I had a great Thanksgiving weekend. With friends in town, I wasn’t out on Black Friday, waiting on line at 3am to get a deal. Instead, we were exploring great shopping streets around Los Angeles, looking for unique retail experiences.
These great shopping streets were packed with people, and stores weren’t giving away much in terms of deals to get people to step inside and spend. Instead, they stayed true to what a retail experience should be in order to intrigue, then engage potential customers into shopping in their stores.
Here are the traits I found these entrepreneurial retail experiences offered:
1. Great products – I found so many unique mixes of products, from a bookstore/cafe combo, to a store-within-a-store that sold amazing succulents packed in a simple vase with layers of sand and rocks (yes, a guy has made an entire store of his plants/art) to great apparel boutiques that sold not-too-expensive clothing, to a stationery and card store that offered a unique point of view that appealed to me. Regardless of what they were selling, their storefronts, windows and unique “feel” inside beckoned you in to wander and experience.
2. Great store experience – So many of the stores had a not-too-neat experience. Merchandise was artfully (and tastefully) displayed but lacked the precise organization and neatness that so many national retailers exhibit. This controlled messiness gave the store a lived in feeling, making it feel like an entrepreneurial labor of love and a one-off concept (which made it even more appealing). Old repurposed furniture often held the merchandise – an old desk had drawers pulled out with stationery and cards popping out of the drawers, an armoire served as a space divider and also held folded t-shirts and sweaters, an old bureau had rolled belts in nearly closed drawers with the ends sticking out like pieces of ribbon on their rolls. The music was playing, and playing loudly in some stores, and more quietly in others, sometimes it was rock, sometimes it was jazz, but no matter what, the music fit the store.
3. Great staff – great products and a great store experience don’t make up for a lackluster staff. A few stores had incredibly unique merchandise for sale (a la that plants/art above) that begged explanation by staff – what a great conversation starter. We were engaged by the staff in so many different stores that I was amazed. And it was more than a salesperson trying to sell, it was a lover of retail engaging us in conversations about their unique products (and services, and events, and more). And when we did buy, they were genuine in their thanks for us supporting their store.
I walked away from the weekend with a renewed sense that retail is going to be okay. That the entrepreneurial retailers are going to pave the road to recovery. Sure there were still empty storefronts, evidence that the economic downturn has taken its toll. But no doubt those will quickly be snapped up by more great retailers who are looking to make their unique mark on the world of entrepreneurial retail.