Sunday, December 09, 2007

Retail is in the Details

That's one of the concepts that Dr. Joseph Michelli talks about in his book, The Starbucks Experience. Dr. Michelli spoke at the 2007 Xtreme! program NACS put on in Seattle. He'll also be talking at CAMEX '08, in case you'll be attending.

There are many directions you can take a discussion on the meaning of "Retail is in the Details." But a sign I saw in a shoe store recently inspired me to focus on the simple side of this topic.

I was home in Texas for Thanksgiving last month and went to visit my mother at the little shoe store where she works. The store has been on the town square since about 1932. It's a simple place with a direct purpose. Not the kind of place you'd necessarily expect to find retail inspiration.

But two things came through loud and clear during my visit to the little shop:

1. My mother is a great salesperson. Not because of a career of sales experience, an expertise in shoes, or just because she's MY mom. But because she cares. And she makes sure her customers know it. I saw her in action (as unlikely as a customer visit was in that store during my short time on site). Would our average customer leave our stores knowing that "we care"?

2. The store has a history that is part of the community. Around the shop are pictures of the store from its early days in operation. The current owner took over the business from her father. His personal collection of early footwear adorns the walls, with labels telling the style and year. The earliest piece dates to the 1800s and the most interesting had to be the TINY children's items.

After spending only a short while there, I can say that it's a quaint little place with a story to tell and a practice of focusing on each customer as if they're the only one. All potential jokes aside, the experience leads to some worthwhile pondering.

- What little things do you do to connect to your customers?
- In what little ways do you communicate what your business is about?
- What do the details of your business say about your business?

Of all the things we do to try and drive sales and outpace the competition, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that "retail is in the details."

Tony Ellis, CAE

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I’ll have a large diet soda with that, please.

A few months ago I had the opportunity to see Robyn Waters speak at a conference. You may not know the name, but she’s one of the marketing masterminds that helped put the “Tar-shay” in Target.

Her new book, The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape, is what I’m working on these days while I try to melt off my Quizno’s on the elliptical machine at the gym.

Her message? We have “contracdictory consumers” on our hands today and there’s money to be made for finding the new (and seemingly unlikely) combinations that “click” with the quirky masses.

The primary paradox from Waters’ view is that consumers (all people, really) want to both belong and stand out. They want to be, say, “Sex in the City” and Bono.

With this conflicting algorithym at their core, the stage is set for a multitude of other contradictory drivers to emerge:

1. Consumers want “affordable luxury”. --> Like Z Gallery or Pier 1 Imports

2.They shop at “upscale discounters”. --> Think Target

3. Menus are cranking out revised versions of all your favorite “comfort foods”.

4. Everything old is new again. --> Note the return of the Vespa, the Beetle, and the Mini Cooper.

5. Shoppers continue to demand “mass customization”. --> The 2 poster children: iPod and Tivo.

6.We buy “luxurious commodities”. --> Waters points to some of the designer kitchen appliances and other items from Target as prime examples.

7. When we’re pooped we yearn for “extreme relaxtion”. --> I’m all about Robyn’s suggestion to join TakeBackYourTime ( They suggest that if US workers STOPPED working on Oct 24 for the remainder of the calendar year we would be on par for the number of hours worked in a year by workers throughout the world.

8. And finally, “social capitalism”. Consumers want to exercise “ethical consumption and more and more business want to “do good AND make money.”

So might this mean for college stores?

- Look for the contradictions in your consumers.

- What do these contradictions explain about your consumers’ purchase behavior?

- What might they suggest about their needs for products and services?

- Identify the products and services that you can spotlight or begin to sell that address these contradictory, but powerful, motivations.

I would recommend Robyn’s book. I’m only about half way through, so I can’t spoil the ending for you. But, I can tell you that it’s an easy read (I’ve not stumbled from the elliptical once!) and has some great points to ponder for retailers in this contradictory world we sell in.

Tony Ellis, CAE

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Hello My Name Is….

A speaker I saw recently reminded the audience that “Retail is in the Details”. And how true that is! Last night, after leaving the office from an extra-long day, I decided to treat myself to Chick-fil-A. I just love their traditional sandwich…and their service!

Let me recount my drive-thru experience as a prime example.

- Arrive at order position and am greeted with, “Hello and welcome to Chick-fil-A. My name is Amanda. May I take your order?”

- I made my request, which was confirmed and followed with a request to, “Please pull around to the window so I may complete your order.”

-As I often do, I thanked her for taking my order, to which she cheerfully responded, “My pleasure.”

-Upon reaching the window, the cashier greeted me and thanked me for offering my payment.

-Within the few seconds it took for her to process the transaction, my food was handed to her. She passed my change, receipt, and food along to me with a smile and, “Thank you and have a nice evening.”

Ordering fast food is a simple task that many of us do many times a month. So how is it that so many can get it so wrong.

Chick-fil-A, especially Amanda, had it down last night. She offered a perfect experience for me by getting the “details” right.

Oh, and the chicken sandwich was perfect…the final step in delivering on their brand promise.

Tony Ellis, CAE

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Try Before You Buy

Technology is changing the way we do business in more ways ever day. At a recent In-store Marketing Institute Expo, I got a firsthand look at a new technology from Epson and partners.

- Interactive Apparel Displays -

Customers use a touch-sensitive screen to pick different styles/colors and tops, bottoms, and accessories. As choices are selected, the corresponding item is projected onto a mannequin form 5-6 feet in front of the touch-screen.

Take a look at the maroon top matched with knee-length pants and an oversized belt.

It’s obviously not the same as trying on the items. But to a time-starved, changing room adverse shopper like me…I’m waiting for this to hit the Men’s Department.

Tony Ellis, CAE

Thursday, October 11, 2007

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

I’ve confessed to being a trade mag junkie.

I read them on planes, over lunch, with a cup of joe, even when I’m supposed to be giving undivided attention to my favorite TV show. I spend most of my time skimming for interesting nuggets, searching for insights into trends, and otherwise looking for writing on the walls.

Of the thousands of things I’ve read in the last few years, one thing is certain: Retail has changed, it’s never going to be the same, and we have to evolve to survive.

To make my case, here are the top 5 things (and one bonus thing)--from just the last few months--that scream “We’re not in Kansas anymore!”

1. MinuteClinics -- CVS pharmacies are opening “retail medical clinics”, complete with nurse practitioners, in their stores. Colds, allergy issues, and other minor ailments will be diagnosed onsite. A remedy will be recommended directly from the aisles of the store, of course. (Fast Company, Sept. 2007)

2. Plenty to Spend…on Gadgets! -- Soaring gas prices haven’t put a dent in discretionary spending or the development of products to satisfy our appetites. Case in point: Cell phones by Porsche and Prada. The Prada handheld is a cool $600. But Nokia’s “Luna” takes the prize (for now) at $800. (Details, Oct. 2007)

3. Digital Domains -- Since Disney-ABC started selling downloads of TV shows online, viewers have tuned in to to watch a staggering 90 million episodes of Disney shows since June 2006 alone! Tell me the day is not coming for digital content/course materials. (Fast Company, June 2007)

4. Oprah Goes Retail -- As if Orpah hasn’t conquered enough territory? Harpo Studios has announced that it will open a 4,500-sq ft retail store right across the street for their location in Chicago’s West Loop. The store will sell Oprah-branded merchandise, promote Winfrey-approved gifts, and offer a small café. Better believe those Book Club titles will be on the shelves somewhere! (Stores, August 2007)

5. It’s So Easy A Child… -- Ashely Qualls, a 17-year old from Southgate, Mich. (outside Detroit), is founder and head of What started as a hobby of creating and sharing backgrounds and other “upgrades” for MySpace pages is now a $50,000-$70,000-a-month business. That’s right! She now employs a group of her friends and has turned down at least one purchase offer worth more than $1.5 million. (Fast Company, Sept. 2007)

So what writing is on the walls?

- Look for new opportunities for your business in services needed by your customers and aligned with your current business categories/services.

- Identify and carry some of the products that your customers want and are willing to drop those disposable dollars on!

- How are your online and brick-and-mortar sales functions collaborating to increase traffic and sales?

- Competition is everywhere! Scan your environment and stay on your toes.

- Creative, talented, and self-starter young people are everywhere. Who are the up-and-comers on your payroll?

Ah, yes! That “bonus thing.” Think this isn’t for us? “Nobody really watches our industry…”, you say? They’re watching!

6. The November 2007 Details magazine offered an article claiming that “the suburbs are the new downtowns” and the place to be (pages 99-104). In a related story, they highlighted six major metropolitan areas in the U.S. -- noting the “warning sign” of downtown transition, the “tipping point” which indicated the time to flee, and the “escape” to move to (that is, the suburb-turned-downtown of choice).

The writing on the wall?
“Boston. Warning Sign: 1996 - Barnes & Noble takes over management of the Harvard Coop, a profit-sharing cooperative bookstore founded in 1882 to provide Harvard students with textbooks.”

This is not an indictment of B&N, but rather a response to the impact that “retail as usual” can have on a community. Because B&N is a national chain, the assumption was made that their arrival would tip off a transition that would eventually turn a unique, local community into something vanilla. After decades of near-guaranteed sales -- thanks to course materials -- I think we all need to heed the underlying message from this mainstream voice of pop culture:

No retailer is guaranteed anything anymore. Customers don’t want, and retailers can’t afford, “get-by” operations. We need to be fully engaged and cooperative members of our host communities. We must continually seek ways to reinvent our businesses. We have to be passionate about bringing fresh new ideas to the table.

Even if you ARE in Kansas…“You’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Tony Ellis, CAE

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Me and My Gang

Let's face it, we all need a "posse".

That group of folks that we can knock an idea around with, talk to about our challenges, and call upon any time anyone has something to celebrate.

I just returned from the annual meeting of the NACS Retail Edge Committee (formerly the General Merchandise Committee). And what a wonderful experience!

Spending two days with some of the most creative, talented, and passionate retailers from our industry was a fun as it was exhausting. The idea exchange was endless. The solution sharing was inspirational. And the time away from the day-to-day was priceless.

It reminded me how important it is for us all to maintain a professional network. A posse!
  • When did you last take time away from the day-to-day to reconnect?
  • What small win have you experienced that you really should share with your industry friends?
  • What little challenge has got a burr in your saddle? Give someone a shout!

Many stores are just now coming out of one of the busiest times of the year. Take a few minutes and reconnect with a few of your industry buddies.

Everyone needs a posse.

Tony Ellis, CAE

Monday, September 10, 2007

Know Thy Customer

We hear it all the time: “Retailers have to know their customers and be willing to respond to their needs and expectations.”

A new Super Wal-Mart recently opened outside of Oberlin, OH (the home of NACS, Inc.).

In case you’ve never been to Oberlin and don’t know much about the region, it is a small college town set in rural Ohio. The area is on the northern edge of the expansive Ohio Amish country, as well.

That said it should have come as no surprise to see the unique set of parking spaces offered at the new Oberlin-area Wal-Mart.

During perhaps the busiest time of year for college stores and NACS, this sight still made me stop and consider the following:

1. Just how well DO we know our own customers?

2. How far are we REALLY willing to go to meet their needs and be their number one choice of store?

3. It's comforting and humbling to be reminded that many times it really is the little things that make the biggest difference to our customers.

Tony Ellis, CAE

Saturday, September 01, 2007

All dressed up....

Most of you probably remember Cows on Parade in Chicago some years back. Many other U.S. cities took this idea and adapted it to their own cities. Thus creating a vehicle for local organizations and businesses to engage with the city and its people. Toronto had moose, Cleveland had guitars, and one of the southern meccas even had pigs.

Well, Chicago has come up with a new gig for this summer - body forms. That's right...deocrated and themed by or on behalf of businesses, organizations, actual dress designers, universities, and more.

Why did this catch my eye? Take a close look at "Cultivating Knowledge" installed by Loyola University-Chicago. Now if that doesn't give you some creative ideas for a window display, a store-sponsored contest, or some other crazy event...I'm not sure what will!

In case you cannot see the details, she has a small rake in her backpack and the dress is made of books...textbooks to be precise.

As they say, inspiration often comes from the most unexpected places.

Tony Ellis, CAE

Saturday, July 28, 2007

That’s SO 5-minutes ago!

While reading “Entertainment Weekly” last weekend (love it!), I ran across one entertainment pundits' "In, 5-minutes Ago, and Out" installment. And I thought, "What a great Muse post that would make...the In, 5-minutes ago, Out of Campus Retail as sent in by some of the movers and shakers of the industry.

So...I hopped on e-mail and sent a note to a few college store folks that 1) I thought would qualify as “industry pundits”, 2) I figured would get a kick out of a challenge, and 3) I was somewhat certain would respond.

Below, I have compiled the contributions from those that did respond. And, yes, they are all Canadian. Go figure!

Note that I’ve credited them for their thoughts…READ: “Direct your comment-posts to them and not me!” :-)

So without further ado, I give you---

“The Campus Retail What’s In / So 5-minutes Ago / What’s Out” (July 2007)

According to: Mark Patten, Coordinator - MacEwan Bookstores (Edmonton, Alberta) & Regular Muse on The Retail Muse

What's IN
txt mssg – The Simpsons Movie – The Adult Daniel Radcliffe – Orange – Facebook

So 5-minutes Ago
Harry Potter – Green – Yoga – Myspace

What's OUT
Grey – Trans fats – Magazines/newspapers – Paris Hilton

According to: Mikhail Dzuba, CCR, Bookstore Manager - Simon Fraser University (Burnaby, British Columbia)

What's IN
Recycled products – Fairly-traded products – Hemp products
Ceramic metal halide light bulbs – Another wave of cloth/woven book bags
Additives to plastic bags that make them self-destruct in landfills
The soft-cover (young reader's version of "An Inconvenient Truth")
Screen printed manufactures labels on the inside of t-shirts
Pre-paid pin codes for individual bundle components

So 5-minutes Ago
Back packs – Nun chuckers – Graphic Novels
Packets of colored chemicals for flavoring bottled water
Manufactures labels sewn-in on the necks of t-shirts
In-store digital media (that would be those plasma screens popping up everywhere)

What's OUT
Lance Armstrong's rubber yellow bracelets – Rolls of fax paper – CD's
Computer books, and dictionaries, well, and most fiction titles too, (heck--let's just say all things you need to read).

According to: Debbie Harvie, CCR, Director - UBC Bookstore (Vancouver, British Columbia)

What's IN
Greener options on all products – Carry bags made of old pop bottles – Organic cotton and bamboo clothing – Flo-jo flip flops – Gothic logos – Brown and yellow are hot – Off-centre logos on clothing – Philosophy books (really!!) – e-Books

So 5-minutes Ago
White – Pastels – Camouflage – Yoga – Electronic greeting cards

What's OUT
Computer clones – Print advertising! – Black – High heels

According to: Darrell Kane, Manager-General Merchandise Retail Services - University of Waterloo (Waterloo, Ontario)?

What's IN
Digital Display Advertising – Green – Long-fitted female T's – Non-traditional print locations on hoodies and T's – Offering services

So 5-minutes Ago
Crested Flip Flops – Brown
Publisher's including a physical website access code in the textbook
Sweatshop issues (not that they are important but they are not talked about)

What's OUT
Powder blue (unless you are a Tar Heel) – Dictionaries – Those laminated study aids – Maps – 'Selling'

And for a bit of a different twist: How our student customers view the whole 'green' thing. I have no data whatsoever to back this up but it's just a gut feeling:
- Up to 12 months ago: A very niche group
- 12 months to now: An important thing to do for the greater good
- Now: So mainstream that it's hard to tell if a company is genuine or just another marketing scheme.
Discuss or debate, if you so choose.... :) --Darrell

According to: Colleen Olexiuk, General Merchandise Buyer - University of Alberta Bookstore (Edmonton)

What's IN
Jewelry – Silver and gold, big and small. Long necklaces with keys and lockets – Anything Asian (purses, boxes, etc.) – Ladies long, skinny t-shirts – Organic cotton – Fashion watches – Cinch belts – Short shorts – Madras or plaid long shorts for guys – Scarves – Empire waist – Lip-gloss – Vitamin D
Eating chocolate cake over the sink.

So 5-minutes Ago
Picture frames – Anything camouflage – Candles – Big pleated bulky purses – Lipstick
Eating chocolate cake over the sink.

What's OUT
Ladies short cut, baby t-shirts that show the navel (cute while they lasted) – Trucker hats (even in Alberta) – Melton leather bomber jackets – Scrunchies
Eating chocolate cake over the sink.

In the end...
Believe what you will. Perhaps use this info, if you like. But above all, ask yourself, "Can I crank out the 'In / 5-minutes Ago / Out' for my campus community?"

Happy Musing!

Tony Ellis, CAE

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Txt Msg Mktg 4 Cllg Stors :-)

I recently returned from the new NACS conference Innovate. During this program we saw examples of the amazing technology that’s likely to revolutionize our lives in a very few years. As a follow-on, we were challenged to think about how we might need to conduct our business differently in the months and years ahead in order to be remain relevant to our customers.

Jump ahead to the end of the conference and my plane ride home. I’m flipping through the May 2007 STORES magazine from the NRF (have you subscribed to this one yet?) and found a marketing piece on Domino’s text message coupon campaigns aimed at the estimated $55 billion discretionary spending habit of U.S. college students. The notation of 7-30% (!) redemption rates got my attention. The rhetorical question that followed—“How much is it worth to have 5,000 freshman walk into your store…?”—Now that got me thinking.

What is the potential of text message marketing for college stores? How does it all work, anyway? Will people really respond or is the Domino’s example just a ‘bleeding edge’?

Jump ahead a few days…Sunday, July 15. I get 3 text messages throughout the day from one of my favorite TV shows. That’s right. In fact, I have several TV shows that text me throughout the week with updates, teasers, and promotions. I opted in. I read the messages. It works!

So, over the last few days I’ve spent some spare time with Google and have some interesting things to offer:

1. Some of the Nuts-N-Bolts
I talked with Cellit (which offers CouponZap) and learned that their “standard campaign” with 1000 text messages and one “keyword” (i.e., “Text BOOK to 12340” where BOOK is the keyword) would run you just $100/month.

To illustrate—You might run an ad in the campus paper or via e-mail that tells students to text HAT to 56780 to get a coupon for 25% off any hat in the store through a specific date. They would then bring their cell phone to the store and show you the “coupon” to redeem said coupon.

CouponZap allows you to make each coupon unique and track redemption. A myriad of other options are also available to help you do more advanced promotion, branch promotions, and track effectiveness.

Check out the cool online demos and tutorials at

2. Broader Applications
Promo2Cell ( also offers text message marketing and communication services. Their “Education” division is exploring ways that text messages can be used to notify parts or all of the campus community of updates and other announcements. Get a sample of how a campus might use text messages between faculty and students to convey course updates by texting CLASS to 41513.

Broader still…The Daily Texan Online (UT-Austin) reported in Dec 2006 that Mobile Campus was considering teaming with Blackboard to give students access to course information via text messaging. This opens up a whole new world of possibilities!

Text messaging is here to stay
As cell phones are gradually replaced by Blackberries, iPhones, and other smart phones, the current rate of 11 billion text messages sent/month will be quickly surpassed!

More importantly, the respected Pew Internet Life study suggests that Gen Y (ages 18-27) are more than twice as likely to text message than even the next closest generation (Gen X).

As with so many things in retail--and our niche within that arena--text message marketing is something that is on the rise and worth exploring. If you want to try something new and see how it works, my quick exploration seemed to reveal a low-cost and low-risk accessibility to this emerging marketing technology. Part of being relevant and successful in the future relies on our willingness to test the waters.

Thx 4 rdg!

Tony Ellis, CAE

[Photo credit for this post: Megan Shelby, The Daily Texan Online]

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Things that make you go ‘hmmmm’

Inspiration often comes from unlikely places. I suppose that’s part of what makes it ‘inspiration’. Well, actually, I tend to have something more like flashes of excitement about random quotes or statistics that I run across while reading industry publications, trade journals, or retail rags.

Yes, I’m in bad need of hobbies.

That aside…there have been a number things lately that have peeked my interest. I’ve left them smoldering in the back of my mind (or piled on my kitchen table) in hopes that they would combine, combust, and create a robust, flowing entry for The Muse.

Alas, no flames. No eloquent, inspirational narrative to thread them all together into a witty and insightful commentary on campus retail or retail at large.

So, I resort to brain dump. You get a list of random quips that tickled my fancy. A TOP FIVE list of things that made me go “hmmm”.

1. Community and partnerships is good for everyone.
The Association of College Unions International (ACUI) is all about college unions and student activities programs creating partnerships and building community on campus to both support student learning--maximizing their own relevance to the institution along the way. Sounds like something we’ve all been talking about. What relationships and partnerships does your store have going on with these “community builders” on campus? Might be a great way to enhance your connections to students, faculty, and the campus community as a whole.

2. Paint by numbers
A regular installment in the NRF Stores publication lists ‘numbers worth counting’. They are often interesting…sometimes staggering. Sometimes they combine to paint an interesting picture of what’s up in retail. From the June 2007 issue, consider:

- 4 : credit cards carried by the average American
- 13% : Consumers who say the Internet has not improved their in-store shopping experience.
- 22,000 : SKUs of grocery items now offered by
- 251 million : Number of broadband households worldwide.
- $15.73 billion : Estimate of the amount spent on Mother’s Day gifts.

3. You going bananas yet?
Also in a recent Stores magazine—Bananas!

The average American eats 28 pounds of bananas a year. It’s the #1 fruit in the country and a breakfast favorite. Chiquita Brands sold nearly 2.3 billion pounds of bananas in North America last year…mostly in those bunches you grab at the grocery.

But consumer convenience has again ‘inspired’ a market innovation. Enter the Chiquita-to-Go program offering individual bananas in more than 7500 convenience stores in the U.S.

As if the convenience and potential market weren’t enough—Chiquita has designed a P-O-P “box” that’ll just drive you bananas. Why not visit and get some general merchandise to go with?

4. More numbers
Did I tell you how much I LOVE the “Retail Figures” from the NRF (May 2007 Stores). Get a load of these and think about the impact on your business, products you should be considering, or just the sheer brilliance of knowing:

- $6 billion : Size of U.S. natural/organic personal care product market.
- $1.3 billion : Value of organic beverage sales last year.
- 4,000 : Number of retail locations selling smoothies.
- 70%/50% : Women/Men who say they are trying to eat healthier food these days.
- 15% : Individuals who have visited a health clinic inside a retail store.

Bonus Stat!
- 4 minutes: The longest that 80 percent of shoppers will wait in a checkout line before expressing dissatisfaction.

5. What REALLY matters!
No surprise…it’s our people. Data recently compiled by BIGresearch indicates what frustrates shoppers most when browsing stores. The top three?
“Uh, I don’t know.” (Employees don’t know/care: 21%)
“Anyone…Anyone…?” (Understaffed store: 21%)
“That’s not my department.” (Bad customer service: 20%)

So there you have it….
Random thoughts that, sadly enough, have nagged at the back of my brain for weeks now.

Perhaps they will give you pause. Maybe they’ll give you ideas. If not, I promise more inspiration and less rambling next time we meet.

Tony Ellis, CAE

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

New Blog for You!

In our unending effort to inform, delight, and amuse...we link to other blogs that you might wish to follow.

At the bottom of The Retail Muse site, you'll find our meager, but growing, list.

Just added: Omnibus.

The official blog of the ABA, this blog is "a regular update on bookselling, retail, authors, culture, technology, and ... ."


The Retail Muse

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The In’s and Out’s of Future Freshmen

One of the advantages of being a member of NACS is the demographic and trend research we receive from TRU (Teenage Research Unlimited). Those teeny-boppers grow up and go to college to buy tons and tons of stuff from the bookstore!

The latest two trend summaries of teens for Spring 2007 we thought contained a wealth of information to use when considering business and marketing plans for the upcoming academic year.

The first details music and athlete “TRU Scores” (calculated with some top-secret TRU algorithm from those teens who responded that they like music/athletes "Very Much"). And while the lack of Bowie, Dylan, or Rufus is evident, it is interesting to see good ol’ Canadian "rockers" Nickelback in the #2 spot. Check out the ratings of Chili Peppers (11) and Panic! (4), as well. Notable is the increase in Country artists on this list, including cross-over group Rascal Flatts (10).

In terms of the athletes, Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James took the top spot. NBA, NFL, MLB, and a spattering of other sports populate most spots on the list. And if you’ve never heard of MMA (mixed martial arts) and the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championships)…you soon will. This sport is catching on with teens (and others) and several of the popular UFC fighters made the list this year. Before leaving this list, we have to point out that Tony Hawk scores very high (6). Athletics or marketing? You be the judge....

The next summary of note is a teen "What's In /What's Out" list covering fashion, music, technology, etc.

In fashion, “hoodies” continue to rank highest in fashion (92% with girls and 84% according to guys), as well as "college-logo clothes" (68%-girls, 66%-guys). If only we could slap HARVARD on everything. :) Short skirts, flip-flops, and denim shorts (?!) are all high on the list. It’s also worth noting that 31% of guys say “tall high-heeled boots” are in -- hmmm...

Compelling tidbits from the technology list:
- DVDs, Cell phones, and Home Video Games top this list for guys and girls.
- Only 27% (guys) and 20% (girls) think that virtual worlds (e.g., Second Life) are in.
- Podcasting was near the bottom for both genders.

Perhaps the term “Podcasting” confuses consumers into thinking they need an iPod or MAC to use? Virtual worlds are still in the early adopter stage so no surprise there.

There weren’t many surprises on the “Activities” summary. But we wanted to point out that "going to college" is an IN activity for guys (84%) and girls (90%)! Going to concerts scores extremely high and is something to consider when focusing on the "community embraced" campus store. We’re not sure why 22% of girls think backyard wrestling is in, though. Maybe they do that while the guys are shopping for tall high-heeled boots….

Issues such as eating healthy (Cstore!) and caring about the environment/volunteering score high in the issues area. We (read: “Mark”) ignored sports ‘cus hockey scored very low (but get a load of Paintball—70% for guys and 60% for girls!). And for obvious personal reasons we decided to leave you to your own devices re: hairstyles.

We were thrilled to see how Backpacks (69%/65%--guys/girls) (gen. merch. angle) and Bedroom Accessories (58%/87%--guys/girls) score in the "other stuff" category.

And new revenue streams…? A campus Tattoo Parlor might be an interesting revenue angle (tattoos—61%-guys, 63%-girls).

Mark Patten
MacEwan Bookstores

Tony Ellis, CAE

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Information is Power!

Okay. I don’t want to use The Retail Muse to offer shameless plugs for NACS programs and services.


We currently have THREE…FREE…VERY insightful resources on our website that I think you have overlooked, somehow. At least, the website statistics on the download of these items aren’t very robust.

So, I’m disguising my voice, hiding behind the opaque curtain, and issuing a call to action. Click, download, and play…Information is power!

1. “Retail Inspiration: Insight from Student Leaders and Customers” Webcast
Recorded live at CAMEX in Orlando, this audio-video webcast features TRU’s Michael Wood sharing the in’s and out’s from the Fall 2006 TRU® report and a qualitative research project sponsored by the NACS Foundation.


2. “Research in Action: TRU® Impacts on Campus Stores” Webcast
Don’t have time to read all the research and figure out what it means for the college store? In this webcast program, college store experts from the NACS General Merchandise Committee share insights from the Spring 2006 TRU Study report and discuss implications for college stores. They offer suggestions on how to evaluate your current merchandise mix and how determine if you have what today's teens (and entering freshman) are looking for.


3. Brown is the new Black. Orange is the new Brown. Pink is the new Orange.

Where does it stop? Or does it come full circle!?

Color determines mood, inspires action, and evokes emotion. Choosing the right colors makes a difference--for your apparel, gifts, even your store.

So keep track of the next brown, black, and pick with the Pantone Color Forecast reports. Check out the “Pantone Fashion Color Report-Fall 2007” to gain some of their insights into the hottest colors for Fall before you even break out your Speedo!

Oh, and take note…Chili Pepper is the new Red.


Tony Ellis, CAE

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Learning from the Mouse

The Retail Muse welcomes Guest Blogger Pat Krivonak, Education and Development Specialist with NACS.

Pat muses…

Who wouldn’t want to see behind the Disney World show?! Learning tips and tricks from people who can sell millions and millions of rats?! OK, mice. I’m in. I took the trip to Disney World during CAMEX. I saw excellent examples of merchantainment strategies. My favs were…

1. Use the windows to tell a story. Disney creates windows that make potential customers curious enough to walk into the store. Don’t show too much in the windows. But do put higher-priced items near the door (to draw customers in) and lower-priced merchandise away from the doors to draw them in further yet.

2. Notice how the customers enter the store. Which door is used most frequently? (Disney ensured that a particular door would be used most often by installing a Disney character on the roof; he spits on the ground below every minute or so.) What side of the store do customers walk through first? Adjust your merchandise placement and other store environment elements as needed, throughout the day and year.

3. Adapt to the customer’s shopping habits. When it rains at Disney World, ponchos are re-stocked in anticipation of increased unit sales. When a large or heavy item is purchased, it is shipped to the customer’s home.

4. As with any retailer, Disney stores cannot sell what they don’t have on the shelves. So it is key to keep top-selling items in stock. Notably, Disney store employees can tell you the:

a) top selling items in their stores
b) time of day and/or under what conditions they sell the most units for each of the top selling items.

And remember, what sells the most in the morning is not the same as what sells the best in the afternoon or evening. Disney stores take hourly register readings to gauge traffic and discover the most popular products.

5. Hire actors not employees. Disney hires people who can and will play the part of providing a great customer experience. And everyone is expected to be “in character” whenever in a public space.

6. Supervisors at Disney stores spend almost three-quarters of their time on the sales floor--supporting and coaching front line employees. Customers are not in the back room. Moreover, retaining good employees and building store morale hinges on helping employees to be successful.

7. A cornerstone of Disney’s philosophy is the leadership chain. Managers spend almost ¾ of their time supporting and developing their supervisors, who in turn develop good front line people, who in turn provide great customer experiences. For example, Disney asked their employees what they wanted to have in their break rooms and what kind of music they wanted to listen to during their breaks. This allowed management to provide them with what they needed to refresh themselves.

It’s not about selling. It’s about a great experience. Disney continues the theme park experience into the store. Employees are focused on providing a memorable in-store experience and the sales follow. Disney effectively sets its stores apart from competitors selling similar merchandise by providing a genuine, uniquely Disney experience. Disney feels the competitive heat from online businesses and big box retailers like Wal-Mart, too.

If Walt were here what would he tell us? I think he would probably say something like this, “Bring the collegiate experience into the store. Make the in-store experience memorable. Everyone in the store should act as if they are the friendliest, most helpful student assistants in one of the greatest collegiate stores in the world. Make it fun! Always have what the students most often need. Put the most exciting products near the entrance, gradually decreasing to the least expensive and urbane, but don’t forget to keep an eye on it! As for the future, even TomorrowLand has been re-created two times, and we are thinking about doing it again.”

Pat Krivonak

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

One more cup of coffee for the road.

This weekend I was in desperate need for a new coffee maker. A new, workable burst of caffeinated love. And I need it RIGHT NOW before the MORNING COMES and I’m forced to drive without caffeine.

So I went to my nearest home-supply/housewares/lifestyle/autoparts/kitchen-cabinet/leisure/get-my-taxes-done superstore.

After I had made it through the blizzard of confused and chaotic themes and focus (Why can’t these places figure out their core business?) I found the coffee makers in aisle 73.

Shouldn’t be that hard – they were advertising ‘em on the big ol’ street sign for $19.95 as I drove by.

Which is why I came in.

Which proves that price point marketing works.

But enough of the niceties. The whole experience was annoying, frustrating, and surreal…and after I huffed and puffed my way outta the lifestyle big-box purgatory, I thought to myself, “Sheessh is this what it is like to buy textbooks?”

Worried that purchasing a coffee maker was like buying introductory accounting textbooks, I thought a few reminders of the shopping experience for essentials (yes - coffee makers are essentials) are in order:

1. I Need it NOW
Yah, it’s essential. I need one like now and no, I can’t wait for the backorder to arrive. Tomorrow morning comes wayyyy too soon – so now do you understand my hysterical pinched face when you are sold out of the model I need and I really really want you, oh charming, 16 year-old, part-time sales associate with the bad skin and sullen demeanor to pleaseeee go check in the back for me?

When you gonna get more??

No, oh sullen, pimply-faced sales associate, I don’t want to spend $150.00 on a coffee maker that knows my birth sign and brews according to my mood. I’m sure these packaged extras are a wonderful thing but I’m looking for the basic model. Pour water. Add grounds. Press button. Brew. I’m sure the online coffee maker resource and learning videos are a wealth of edutainment; I got it down to a science now. Pour, Grind, Button, and Slurp – it’s pretty straightforward.

Thank you, gum-smacking cashier at register 12. I finally understand your muttering and my arguing that the SHELF TAG was for the model from last week and someone part-time and pimply forgot to change the tag, and now you are smacking your gum in my face and wondering if I’m gonna continue to be a cheapo and want to pay the shelf tag price ($19.95) and not the scan price ($29.95) ‘cus the “scanner -like- doesn’t make mistakes and that’s -like- the price and I can’t override.”

I get the basic coffer maker presence but honestly--chubby oh-too-cheery, middle-aged evening manager-on-duty Mike--I don’t get it. How come the same supplier, model, and features could differ from $19.95 to $29.95? It’s the same freakin’ coffee maker.

“It’s the new edition Mark” sez Mike--licking the remnants of Easter egg from his bottom lip. “…Charcoal is in for 2007 – but it comes with a free 90-day trial to coffeemaker times.”

“Don’t worry, Mark, everyone will expect you to have exactly the same thing as them. It will be exactly what you need to excel in life. It’s an investment aint it? An opportunity to health, harmony, and happiness! And after all, once you’re done with it ….it still has value as a used item provided that ebony doesn’t roar into vogue this fall and it’s all worthless.”

Yah, Mike You’re right. I’ll take it and suck it up. I'll use it all the time. At least for 4 months, and then I'll be back for another one. I’ll keep the receipt though—‘cus you know I just might be able to borrow one from my friend!

Mark Patten
MacEwan Bookstores

(Photo by Chance Agrella;

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Mall at Millennia – Ideas & Innovation

The Retail Muse welcomes Guest Blogger Vicki Wade, Services Coordinator, Office of College Services, Grinnell College.

Vicki muses…

While attending CAMEX 2007, I had the pleasure of participating in the Mall at Millennia learning excursion on Saturday afternoon. I love innovative displays and this Orlando mall did not disappoint. The following is a list of notables I scribbled in my Moleskin journal while perusing the shops:

a. Anthropologie displays books, bowls, and stationery (yes, all together) on rustic, backless, stacked wooden cubes. The cubes have a homey feel to them and are ultra-versatile display units. They are inexpensive too!

b. More and more clothing lines are attaching sandblasted fabric hang-tags to their garments for higher perceived value.

c. “Clothing” stores are incorporating large kitchen bowls, aluminum tubs, and huge baskets into their décor. Not only are these storage solutions unexpected props, but they add touches of color, texture, and humor to the displays.

d. Innovative displays tell a story. For example a group of mannequins dressed in beachwear do not stand alone. You’ll find sand on the floor, a (real) sailboat in the background, maybe even a tattoo on one of the mannequins! One attendee saw a stack of mattresses dangling from a ceiling cable and another stack on the floor below. In between was a bowl of canned peas. This was part of a display centered around the story “The Princess and the Pea”!

e. Large department stores have introduced creative programs and displays to attract youth. Bloomingdales has its own candy store, complete with a child’s eye-level candy-by-the-bulk dispenser. I’ve heard they sponsor weekday storytelling sessions and parents can reserve the area for birthday parties. What a way to draw shoppers into the store! Neiman Marcus ropes off areas of their ladies’ department for designer trunk shows. Department stores have rewarded shoppers with exclusive gifts and samples for many years.

What can we learn from this?

Open your mind to displaying merchandise in creative ways.

First, consider a display based on a childhood story or game. Tell the story through props, but don’t make it too obvious or you risk boredom and redundancy. You want to provide enough of a teaser to draw your shopper in for a closer look. Make sure the story or game is easily recognized by your target audience.

Second, shop hobby or craft stores for inexpensive props or make your own!

Finally, consider a loyalty rewards program for your frequent shoppers and make the participants feel extra special. That way, everyone will want to belong to the “club”.

Vicki J. Wade
Services Coordinator
Office of College Services, Grinnell College
(Photo by Chance Agrella;

Respect the customer...please!

The Retail Muse welcomes Guest Blogger Tom Shay of Profits+Plus Seminars and crowd favorite at CAMEX 2007.

Tom muses…

A personal shopping experience in the last couple of days provides me with good material for the readers of The Retail Muse.

Walking into a store, we were promptly met by a young lady who was bright and cheerful. You might think this is a good thing. However, as soon as we were in the store, she went into her "pitch" that she had developed for the day.

"Here is what is new. Here is the rest of the series of this product. Here is why you should buy it. Here are my testimonials from customers of how much they love it."

There were two glaring errors in her efforts.

The first is that she failed to recognize the "decompression zone". That is, the space and the time a customer first experiences when they enter your store. If the customer is walking in from outdoors, the “DZ” gives their eyes an opportunity to adjust to the indoor lighting. It is the time the customer gains their "bearings”, determines the type of store they have just entered, and what their senses are telling them about the place.

The second error was her pre-determination of where the conversation was going to go. She was intent on telling me about her store. We refer to this as "informational throw-up" or "verbal vomit". It sounds ugly…and it is. It’s an open demonstration of the sales person’s dis-interest in learning from the customer (like what the customer is looking for). I see this type of situation in two common instances - technology sales and “trained” salespeople.

“Verbal vomit” happens in technology sales because there are a lot of features and details to the product. Unfortunately the salespeople do not realize that many customers are not interested in all of that. They just want to ask their questions and find the best solution.

“Info throw-up” also happens when staff members are “trained” instead of educated. Trained sales people are told what to do and what to say. They are not allowed to do any of their own thinking. Compare this to staff that are educated on the finer skills of interacting with customers and engaging the customer in a conversation. These staff members will know the proper steps to greeting and conversing with customers. They will also know to listen first, ask questions to clarify needs, and THEN recommend products to meet the customer’s needs and make a sale.

Tom Shay, Certified Speaking Professional (CSP)
Profits+Plus Seminars

Saturday, March 10, 2007

How do I keep up with trends?

I recently attended the ICBA show in San Antonio, Texas, where I joined the Apparel Institute educational track. One of the session presenters was Dr. David Wolfe, Senior Creative Director at the Doneger Group. He has earned international credentials in the fields of fashion, color, and trend forecasting. His presentation was incredibly enlightening and fun, but it made me wonder…as the age gap grows between me and my teenage customers, how will I keep up with trends?

I remember high school days, college days, and soon after when I concerned myself with my wardrobe and what other people were wearing. I’m a long way from those days, but now I sell to that age group. I know that the stores I frequent are not the stores my customers frequent. I don’t read the same magazines or even watch the same television shows. My son is only 6 so he isn’t helping me out yet, although he did recently ask for a specific kind of shoe. (If anyone is interested I think the Sketchers brand Airators shoe is going to be big with the grade-schoolers this year.)

Since I was flying to Texas to learn about trends, I took advantage of the huge selection of magazines at the airport. I decided to buy ELLE magazine. I concentrated on the advertisements. Actually, I had to--the first 25% of the magazine was advertisements. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for but I looked at colors, patterns, lengths, heights, bags, bags, bags, bags…my gosh, the money they must spend on advertising purses! I was thrilled to see a Diesel jeans ad showing high waisted jeans. I noticed metallic silver and metallic gold fabrics and big jewelry. I wondered how I could ever translate this all into sweatshirts and t-shirts, or if it even mattered.

Without knowing it, I had taken my first step.

When Dr. Wolfe gave his presentation on trends, I saw in his power point, some of the same images I had noticed in ELLE. Another presenter told us that Teen Vogue is the number one magazine for our college-aged girls. During the trade show, I learned that the hottest thing going is the shortened sweatpant worn just below the knee as seen in Victoria’s Secret.

I began to see how important it is for me to cruise through the mall, watching what stores the teens are frequenting and then visiting them myself. That’s what I did the next weekend. Carrying my Lane Bryant shopping bag, I visited Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie and Fitch, and Hollister. I imagined taking my son into these places when he is a teen. I still wasn’t convinced that my Grinnell College students were wearing these things. So I had lunch at the dining hall and watched them walk by. I was amazed to see how many were wearing my stuff!

I think I get it now.

I am not designing the sweatshirt lines--but our vendors are. Our vendors are watching the trends for us and they will help me keep up. I just need to recognize it when I see it. Gone are the days when I look at my vender rep. like he has two heads when he shows me, for instance, wrinkly, stringy fabric appliqués on sweatshirts.

From now on, I’m taking a workday at the mall just before my major buying appointments. Call it “Market Research”.

Cassie Wherry, CSP
Manager, Grinnell College Bookstore

(Photo by Chance Agrella;

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Spring brings color!

Looking for a way to liven up your merchandise this spring? Try color! The March 2007 issue of House & Garden© is a special “Color Trends” issue. Specifically, how to mix bolds with neutrals for impact without scaring those with middle-of-the-road tastes.

These combinations are just for living rooms and boudouires. Their suggestions:
  • Tangerine and Stone/Almond: A dignified dose of sunshine.

  • Kelly, Black, and White (accent with Gold or Yellow—especially if your these are your school colors): High energy and chic.

  • Pink and Brown: Add a bit of ‘mature’ to the girlie tones—a great touch for college women that see themselves as mature beyond their years.

  • Citron and Silver: Both vibrant and glamorous.

  • Purple and Gray: A combination of ‘striking’ and ‘graceful’.

  • Orange and Grays: Steel to charcoal, grays calm “hot” orange for a mature, modern-sophisticate look.

For learn more about the meaning of the primary colors, try Color Wheel Pro—which offers some of the basics at

To learn more about color trends, check out the Pantone color forecast reports linked from the NACS White Papers web area at We currently have the Spring 2007 and Fall 2007 forecasts linked. New reports from Pantone will be linked from this section of the NACS site as they are released.

Tony Ellis, CAE
NACS Director of Education
(Photo by Chance Agrella;

Friday, February 23, 2007

Heathy Habits Mega Trend: A Tidbit from Store Expo 2006

Tony Schiano, President and CEO of Giant Food Stores, offered some interesting points about Health and Wellness while I was at the Store Expo and TREX conferences in New York City in December. He noted that healthy eating, exercise, and so on are NOT just a fad, but a trend that is continuing to take hold.

Unfortunately, barriers exist that keep us (the consumers) from being as healthy as we’d like: Shortage of time, higher costs of healthy eating, and lack of knowledge about products, and so on.

Giant’s research suggests that consumers need simplicity, guidance, and choices that match their needs and desires of leading a healthy lifestyle. As retailers, this means potential for increased success in health-related categories when we:
  • Offer better information.
  • Sort out conflicting information.
  • Provide customers value related to leading a healthy lifestyle (e.g., a promotion that package healthy lifestyle items—a yoga strap with the purchase of a yoga mat).
  • Saving them time.
This trend and the points above suggest that college stores should stock health-related products and foods/snacks. In addition, products and services that you can offer to help customers make faster, better, healthier choices should be benificial to your customers and your bottom line.

If you missed the NACS Campus Marketplace article about other trends and issues of note from the 2006 Store Expo and TREX event, NACS members can check out the CM article at

Tony Ellis, CAE
NACS Director of Education

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Shrinking of America

America is shrinking, downsizing, small sizing, minimalized. Don’t believe me? Believe the reports on Weight gain and the fattening of the population? Think that we are all getting huge and obese? Huh. Go shopping for clothes.

From jeans to jackets to t's to sweats the sizing of clothes has reduced drastically in the last few years. Those teeny lil t’s you see clinging to the hanger have shrunken. I'm sure of it. I confirmed this a few months back when I shopped at Tristan and America. There amongst the racks was the perfect shirt for me, perfect for my weekend and would go amazing with my new form fitted denim. Imagine as I saunter to the change room, large shirt tucked under my arm only to fling it across the change room door demanding an XL. And the perky size zero sales clerk flings back and asks – you want the XXL? We have that too and that might fit you!

Or the Abercrombie visit. Looking for a shirt for my female cousin. Knowing her size and wondering – why oh why do these t’s look like they will only fit 12 year olds?

Or the product in my store, shrinking each season. Smaller and smaller and smaller. Lilipudlian in size. I can only hope that Pete Dougherty and Kate Moss wanna campus sweatshirt.
It’s the style of course and the profits. Why make a small a small when a teen size will do? And of course the styling. All chest hugging, body wrapping, body definition trendiness makes purchasing clothes a definite ego shattering chore. Wait it out, I say. Eventually the baggy sweatshirt will be back. The oversized T will return with a vengeance and all will be well in the world……At least I can go back to wearing a medium again….

Mark Patten
MacEwan Bookstores

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Gap at the end of the road.

Poor “the Gap”. You know the Gap. The store you are your friends used to flock to for yuppie splendor. The creator of the khaki. The height of casual style driving out the boardroom suits for less suits more chino Monday to Friday in the office world. Marketing and advertising to die for. Photography by Annie Leibowitz – and then the ultimate in pop culture status points. The Saturday Night Live sketch with gap girls ordering the customer to “sinch it” with a sneer at the lowly gap newbie.

Fast forward to Fall 2006 and the holiday season and wha happened??? The whole bottom fell out. Sales down 4.3%. Desperate face ads imploring you to get funky – find the seventies – embrace singer Seal. Stores full of merchandise – crammed in the blonde wooden fixtures. Shoved in the t-racks – crumbled by the dressing room all for HALF PRICE – 75% off – CLEARANCE – SALE SALE SALE.

Slamming ANYTHING out the door at discount prices – buy two! Three! Your cousin will need four! Puhllleasseeee buy from us. It was frankly disturbing, unseemly, and desperate.

As January draws to a close the suspicion that all is not well in the house of Gap was confirmed as Goldman Saks was brought in to “explore all options” and presumably put the chain on the chopping block and bring a close to the Yuppie couture chapter of American retail.

So what can we learn from this? Well a few thoughts that come to mind:

Know who you are.
Not too long ago the wheels came off the Gap train when they lost focus. Were they selling to teens? Twenty-somethings? Boomers? Up to the mid-nineties Gap knew who their audience was – once that was lost, retailers loose. Never loose focus of who your customer is. To do so spells disaster and desperate buying with little consistency.

Don’t slice up the pie.
Lets face it. As soon as the Gap started opening Old Navy’s on every street corner flogging fun yet poorly manufactured product in cheap cotton with aging 60’s TV stars imploring you to buy the 9.99 jeans – someone at Gap shoulda wondered what would happen when you slice the market that way. Big surprise – why shop at the Gap when you can walk down the mall and buy the same thing for half the price?

If you don’t know your market – don’t hire a “star”
Gap “jumped the shark” the day they hired Madonna to star in TV ads – who was she appealing to? With her uber-yogisized 40 something bod bouncing on stage that was as likely to appeal to the boomer masses as it was to the teen boys and girls. Similarly, Sarah Jessica Parker was all sex in the city but hardly sexy gap.

You’re only the “It” girl for so long
Sometimes you’re in, and then, for a while, you’re out. Gap forgot this adage and instead of changing with the times stole a page from the Levis operation and just firmly refused to change. An angry, petulant “It” girl for years will bore your customers. You gotta stay with the pulse and with the customer interest. Otherwise, you’re the only Girl not going to the prom.

A Final thought. Last week the Tower City Gap in Cleveland, OH announced it is closing and will be filled by Forever 21. Another “It” girl is in the market – and she’s stealing Gap’s scepter... .

Mark Patten
MacEwan Bookstores

Friday, February 02, 2007

Finding Opportunities in the Most Obvious Places

I’m standing in Times Square and have to go the restroom. Normally, this would be worse than being three beers into a Brown’s game and stuck in the center of a row of screaming fans! But not so now that someone matched a critical need of the people (biology breaks in Times Square) with their core business (your bathroom “business”).

Charmin Restrooms—That’s right. I was in awe. I marveled at the two-story window graphics of the Charmin logo and “bears”. A great example of a brand that saw a need and filled it with a service that is tied to their core product and message. Not to mention the resulting goodwill and positive, prominent exposure. Still not convinced that this was a hit? I Googled “Charmin bathrooms in Times Square” and got 24,100 result returns—including a YouTube video of the experience so you can check it out for yourself:

The Charmin Public Restrooms are in the heart of Times Square, have a staff person to greet you on the way in, offer seating and entertainment opportunities, and provide ample, clean, and FREE restrooms. Oh, and did I mention that there’s plenty of advertising of their products? This was so good, I forgot all about the Naked Cowboy singing and signing autographs on the island of 7th and Broadway!

Tony Ellis, CAE

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Welcome to “The Retail Muse”

Welcome to “The Retail Muse”—the official blog of the NACS General Merchandise Committee.

A select team of contributors will use this venue to post information, ideas, effective practices, and commentary on retail trends, hot new products, merchandising tips, and other topics of interest to general merchandise gurus from the collegiate retail industry.

If you are new to blogs—think of this as an online journal. Each entry is called a “post”. All posts are archived and may be searched and retrieved at any time. In addition, this “journal” allows YOU to submit “comments” in response to each post—creating additional idea-sharing.

To enter a comment on a post, click on the “Post a Comment” or "Comments" link, type your comment, fill in the “Word Verification” (for Blog security), choose an identity for your comment, and click the “Publish Your Comment” button. It will probably be easiest for you to use the “Anonymous” Identity button. Just be sure to put your name, title, and store/organization (and e-mail address, if you like) in the body of your post. Otherwise, we will not know who you are!

All comments are moderated and must be reviewed and approved for posting before they will appear online (similar to the NACS e-mail discussion lists).

Previous posts and archives are linked in the left margin. The search function field is at the top left corner. To search the archives faster, take note of the "Labels" for each post at the bottom right-hand corner. We will use various labels for different types of posts (i.e., trends, commentary) and topic (i.e., fashion, promotions).

The Retail Muse will have new posts every 6-10 days…so bookmark it and check back regularly. Watch the NACS CM e-newsletter for occasional announcements of new content, as well.

We hope you will engage in this new online community.

Yours in retail….

The Retail Muse.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Cassie's Introduction

Here we have it. The General Merchandise Blog. Blog? I’ve heard the word. I know it is on the computer. I’ve heard my fellow 40ish year old moms talking about their teenagers “blogging” and trying to keep them away from it. I think they were talking about “”. I just had to ask one of my student staff the name. I thought it was “”. Oh! She said there is “”. No wonder I’m confused. I figure a lot of you will be confused too or a little unsure about this format. Now that I’m getting the hang of it, I’m pretty excited about being a contributor and catching up with the teenagers. For us, this blog is all business……fun business.

I am the manager of the Grinnell College Bookstore in the little rural Iowa town of Grinnell. I have been at this bookstore for over 18 years. I started in retail at a very young age when my mom joined a business to run the toy department. It was a family oriented business so they allowed me to join her after school. Before long they discovered how many grandmothers wanted my opinion! Soon, I was traveling with my mom to toy shows. I graduated from Iowa State University with a BS in Business Administration. I came here in 1988 after a stint in mall retail and before that a coming-of-age period in the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone where I actually learned a lot about resort retail. I was really there to be free and hike the wilderness.

That’s the abbreviated map that brings me to this wonderful, old, liberal arts school of 1500 traditionally aged, residential students from all over the United States and the world. In future blog posts, I want to tell you about our venture into non-imprinted gifts. I think this is a growth area for small stores like mine. I found out it is easy for a small store to do.

By the way, don’t expect my writing to be of the caliber to receive a prize. I am not a writer. I’m just talking here.

Cassie Wherry, CSP
Manager, Grinnell College Bookstore

Mark Patten / Introduction

Hello. I manage a college store. Actually 5 stores in a university located in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Land of the West Edmonton Mall, Hockey, snow, and oil workers. We’re hardy and a bit hip. I recently got my 10-year watch here at MacEwan. Which I wear ‘cus the battery on my other watch died and I’m too lazy to get it fixed. Before the watch, I worked at another college store in windy, “brokeback mountain” country. They never gave me a watch.

I love the world of retail. It wasn’t my plan, but the need for public policy consultants is slim and rarely rewarding.

I do fun things too.
- Avoiding my Mother’s advice to never trust an animal bigger than my head, I love my newfie / Lab, 80-pound canine. He is much bigger than my head but in a dufus, big-dog sorta way.
- I have two cats – One I picked up in a parking lot and another I have had for years that is curiously and dangerously closing in on the bigger than head rule.
- I love crap TV. – and really who doesn’t? Right now I am addicted to American Idol, always watch Survivor and Amazing Race and for a true train wreck you can’t miss the “Flavour of Love” dating show. For real fun I watch CNN and MSNBC and mutter to myself.
- My favorite music includes Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Mike Oldfield, Green Day, Pink Floyd, Scissor Sisters, Artic Monkeys, Rufus Wainwright, Franz Ferdinand, and on and on.
- My fav’ books include anything by Dave Eggers, “A Man” by Oriana Fallaci, and Don Quixote by Cervantes. I read all sorts of magazines for fun and profit.
- I’m available work days and most evenings if you know how to text message.
- Weekends I nap.

Enjoy the musings… .

Mark Patten
MacEwan Bookstores

Tony's Introduction

Hi, all. I'm Tony Ellis, NACS Director of Education. I work with the General Merchandise Committee and have a passion for retail. I'm going to serve as both a contributor to and administrator of The Retail Muse.

I tend to be a 50,000-foot kind of thinker. So many of my posts will likely be about trends and issues that are emerging in general retail. I'll try to always make that "college store connection," but feel free to post your comments to help make those connnections, as well.

My retail experience includes front-line and management in a general apparel store (think Gap, Old Navy, Express), bookstores, and several specialty retailers. I look forward to using this new medium to explore general merchandise in collegiate retail.

Tony Ellis, CAE
NACS Director of Education