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Andrea Hill

Why You Should Think of Your Store as a “Retail Canvas”

Brick-and-mortar retailers can no longer afford to view their businesses from a merchant perspective only.

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WHAT’S ON YOUR retail canvas?

My neighbor, Deb, is a talented painter, capturing the essence of every scene with stop-you-in-your-tracks emotivity. After we had acquired several of her paintings, I hesitantly asked if I could watch her paint. She surprised me by responding, “Sure! I’ll put on coffee!”

She’d been commissioned to paint our neighbor’s pond and barn as seen from their kitchen window. I was breath-taken at how fast the scene came to life on Deb’s canvas. No hesitation. The paint flew off her brush and transformed itself as if it were film developing in a darkroom. When I asked how she did that, Deb replied, “Oh, I had painted that scene a hundred times in my head.” She then explained the world is one big canvas to her – everywhere she goes, she imagines painting what she sees.

The next day, as I settled in to work on the question of what’s next in retail, the comparison hit me. Every retail store is a canvas waiting to be painted. That’s what’s next: Retailers approaching their physical stores with the eye of a painter, imagining the potential of the space to create delightful experiences and emotional connection. Not just imagining, but reimagining and recreating repeatedly, keeping the space fresh with new ideas (Deb gleefully pulls out a pot of Gesso and paints over any canvas that no longer thrills her).

It’s good sport to make fun of Amazon and its continued forays into retail. Its latest adventure will be a 6,150 square foot store outside Seattle, in which it will experiment (some more) with cashierless tech, smart dressing rooms, and integrations between physical and digital shopping. But a defining characteristic of Amazon is its commitment to observing its customers and willingness to experiment with retail concepts. As any good researcher will tell you, discovery of what works is generally the result of trying – and failing! – repeatedly, but getting smarter with each iteration.

Your store is a marketing canvas. Within your walls, whether you have 500 square feet or 5,000, lies the potential to try innumerable ideas. Are you using your space to its greatest potential? Are you actively searching for fresh ideas from every industry? Are you fearless about trying new things, even those that seem silly or risky?

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Most marketing attention today is focused on bringing foot traffic, and rightly so. But what good is it to attract new visitors if the space they encounter upon arrival fails to enchant them? How can we expect that hard-won visitor to return if their experience isn’t deemed worthy of the crosstown trip? The ease of find-anything-anywhere-anytime internet shopping has turned the thrill of the hunt and the finding of the perfect thing a largely online activity. What’s left for physical retail is its unique ability to embrace the human, to please the senses and to immerse its callers in an atmosphere that is different from what they can experience elsewhere.

This can be a daunting shift for professional retailers who have heretofore perceived their role to be that of a merchant. A superior talent for finding the right products and a sales team that can deliver an unparalleled experience are certainly part of the new retail palette, but only part. To be a retailer today is to constantly ask and answer the question, “what can my store offer a visitor that they cannot find online, and how can we offer it in such a way that stands out in memory, makes the hassle of travel and parking worth it, and makes them actively desire to return?”

The answer will be — indeed, should be — unique to each retail establishment. In fact, it should be not one answer, but a series of answers, expressed over time, all consistent with your core strategy statement of “who we are, what we do that makes us different, and why we matter.”

It is time to start imagining your retail space in new ways. Reinvent a corner, a case, a seating area. Play with lighting and colors, explore point of purchase options, consider feng shui. Ever since it occurred to me that I could be looking at the world as a palette to be painted (and I can’t paint!), I look at the world with new eyes. Turn new eyes to your store and envision the opportunity that awaits you.

Andrea Hill is owner of Hill Management Group, with three brands serving the jewelry industry. Learn more at hill-management.com.

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Celebrate Your Retirement with Wilkerson

For nearly three decades, Suzanne and Tom Arnold ran a successful business at Facets Fine Jewelry in Arlington, Va. But the time came when the Arnolds wanted to do some of the things you put off while you’ve got a business to run. “We decided it was time to retire,” says Suzanne, who claims the couple knew how to open a store, how to run a store but “didn’t know how to close a store.” So, they hired Wilkerson to do it for them. When she called, Suzanne says Wilkerson offered every option for the sale she could have hoped for. Better still, “the sale exceeded our financial goals like crazy,” she says. And customers came, not only to take advantage of the going-out-of-business buys and mark-downs, but to wish a bon voyage to the beloved proprietors of a neighborhood institution. “People were celebrating our retirement, and that was so special,” says says.

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