Throughout my career I have been lucky to work for several large global brands, and in my current position as head of customer engagement for RetailNext, I love that I get to work with hundreds of brands in their effort to understand how people shop their physical stores. But when I think about why I love retail, it’s not specifically about product or stores or technology. For me, it’s all about the connection that retail can make to consumers and to the community – often one person at a time.
Today’s retail is dramatically different from my first official retail job at Waldenbooks (or my first unofficial foray into retail when my siblings and I ran a fresh-picked sweet corn operation at our family farm), but what hasn’t changed – and what is possibly more important today – is the ability to connect a product to a consumer in a way that can’t always be measured by share price or market share.
Last week I attended the annual Women’s Wear Daily Apparel & Retail CEO Summit, and two retailers reminded me yet again why this industry is so cool. One brand that resonated with me was Shinola, the Detroit (yes, Detroit)-based producer of mid-range luxury watches, bikes and other products that involve fine, meticulous craftsmanship. Of course Tom Kartsotis, a founder of the Fossil brand, knows a thing or two about building brands, and he uses the boom and bust legacy of Detroit’s manufacturing past to further his brand’s story. But who cares? Shinola’s products are really beautiful, and the company is creating jobs in a city that desperately needs them.
Shinola speaks to me.
At the summit, I also was lucky enough to have lunch with Satya Twena, a talented milliner who purchased the last operating hat factory in New York through a Kickstarter campaign. Yes, you read that correctly – a hat maker bought a 40-year old factory through a Kickstarter campaign.
Apart from her talent as a milliner, the brilliant thing about Satya is how she tells her brand’s story to her retail advantage. She uses her factory as an atelier to give customers a truly unique retail experience. She invites clients into the factory to sit side by side with her team to design one-of-kind hats. Her story is incredible and the hats are stunningly beautiful.
Satya Twena and her brand speak to me.
These brands stand out to me because they represent much of what is special about retail and the ability to make that special connection between people and product.
In recent weeks there has been tremendous press speaking to the phenomenon of online retailers opening physical stores. Rent the Runway, Warby Parker, Birchbox, Bonobos and even Amazon … the list goes on. To me, the reason for opening stores is obvious. It’s like online dating – when you make a connection with someone, you eventually want to meet them. And that is what consumers want – the opportunity to meet their favorite brands in person, in store. With the availability of data and metrics on what customers want and how they shop, each of the retailers above should find a way to speak to their consumers in a unique, special way that embodies their brands.
So as the holidays approach, I am excited to see who the retail winners will be. My bet is on the brands who figure out how to connect with their customers through storytelling, product and in-store experience.
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