I’m in Paris and Frankfurt for a big event and a couple trade shows so you’ll be getting my “American in Paris” train of thoughts through next week.
Walking through the City of Lights, I’m struck by the number of stores that are amazing in their individuality. European cities continue to focus on retaining their identity through their culture, architecture, language and certainly their shopping experiences.
While the big American retailers do have outposts here, they are few and far between. This city is brimming with shopping experiences that are as unique as the buildings that house them. Even Starbucks is non-existent (let’s face it, the French don’t exactly embrace the “to-go” mentality of American coffee-drinkers). For Parisians, coffee is about espresso, café au lait or a cappuccino which are enjoyed in quaint little street corner cafés. It’s not about a grande triple caramel latte with whipped cream.
We Americans take comfort in what we know. We like the consistency of a clean McDonald’s bathroom, a pair of GAP jeans and our Starbucks triple grande caramel latte. Boy are we missing out.
THE REAL WORLD RETAILING TAKEAWAY
Be yourself. Be unique. Find a point of differentiation and exploit it.
Americans are entrenched in our modus operandi and that sometimes doesn’t allow us to realize what we’re missing. The Americanization of every type of retail, from apparel to home goods to beauty products and more makes us downright boring.
As a small retailer, you can afford to buck the trend. You’ve already taken the first step by deciding you’re going to go up against the big guys by offering a different retail experience.
So exploit it. The best way is to take the time to explore a unique trade show in another county that offers products most other retailers don’t have access to, then bring in an interesting line of products that no one else has discovered. Now that’s a point of differentiation. Before long you’ll get the reputation as THE place to go for the hottest lines from Europe and beyond.
If you want to stay closer to home, create a unique store environment that reflects the brand you’re trying to create. While Paris has the glitz and glamour as the home of haute couture, it also has the down-home appeal of mom and pop run retail establishments where you feel like you’re walking into someone’s home. There’s an instant sense of comfort when the sales associate warmly greets you with a “bonjour” – It creates a relaxed feeling that allows you to take the time to discover what’s inside. And discovery is what it’s all about.
And there are so many other ways to bring a European flair to your store – from unique window displays to actually closing your doors on major national holidays. Open your eyes if you live in a major city, or take a trip to the major city closest to you. You have to get out there and find those unique shopping experiences. They’re out there…you just have to discover them. Then take it all in, learning what you can, and applying it to your own business. Do that and you’ll be on your way to having your own little slice of Paris in the U.S.