It takes more than the two “C”s caught between the “S”s to spell SUCCESS in retail today. It used to be about COMFORT and CUSTOMER CONVENIENCE. It always was somewhat about COST CONTROL. Lately it has been about COMMUNITY SPACES and CONSERVATION—though by going “green” you are serving the community as well. Let’s talk about COMMUNITY SPACES.
Anybody who lives in or near New York and wants to be informed about what is “in” and where to go that is “in” and how to dress to fit “in” can’t wait to get the Style section in the Sunday New York Times newspaper. Recently that section featured an article about a retail operation that opened in Berlin. According to Blake Mycoskie, the founder of Toms, the word “store” just did not fit his brand or his products. He wanted a name for his retail exhibit areas that created “a lifestyle for the brand.” The term he selected was “community outposts.”
In the article he is quoted as saying: “An outpost seems like more of a meeting center, an area for information—almost a political rallying point. This is a place where things are happening.” He opened his first Toms outpost more than three years ago in Venice, Calif., just outside of Los Angeles. The total is now seven with more planned.
Instead of a space filled with racks and shelves loaded down with product or with the hushed atmosphere of a designer boutique that seems to turn off affluent young shoppers, the outposts are community spaces where one can relax in a WiFi enriched environment on comfortable couches—maybe with a cup of freshly brewed coffee or dine on a light repast—with casually displayed clusters of product arranged for the visitor’s perusal. There may be a lecture going on somewhere in the space—or a yoga class—or a mini-recital. Walls may be enhanced with artwork produced by local talent interspersed with areas of hung garments. These community spaces never lose sight of their primary function, which is to show and sell product, but the presentation technique is more subtle and challenging. The product display has to be more organic and original. It has to blend in and yet stand out. It has to grow within the space and yet not overwhelm it.
Now, let’s go back 16 years to when the IHA Global Innovation Awards (gia) were formed to recognize innovation in home and housewares stores. We soon found that some stores were already in some small way community outposts. They were already serving tea or coffee even if it was a way of promoting coffee or tea making machines. A few had created actual kitchens in their shops and were either giving demonstrations or conducting classes. There were pre-holiday open houses, wine and cheese tastings, art exhibits, special events for children and stay-and-play areas for the little ones while mom and dad shopped. We, the jurors and the industry as a whole, recognized how important it was to be part of the local community and how to open the stores and the spaces up to the community as a whole. Today it is no longer “innovative” to be involved with local students and schools, support the community charities and events or serve as an exhibit space for neighborhood activities; it is a necessary part of doing business in the community, and it is part of the store’s brand identity.
So, thank you Blake Mycoskie and the Toms Community Outposts for providing us with another retail term, and to the New York Times for telling us what we through gia already knew and set in motion many years ago. Long live COMMUNITY and our commitment to being an integral part of the ones where we live and work.