Manhattan Saddlery: The Past as the Future

The New York Times: “When horseback riding was the dominant mode of transportation, equestrian shops were as common as fresh-pressed juice bars are today. East 24th Street was so populated with places to outfit and care for horses that it came to be known as Old Stable Row. Times have changed. And for the city equestrian, a rare breed in itself, the only remaining shop of its kind on Old Stable Row is Manhattan Saddlery.”

“The smell of leather permeates the sprawling two-story shop, greeting customers who arrive looking for saddles, bridles, halters, crops, stirrups and riding pants … Charlotte Kullen was shopping on a recent Saturday, as she does about once a week. At the shop she finds a receptive audience for her latest stories about Asantro, her horse. ‘It was his birthday yesterday,’ she said, displaying photos on her phone of the Dutch Warmblood, an athletic breed often used in competitions.”

Another shopper, Alex Roy, comments: “It’s funny, like any brick-and-mortar shop, if you think about it, you can buy anything they carry online … But you come here to talk to the people and to see the place.”

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New Apple Store: ‘Hanging Out’ vs. Shopping

USA Today: “Apple opened the 42-by-40-foot sliding glass doors to its new flagship store … throwing the curtain back on a design that puts a premium on hanging out over shopping. Roughly 20% of the new store’s space is dedicated to an open Forum area where visitors can learn about the company’s various software and hardware offerings.”

“Among the other big changes in evidence is morphing Apple’s Genius Bar to Genius Grove; the addition of a new Boardroom area dedicated to small business customers; and the advent of a new staff position, Apple Creative Pro, tasked with helping consumers with specific questions on music, photography, videos and the like. In addition, some of Apple’s most significant store locations … will feature a public Plaza that will be open 24/7 and feature free WiFi as well as occasional concerts and other performances.”

“Some analysts suggest that Apple could once again revolutionize the retail space with an approach that encourages consumers to hang out as they might in a coffee shop, where interacting is perhaps more valued than buying.”

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Dead Writers Perfume: Oh, That ‘Old Book’ Smell!

Quartz: “Book smell is now a thing in the perfume world, like vanilla or sandalwood. In the last few years, dozens of products have appeared on the market to give your home or person the earthy scent of a rare book collection. Sweet Tea Apothecaries sells Dead Writers Perfume, which promises to evoke the aroma of books old enough for their authors to have passed to the great writers’ retreat in the sky. Perfumer Christopher Brosius’s ‘In the Library’ product line makes your home and body smell just like that. The high-end fragrance Paper Passion claims to capture the ‘unique olfactory pleasures of the freshly printed book,’ though for roughly $200 per bottle it’s a lot cheaper to just buy a freshly printed book.”

The appeal of old books’ smell has been studied in depth. Wood-based paper contains lignin, a chemical closely related to vanillin, the compound that gives vanilla its fragrance. As the pages age and the compounds break down, they release that signature scent … Furthermore, scent is strongly tied to memory … for the bookish among us the scent of old manuscripts recalls pleasures like reading an old classic … There’s also the nostalgia element. The paper used for books today contains much less lignin than that of old volumes. That reissue of Hemingway is never going to smell as nice as a first edition, no matter how long it stays on your shelf.”

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Crowdsourced Insights: The New Focus Group

“Crowdsourcing is fast, cheap and scruffy, especially when you need to move quickly,” says Lee Mayer in The New York Times. Chris Hickens of UserTesting, which uses crowdsourcing to get at consumer insights comments: “Crowdsourcing has replaced focus groups. It’s faster and a lot cheaper. Innovation is going so fast that we need faster answers.”

“Josh Gustin, co-founder of the online men’s wear store Gustin in San Francisco, put his own twist on crowdsourcing. He was searching for a better way to sell his handmade wares, which include jeans from denim woven on vintage shuttle looms … The company’s new approach is simple, yet deeply cost-effective. A garment is designed and then posted on the site. If 100 people order it, for example, it goes into production. The result: zero inventory and zero waste.”

Gustin comments: “We suffered through the old retail model and the capital requirements. You can never guess right.” The efficiency realized via crowdsourced insights also enables him to “offer jeans once priced at more than $205 for $81, and a $200 Japanese cotton button-down shirt for $69.”

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365: Like A Playroom for Foodies

The New York Times: 365, “the much anticipated new grocery concept from Whole Foods Markets …feels like a sort of foodie playroom. Shelves, racks and refrigerated cases are splashed with bright primary colors and surrounded by exposed insulation and polished concrete floors. All the fixtures are low profile — the highest shelving rises just 72 inches. Electronic terminals are lined up, ready to accept orders.”

“Instead of a human sommelier, there’s Banquet, a wine app developed especially for 365 stores by Delectable. Want a bottle of special Frankies olive oil for $9.99? That’s a so-called green-and-gold product, the name for goods procured and sold exclusively at 365 and only temporarily available.”

The 365 stores will stock roughly 7,000 items, compared with 35,000 to 52,000 for a traditional Whole Foods. Meat is sold only in packages, lowering the cost of offering specialty cuts of meat served up by a butcher. The store will still sell a wide variety of organic produce, though its selection of conventional produce is wider … The 365-branded locations will have about 100 employees, compared with 250 to 500 in a traditional Whole Foods.”

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Shah & Shah: A ‘Speakeasy-Style’ Jewelry Store

The Washington Post: Colin Shah “has put his family’s jewelry trade in a time machine and turned it back to the speakeasy approach that great-grandfather Izzy used when he ran it in the 1930s. There is no storefront. No marketing. No signs. Shah & Shah boutique lies behind a door on the sixth floor of a downtown office building. You push a doorbell to get buzzed inside.”

“Most customers are referred, which means they come in more positive than fearful … A lot of hustle is involved. Word of mouth means socializing with clients, talking to people, attending parties. Last week, he held an open house with champagne and chocolates for Mother’s Day … Everything is a throwback to the days of personalized jewelry sales. The walls include black-and-white photos of the family’s shops from the past. There is a photo of a young Jack Benny.”

“Shah wants every touch to hint at elegance. He plops down a beautiful silver candy dish filled with Edward Marc dark-chocolate nonpareils. He follows with a bottle of Hildon water, which looks like glass artwork that might be for sale. Most of his business is in creating jewelry for the 2,500 customers on his client list … Shah did more than $2.3 million in sales last year … Profitability can run well into the middle six figures.”

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Lord & Taylor Is Coming Up Roses

Washington Post: Lord & Taylor “has ordered up a big roster of rose-emblazoned pieces, many of them exclusives from labels like Karl Lagerfeld Paris and Calvin Klein, that are meant to cater to the contemporary, trend-conscious shopper … In addition dresses and blouses, they’ve lined up offbeat items like rose-flavored gummy candies and rose-shaped temporary tattoos. And in some stores, the products will be featured in a shop-in-shop it calls The Birdcage.”

“It’s a major merchandising and marketing effort that executives hope will … telegraph a fresh, contemporary direction … without alienating the loyal shoppers who might fondly remember that the rose was a staple of Lord & Taylor marketing from 1946 until it was phased out over the last 20 years … The idea … to harken back to the company’s heritage … is a tactic retailers across all price points are turning to right now based on the belief that millennials will respond to this kind of storytelling.”

However, “the story of the rose may be so obscure and unfamiliar to young shoppers, it may be hard for them to even understand the collection as an ode to history and heritage.”

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The Gucci Experience Goes Up In Smoke

The New York Times: “On Java Road in Hong Kong, a new pair of brown leather Gucci loafers, lovingly wrapped in cellophane, hangs from a storefront — the deal of a lifetime at less than $3. Just not this lifetime. The shoes are paper replicas, meant to be burned as offerings to relatives who have died — a modern twist on an old Chinese custom … But the Gucci handbags and shoes that grandmother may have cooed over when she was among the living now appear to be out of her ethereal reach.”

“It seems Gucci’s zeal to protect its brand extends into the hereafter. Last week, its parent company … sent a letter to six local stores that sell the paper offerings, telling them to stop selling replicas of Gucci products because they were using its famous trademark.” However, a Hong Kong law professor “said Gucci would have a difficult time” making its case. “To successfully sue for trademark infringement … a company has to demonstrate that people confuse the cardboard replicas with real Gucci products, which is highly unlikely.”

“The shopkeepers lament what they see as the absurdity of it all. Their target market — the dead — does not appear to intersect with the well-heeled, or aspiring-to-be wealthy, living and breathing Gucci customers who frequent the outlet’s shops in Hong Kong, one of the company’s top markets. ‘Our customers are totally different,’ said one shopkeeper … ‘They burn these things to send to the spirits’ … Jing Zhang, fashion editor for The South China Morning Post, wrote: ‘The symbolism of a global, multibillion-dollar luxury company ‘warning’ perhaps some of the poorest retailers in the city over items that could not ever be taken for the real thing just seems a little bullying’.”

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There’s Nothing ‘Illegal’ About Retail Subscriptions

Bloomberg: “Adore Me is among a group of buzzy Internet retailers accused of sometimes placing customers into unwanted and hard-to-cancel retail subscriptions. Several of these companies have been hit with lawsuits alleging unfair business practices, including JustFab (apparel), Blue Apron (food delivery), and Birchbox (beauty samples). Adore Me is currently facing a lawsuit from a disgruntled subscriber.”

“There’s nothing illegal about retail subscriptions, of course, and many businesses with automatic renewals make the billing process crystal clear. Some services are transparent in their mission and describe themselves primarily as pay-each-month subscriptions, like razor seller Dollar Shave Club.”

“But weak and misleading disclosures are pervasive among subscription e-commerce businesses, says Francisca Allen, the deputy district attorney of California’s Santa Clara County. Allen pursued the JustFab and Stamps.com settlements, both of which included reforms to the companies’ websites. Consumers are losing tens or even hundreds of millions per year on unwanted automatic-renewal subscriptions, she says, and there’s not enough regulatory muscle to monitor and stop unfair practices.”

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The Storefront Index

City Observatory: “The Storefront Index “measures the number and concentration of customer-facing businesses in the nation’s large metropolitan areas … by mapping the locations of hundreds of thousands of everyday businesses … and then identifying significant clusters of these businesses—places where each storefront business is no more than 100 meters from the next storefront.”

“The result is a series of maps, available for the nation’s 51 largest metropolitan areas, that show the location, size, and intensity of neighborhood business clusters down to the street level … The Storefront Index helps illuminate the differences in the vibrancy of the urban core in different metropolitan areas.”

For example: “In Portland, there are about 1,700 storefront businesses in a three-mile circle—with substantial concentrations downtown, and in the close-in residential neighborhoods nearby … New York and San Francisco have the densest concentrations of storefront businesses in their urban cores … Maps of the Storefront Index for the nation’s 51 largest metropolitan areas are available online here. You can drill down to specific neighborhoods to examine the pattern of commercial clustering at the street level.”

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