Fina Finds New Beginning As Dot-Com

The New York Times: “On April 16, Michael C. Fina, which had sales of $16 million last year, will close its sole brick-and-mortar store, laying off about 20 workers and bringing to an end an 81-year run in Manhattan. Instead, the retailer is moving entirely online, including teaming with Amazon.com as part of a planned revamping of the e-commerce giant’s wedding registry service.”

Fina “already operates an e-commerce site, but it can take up to 72 hours for a product to be shipped … Amazon has told him that its fulfillment centers will be able to ship an order in as little as two hours. Mr. Fina also said he expected shipping costs to fall by as much as 50 percent, because of Amazon’s economies of scale.”

The bridal-registry retailer “will also offer its wares on Zola.com … Shan-Lyn Ma, founder of Zola.com, said that because couples in the United States were marrying much later than ever, and because they increasingly lived with their partners before tying the knot, their wedding gift needs had shifted away from the housewares and appliances that traditionally went toward setting up a first home.” She explains: “Couples are really starting to value experiences rather than straight wedding products.”

“On Zola.com, couples can list hiking trips, hot air balloon rides and food delivery subscriptions, as well as funds for puppies, honeymoons and even fertility treatments.” Ms. Ma started Zola in 2013. “But she has since realized that many couples want to add a few traditional items into their wedding registry mix. And a partnership with Michael C. Fina, she said, gave Zola access to brands that the site might have trouble courting.”

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Introducing the Meat-O-Mat!

The Wall Street Journal: “Attached to a laboratory-like plant in this upstate community is a neon-lit vending machine dubbed the Meat-O-Mat, where customers can buy locally raised meat whenever they like. If Joshua Applestone has his way, carnivores will flock to it the way that banking customers visit the ATM. His invention is stocked with pork chops, dry-aged burger patties, bratwurst meatballs and his beloved pork roll, a deli meat native to New Jersey. Customers swipe their credit cards, push a button, slide the door open and retrieve their hormone- and antibiotic-free selection.”

“Mr. Applestone and his partners at Applestone Meat Co., the attached plant, are attempting to develop a new, meat-centric business model. For the past two years, they have been exploring ways of making high-quality cuts available at lower prices by slashing labor costs and considering offbeat distribution methods like the Meat-O-Mat. ‘We’re going for a highway-roadside-attraction type of approach,’ said Samantha Gloffke, the company’s general manager and a part owner. ‘The goal is to make sustainability really exciting.'”

Mr. Applestone envisions them stationed at supermarkets, football stadiums and picnic sites, places where you might welcome the convenience of buying something to toss on the grill. ‘Think about it at any music festival,’ he said. ‘Anywhere someone brings a cooler, you no longer have to bring fresh meat. How much is peace of mind worth?'”

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Parnassus: A Bookstore As Food Truck

The New York Times: “Nashville’s newest bookstore is an old van. The bright blue bookmobile, which hit the road this week, is a roving offshoot of Parnassus Books, a popular independent bookstore. It will roam around town, stopping at food truck rallies, farmers’ markets and outside restaurants. The arrival of a bookstore on wheels is a fitting evolution for Parnassus, which is co-owned by Karen Hayes and the novelist Ann Patchett.”

“A bookmobile made so much sense, because food trucks work so well in this town,” says Patchett. “It’s a great way to get our name out there, too. It’s a rolling advertisement.”

“It is a logical and efficient way for a small bookstore to expand its footprint, especially as big chains have shuttered locations, leaving a vacuum for enterprising independent stores to fill … The van packs around 1,000 books, mostly new releases and best sellers — a small fraction of Parnassus’s stock of 20,000 books. Its owners have managed to make the cramped space bright and inviting: customers can walk the narrow aisles between the shelves, and can linger and sample books on one of the padded blue benches.”

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Is Mall Shopping Greener Than E-Commerce?

The Wall Street Journal: “Could going to the mall be better for the environment than shopping online? That’s the surprising claim in a new study from Simon Property Group, the nation’s largest mall landlord. The argument is that mall shoppers often travel in groups and buy more than one item, reducing their environmental impact. Online shoppers, meanwhile, return products more often, and the shipping requires more packaging.”

“Among the factors Simon looked at was how many people went on the trip and ‘the idea that shoppers combine mall shopping trips with other errands.’ The report also examined the impact of product returns both online and in stores … The report found that online shopping had an environmental impact that was 7% greater than mall shopping, if shoppers bought the same number of products both ways.”

“The issue isn’t settled, however. A 2013 master thesis at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Transportation & Logistics, for example, examined various ways consumers could shop in stores or online. ‘Results show that online shopping is the most environmentally friendly option in a wide range of scenarios,’ the thesis concluded. The MIT thesis examined how some shoppers combine the two channels, sometimes researching products both in stores and online, or buying online but picking up or returning in a store. As a result, the thesis also found, ‘as more consumers leverage traditional brick-and-mortar alternatives to their online buying behaviors, some of the environmental savings quickly erode.'”

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MIT & Target Take Aim at Truth in Produce

The Washington Post: Imagine a scanner the size of a grain of rice, built into your phone. You go to the grocery store and point it at something you want to buy. If it’s an apple, the scanner will tell you what variety it is, how much vitamin C it has and how long it has been in cold storage. If it’s a fish, you’ll learn whether it’s really orange roughy or just tilapia being passed off as something more expensive. If it’s a muffin, the device will tell you whether there’s gluten in it.”

“Although you won’t be able to do it tomorrow, this isn’t some kind of distant Jetsonian vision of the future … TellSpec and SCiO, are working on handheld scanners designed for consumer use … Target, one of the nation’s largest retailers, is collaborating with MIT and business design firm Ideo in a venture called Food + Future coLab, based in Cambridge, Mass., which has the broad mission of helping consumers better understand their food.”

Target “is putting industrial-strength scanners in its distribution centers … According to Casey Carl, Target’s chief strategy and innovation officer, ‘We’ll deliver better freshness, quality and shelf life,’ because produce that’s old or inferior — or not what the label promises — will never make it to the floor.”

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Tory Sport: Retail Store as Marketing Medium

“Tory Burch’s new Tory Sport store shows how selling fashion today isn’t really about advertising. It’s about making a store into the marketing vehicle,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “People are still tactile. They want to feel the product,” Ms. Burch says. “Stores are changing, Ms. Burch says. Their purpose is to engage customers and to build a community. They also can be a place where the online and offline worlds merge.”

“With just one or two sizes of most styles on display, the Tory Sport store isn’t meant to be shopped the way mass-market flagship stores are … Instead, a designer store is a place to immerse and entertain shoppers in the fictitious, tightly controlled world the brand creates. It’s a chance to show and explain all that a brand stands for—and to seduce a shopper into buying something … Both Ms. Burch and Roger Farah, Ms. Burch’s co-chief executive, insist the Tory Sport store remains very much about sales, though.”

“We definitely want it to be profitable but we also want the experience to be one that people really like and get to know,” Ms. Burch says.

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The ReUse Store: Like a ‘Bizarro RadioShack’

The Wall Street Journal: “The city’s most peculiar electronics store may be the shop housed in a brightly painted cinder block warehouse in an industrial section of Brooklyn. There, customers waiting in a metal-cage entrance must ring a bell to summon the attendant.”

“Welcome to the ReUse store at the Gowanus E-Waste Warehouse, where every amp and smartphone for sale is some fellow New Yorker’s castoff. The program, run by the nonprofit Lower East Side Ecology Center, collected and recycled more than 1 million pounds of used electronics last year. It funds its operations—at least in part—by refurbishing and selling everything from laptops to speaker wire.”

“Customers range from parents buying laptops for their kids to artists seeking cheap electronics for their high-concept fantasies … One might imagine the ReUse store looking like a thrift-store version of a Best Buy. The reality is more of a bizarro RadioShack. There are countless peripherals and accessories, stacks of old speakers, bins filled with remotes and shelves of VHS tapes. There are also great bargains.”

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Coloring Books Color Retailers Surprised

The Washington Post: “Coloring books for adults — a genre once considered little more than a novelty — are suddenly a big business, a bright spot in the financial results of publishers and retailers alike. Nielsen Bookscan estimates that some 12 million were sold in 2015, a dramatic jump from the 1 million sold the previous year. The books have “attracted legions of enthusiasts who are looking to de-stress, who see scrawling away at an image of a tree or an animal as a low-key, low-stakes way to channel imagination or to keep their hands busy while they let their minds wander.”

However: “While many find the act of coloring to be a calming distraction from hours spent tapping, swiping and staring at screens, some early adopters aren’t exactly hooked. ‘Most of the pages are full of pictures that are so small I can hardly see the details to color them, which causes more stress than if I hadn’t tried to color in the first place,’ wrote one reviewer of a popular coloring book on Amazon.”

“It’s not clear whether the rise of adult coloring books has come at the expense of sales in other categories, but the impact of the craze can be seen in various corners of the retail industry: Barnes & Noble has said that strong demand for adult coloring books and artist supplies provided a tail wind to the chain’s total sales in the last three quarters. Walmart, meanwhile, moved in November to add a dedicated four-foot section for adult coloring books in 2,000 of its stores. And Target started carrying adult coloring books in 1,300 stores in August and within months rolled them out to the rest of the chain.”

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For Whom The Cash Registers

“High-end stores hide registers to force contact with salespeople, eliminate lines and add fancy sheen,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “Stores aim to make the experience of paying more elegant, akin to private shopping, and to eliminate a pain point that keeps some shoppers from completing a purchase—having to wait in a visible line. Hiding the cash register also forces shoppers to interact with the salespeople and might even encourage them to buy more.”

Dexter Peart of luxury label Want Les Essentiels: “We’re downplaying that last transactional part of the experience. … We want the human interaction as one of the last touch points … This time also gives our sales associates an opportunity to get to know the people shopping in our stores a lot better.”

“Stores say customers’ expectations have risen with the success and ease of online shopping, making waiting in line seem unenlightened … But making cash registers discreet and encouraging customers to work through sales associates instead could make some shoppers uncomfortable. The unfamiliar protocol may feel strange at first.” Barneys maintains “a few visible cash registers in the downtown store in case a customer feels more comfortable paying the traditional way.”

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Excavating Problems at Anthropologie

The Washington Post: It’s hard not to see the parallels between what’s ailing J. Crew and what’s ailing Anthropologie: Both chains are simply failing to offer shoppers the kind of clothes they are looking for. And while it was easy at first to write off Anthropologie’s stumbles as a temporary blip, a full year of unattractive merchandise in dresses — one of the chain’s most essential categories — raises questions about whether it might be slipping into a rut.”

“It’s not all bad news for Anthropologie: The company said that sales of home products, beauty products, accessories and shoes were strong in the latest quarter.” CEO Richard Hayne “told investors he is so bullish Anthropologie’s potential as a home goods retailer that he said he could foresee a future in which clothing accounts for less than 50 percent of the store’s sales. If the store can pull off that change in the mix of the business, it may not matter so much if the apparel category goes through a soft patch.”

“And the retailer seemed to suggest that it is going to be more focused on building an international growth strategy this year, a move that could provide it with a fresh stream of sales growth.”

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