsession with processed foods and the occasional banana.
Relatively quickly, you come to the point of the exercise: What is left is what’s going to survive. Dry cleaners, shoe repair shops, duplicate key makers cum lottery ticket sellers, frame shops, and a myriad of manicure and hair salons. You get the drift. Stuff not more easily done online. Stuff where you might actually get to know the human being behind the counter, perhaps even have the most rudimentary of conversations. A place that might actually begin to feel like a neighborhood and might actually provide a sense of, well, yes, belonging.
Take a trip down Memory Lane. When the notion of 7-Elevens began to take hold throughout the country it wasn’t because they were adjacent to gas pumps. It was because they were open from 7:00 in the morning to 11:00 at night, right? At the time grocery stores routinely closed much earlier. A time when your need for a quart of milk or the pack of baby’s diapers was urgent, but accessibility was nonexistent. This franchise identified the daypart need and consolidated the various offerings under one roof. Fresh-Brewed Coffee! Eggs by the Dozen! Socks! Pantyhose! Toothpaste! Slim Jims! And whoosh, it was able to monetize urgency with convenience and grow.
Now fast-forward. Consider what is retained neighborhood by neighborhood, and what I’m imagining are consolidated hubs that bring together all these convenience entities under one charming roof. A new retail collective that gains its relevance by showcasing local artisans united within a recognizable mark as a beacon of convenience. Maybe call it “Chore Hampton” so it sounds classy when you say that’s where you’re headed. Or something that suggests these purveyors are united to make a utilitarian to-do list more enjoyable.
- Imagine a store with seating for mani-pedis, while attendants relieve you of your shoes to be repaired, clothes to be dry cleaned, keys to be duplicated and pictures to be framed.
- They take your coffee order and bring it to you. They consult with you on the types of heels to be applied and the precise stains to be removed, advising too on matting and framing decisions, all the while your nails are groomed and the massage chair addresses that pesky stress in your shoulders.
- There’s even a couple of dressing rooms so you can finally get that dress shortened and the pants taken in.
- In the amount of time it takes to get a fresh manicure, you’ve check everything off your to-do list and emerged not only victorious but refreshed.
This new brand is not putting neighborhood pros out of business. It’s uniting them to help them grow their businesses though collective power, helping each other in ways they simply couldn’t afford to grow themselves. They provide a remarkable experience within the communities in which they operate, and we live. The version 2.0 of this concept simply ensures it is co-located to a pub. And perhaps, for 3.0, an independent bookstore, plus a cosmetics showcase, providing facials onsite, without an appointment.
But Wait! Still More
The third idea is actually the simplest to execute. But to set the scene, take a walk home from dinner at a restaurant or friend’s home in an urban area. It’s 9:30 or so at night. What do you see?
You see shuttered retail stores. A cute suit in a window over there. A pair of sandals just there. Two blocks on, you see a gift shop with a vase you know your best would love for her birthday. It’s all there. So close and yet so far away.
You’ve perhaps had a couple of drinks and are feeling the joy that comes from having been well-fed-and-taken-care-of in hospitable environs. You are perhaps in the mood to act on the impulse to purchase one or more of these remarkable objects. But no. You walk on, because these stores with their perfect wares are closed. You’re 10 blocks from home. How likely is it that tonight’s wonderous object will seem so mission-critical come tomorrow? The shops open at 10:00 AM, but, well, you’ll be at work. If I could find the suggestion box, I would use it. Urban, street-level retailers: Open later in the day and stay open later at night. Just as 7-Eleven learned, 11:00 PM was the witching hour back in the 70s, as it is today. We’re out and about — and when we are, wallets in hand, we are ready to act on our impulses. Please let us.
All right, my friends. I’ve shared three concepts, each with great potential to generate genuine growth. You no doubt have some buried favorite concepts of your own. So, just think about this: You are older than you’ve ever been and younger than you will ever be again. Going to delay any longer?