Friday, December 05, 2008

The Little Guy Fights Back

One of my staff returned from lunch yesterday and reported that the local Quizno’s was “boycotting” the credit card companies that day due to an increase in fees. They were offering a 5% discount all day if you paid with cash.

Who says we can't each make a difference?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Social Technographics -- A Monday Morning Vocabulary Lesson

Facebook, Blogs, Wikis, My Space, Twitter, Delicious, Linked In....what are all these things people are talking about?

Social networking can be defined, generally, as online/web applications that allow people to connect to people in collaborative and social ways to share information and build networks.

For retailers, social networking offers new ways to connect to customers (how many "fans" does your store's Facebook page have?) and to tap into the peer-to-peer communications and promotional opportunities occurring on the web today.

But where do you start? Learning about the "social technographics" of your customers might be it! Social technographics are like demographics for social networking online.

Groundswell offers a great online tool to allow you to find out a bit more about Technographics of groups by age, country, and gender.

Based on their research data, they will give you the percent of their survey repondents that "rank" on six scales:

1. Creators: Those the publish content (blogs, YouTube, etc.) online. (Find Creators in your student population to help with you store's Facebook page!)

2. Critics: Those that comment on blogs and post ratings/reviews to products and services.

3. Collectors: Use RSS feeds to follow many blogs and "tag" websites (Delicious) and people (such as in Facebook).

4. Joiners: Use social networking sites (such as Linked In).

5. Spectators: Read blogs, watch vidoes on YouTube, listen to podcasts, etc.

6. Inactives: Are not active in social networking/social media activities.

Checking out the Groundswell tool for 18-24 yo US folks of both genders, you see that many more of them are Joiners and Spectators versus Creators and Collectors. As you review this information and consider how your store might get into social networking/media use, this insight might help you determine where to start and what activities to offer your customers.

Oh, and for the Collectors reading this, be sure to sign up for the RSS feed of The Retail Muse! :-)

Tony Ellis, CAE

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Online Display & Merchandising Guide

Looking for a great resource on visual display, lighting, fixtures, and merchandising? You're GOT to check out the "Display & Merchandising Guide" hosted online by George Little Management, LLC.

GLM produces several merchandise shows in the U.S. and offers the guide as a resource to one and all. The information in this online resource could be used as a refresher, as staff education tool, and a reference guide for projects.

I'm adding the link to this resource to the Blogs section of The Retail Muse. Even though it's not a Blog, this will make it easy for you to find it in the future, if needed.


--The Retail Muse

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Green on Display

Now I now that "green" is here to stay and that we are going to be able to make green choices across the board (and not just "green wash" or be kind of green/look green).

Why? Greneker Solutions ( now offers Soy Systems--a line of soy mannequins and forms introduced ealier this year.

Now retailers that have made a commitment to being green can choose to put their products on something green, too.

The Retail Muse

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Keeping up with the Jones

Among the many magazines from our and related industries, I enjoy flipping through Convenience Store News (published by the "other" NACS).

The October 3, 2008 issue has a Cover Story series of articles on "The Winds of Change" -- each piece addressing changes impacting the convenience store industry and how c-stores can address them.

As I've often said, there's many things that we can learn by looking to sister industries. What caught my eye? A 2/3-page inset article on how c-stores can improve their competitive position as "small box grocery stores" continue to pop up. Audience aside, the pointers offered are well suited for college stores trying to stave off competition of all sorts, as well.

The suggestions (with my commentary) were:

1. Visit new stores. Get out and shop your competition--college stores and other retailers that your customers shop. What do they stock, how do the present it, and what shopping experience are they offering?

2. Be fast followers. You don't have to be the leader of the pack--the risk taker. But you DO have to be up on what's expected and quick to adjust your products and practices.

3. Do service when you do fresh. For the c-stores this was focused on produce, etc. But their point was still relevant--do pricing and labeling right becuase it comes back to your customer as a important part of their shopping experience.

4. Get cleaner, lighter, brighter, and safer to be more female-friendly. Do I have to remind you that women spend more than men in our line of business?

5. Lead in prices on key items. This one is sometimes difficult depending on the competitor. But when you can, size up the categories that overlap with your competitor and lower margins. Resist giving away margin dollars unnecessarily in other areas, though. In our industry, there are many categories where it will NOT pay to try and be the price leader--that is, we cannot compete on price. So consider this one carefully.

6. Redefine convenience to differentiate. Not just convenience, but all aspects of your business. What needs to change in order to remain relevant, competitive, and successful?

7. See how customers accept Tesco's self-service checkouts. Tesco is integrating some new innovations into the c-store arena. The college store version of this? "Watch closely how e-readers, online sales, digital course materials, and other innovations playout and continue to stay educated and ready to adjust your business as needed."

Good ideas from a sister industry that's facing some tough competition. And I'll leave you with their final thought in this nice little piece:

"...stick close to your core consumers and core capabilities."

The Retail Muse

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Hot Top Retailers

The National Retail Federation (NRF) unleashed a Hot 100 Retailers report in its August 2008 issue. If I'd not been travel so much the last few months, I'd have shared some of this juice with you earlier!

The Tweens and Teens segment sales rose more than 13% in 2007--some due to store openings rather than operations or acquisitions. Most of the top spots in this category were occupied by usual suspects: Urban Outfitters (2), Aeropostale (3), The Buckle (4), Abercrombie & Fitch (6), and American Eagle Outfitters (7). The top spot went to a name that might be new to you and worth checking out: Zumiez. This mall-based skate/snow outfitter is online at and is sure to be setting some fashion trends in the skater genre and with those that want follow this popular look.

Obviously I share these retailers to urge you to check them out. See what they are selling, how they are merchandising, and what they offer in both store and online experience.

Other notables from the report include:
- American Apparel went from a 2006 loss to a healthy level of earnings in 2007. This was mostly a bookkeeping fix. The company actually had a 35.8% sales gain in 2007--maintaining its outlaw image and near-soft-porn promo angle.
- GameStop has seen a 285% revenue growth from 2004 to 2007. Note to college stores--gaming is STILL HOT!
- In the Sandwich/Beverage category, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread topped the list with 31.9 and 28.7% sales growth respectively. Read--consumers like quality, choice, personalized/customized products, and healthy eating.

Finally, it's worth noting the #1 retailer on the NRF list of Hot 100 Retailers--CVS. Yes, that corner drug store that some swear is in a race with Walgreens to overtake the entire planet! If you've not been in a CVS lately, check one out. If you can find a new concept store, even better. This retailer is turning the corner drug store into one of the fastest, easiest, and profitable shopping experiences around.

All for now!

--The Retail Muse

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Display Supplies

Looking for a source for display supplies (or inspiration)? Try Rose Brand at

Thursday, August 28, 2008

It’s All About Placement

Getting effective exposure for your business today is difficult. Cutting through the noise of marketing messages and rising costs for starters…not to mention trying to find even the tiniest space that doesn’t already have a logo on it.

Today, however, I saw something new. From one of the fastest growing internet businesses of recent years, not surprisingly--Zappos Shoes ( Thanks to the TSA regulations we all have to shuffle through security check-point lines—coughing up our metals, liquids, fingernail files, laptops, a bit of our dignity…and our shoes.

And there’s magic moment for Zappos. You go to put your valuables into one (or three) of those plastic bins—attention sharpened by adrenaline (from the flight, the security maze, or the Starbucks)—and you are met with a creative and colorful promo for Zappos. What a great idea. New real estate in and virtually promo-message-less space. And I’m sure they got a great deal—I don’t really see the TSA plastic bin folks as the most knowledgeable negotiators of ad space pricing.

So this makes me wonder what new promotional real estate is available for college stores on campus or around town. What about the baskets or bins at campus or local libraries? Or perhaps a joint venture with these organizations for bags. The messaging could focus on books and reading—what we have in common. What about the welcome carpets in specific campus buildings? I could even envision the luggage carts of campus or community hotels and residence halls…if you use the right message and your store logo in an appropriate way.

With all the promo noise in our world. It’s going to take laser targeting and creation of whole new opportunities (think Blue Ocean Strategy) to get our messages across to our customers. Zappos came up with a great idea. What opportunities are waiting out there for your store?

Tony Ellis, CAE

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Create Your Own… .

The advertising marketplace is all a flutter this week as The Gap brings back some heavy duty advertising for the fall after a 2008 ad hiatus. Instead of the usual Gap marketing onslaught of high dollar big name entertainers in a pair of khakis, Gap has chosen more niche focused musicians, actors and celebrities to anchor the new “create your own…” campaign.

With visuals in relaxed black and white visuals and strong GAP graphical statements the new campaign is in stark contrast to the Madonna electric disco ball feel of past campaigns.

All of this got me to thinking that there is a reason Gap chose these slightly recognizable faces. They are all early adopters and trend setters and what better way to get customers in the store than suggesting that you too could be a trend setter?

My first thought for the campus store was how about bringing this concept to the campus community? Find some early adopter trendite student browsing the aisles of your store this fall. Offer em a chance of Campus fame and fortune and before they change their mind dress them up in some new campus wear and letting them loose with the campus photographer.

You’re very own campus ad focusing on your store’s mix and match selection, individual expression and recognizable campus faces.

Someone should try this – At least to prove me wrong.

Mark Patten

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Fun Time Saver for Rush

Just in case you need something to help save some time during Rush...or just a quick laugh.

--The Retail Muse

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Summer, Festivals, and Clever Ideas

I just love festivals--music, art, and food festivals to be specific.

So summer is a wonderful time for me. Many Saturdays are spent wandering up and down canopied aisles at one of the hundreds of community festivals that pop up during the few warms months in Cleveland like dandilions in my lawn.

And, as usual, I picked up some interesting product and display ideas that I thought worthy of sharing with you. The following are from a local arts and music festival held a few weeks ago.

Local retailer Luxe Goods ( offers jewelry and other cool accessories for hip chicks. The purse (left) is made out of clear plastic with beer bottle carriers cut up and used as the artwork. They also had the clever earring displays (right) made out of old LPs. The challenge would be to find LPs!

A little further down and I found another clever jewelry fixture. The natural wood stump display (left) really accentuated the artisan's wood-bead jewelry nicely.

And another artisan had some unique window vases (right) that I could see selling nicely to female resident hall students and sorority house residents.

Finally, Mary Juhasz, of burnin beads/artglass jewelry ( had some fun little pins. The GrumBuster (below) would surely be a great seller during mid-terms, finals, and other times in students' lives!

I'm sure you check out similar events in your own area. What a fun way to gain new ideas and discuss potential partnerships with local artists and others for unique new products.

Sadly, summer is quickly coming to a close. I have not hit near as many festivals this year as I'd like. I do have an important one coming up this weekend. The Burning River Festival is a put on by Cleveland's very own Great Lakes Brewery and is a full day of beer tasting and socializing.

Okay, perhaps not the best place to get ideas for college stores, but I'll let you know if I find anything!

Tony Ellis, CAE

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Mass Market of One

"Mass customization"

This is not a new term or idea to anyone that has been following retail trends for the last decade or created their personal, customized tennis shoe, neck tie, rugby shirt, automobile, ....

Our customers a now accustomed to being able to make their own version of just about anything (known to some trend-watchers as "customer co-creation"). But how do college stores keep up with that kind of expectation?

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Check out to learn how you can create your own custom products in minutes and order without any minimum quantity.

Why, you could use this to get those 6 imprinted tees that the "Men's League of Chess and Scuba Affectionados" wants. ;-)

--The Retail Muse

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Surgical Learning and Upselling

I was recently reading an article in Chief Learning Officer magazine ( about Proctor & Gamble's new employee training method that focuses on quickly addressing the current, necessary educational need. They call this practice Surgical Learning and base the concept on cutting away exhaustive, detailed accounts about new topics and surgically choosing only the content needed for a quick and effective training session--usually "on the fly".

What a wonderful concept for our industry! Quick, easy, on-the-job and just-in-time training on relevant and critical skills and topics.

So where do you find content of this kind? Anywhere! Everywhere!

A colleague forwarded me something just today that is perfect for college stores and as an example of content perfect for surgical learning.

Check out the information, step-by-step process outline, and You Tube video (!) on "Upselling" at ("Inspired talks by the world's greatest thinkers and doers") is another great source for short, educational videos you could use with your staff, during store meetings, or on the fly for quick learning moments.

The educator in me loves this. It really IS all about continuous learning!

Tony Ellis, CAE

Friday, July 25, 2008

Seeing is Believing

Insight into what your customer is shopping for, buying, and not buying is like an ace up your sleeve.

Problem is, shoppers rarely tell you what they really buy and don’t buy when you ask them in focus groups and interviews. In fact, research has shown that they often tell you what they think YOU want to hear and actually do the opposite when they are actually shopping.

But I learned a clever way to get the real story not long ago…while talking to one of your college store colleagues.

It’s a simple, Saturday afternoon exercise:

1. Request/Sign for $40-60 from petty cash.

2. Go to the local mall or shopping center—preferably one with at least a few of the hot retail brands for our primary customer segment (e.g., Hot Topic, Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, Old Navy, and/or American Eagle).

3. Identify a student-ish shopper that has shopping bags (has completed purchases).

4. Offer them $20 to review what they purchased, from where, and why. (A short, polished intro of who you are might lessen the shock-factor in their reaction.) :-)

5. Repeat 1-2 times.

Go get ‘em!

--The Retail Muse

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Boring no more revisited

Hotel gift shops are probably the grimmest retail experience of them all. Cheap and over-priced souvenirs gathering dust amongst threadbare carpet and sad mass-market paperbacks and alka seltzer packages does not make for a rewarding shopping experience.

At the Gladstone Hotel ( in Toronto (Ontario) the experience is totally different and is an amalgam of carefully chosen art and design souvenir items that range from the sedate Maple Cookie Pin to the Limited edition “urban archeology” collection superimposing images of architecture onto reclaimed discarded bricks from Toronto’s landfills.

Not to be outdone with just a simple trendy gift store, the Gladstone has just launched their web site The site requires either Safari or Firefox web browser, but is worth going through the download and install of either browser. The site is simple, powerful, and effective. Imagine a campus store using this approach to sell to summer conference and visitor business.

And don’t forget to check out the recycled laptop sleeve:

Mark Patten

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Getting to Know You. Getting Know All About You....

Knowing who your customers is the food of champions for retailers. Not just who comes in to buy "this or that" or only when they HAVE to.

No, I'm talking about the customers that come in because they like your store, what you sell, who you are, what you represent, and so on. These are the customers that you want to get to know VERY well. Why? So you can sell them even more stuff, of course!

One of the ways to do this is to run a contest or giveaway. Contest entry forms allow you to collect name and contact information for those that enter. Typically, folks that enter are going to be customers that are motivated (to fill out the entry thingy), trusting of you (that there will be a "grand prize winner"), and interested in whatever the focus of the contest is (activity, product giveaway, etc.).

I ran across an interesting contest the other day at my local public library. (You knew there was something that prompted this post!)

The Cleveland Public Library System is running an Adult Summer Reading Club event with a theme of "Get an Inside Look". Here's how it works:

1. Read 3 books or listen to 3 audio books between June 9-August 9. (Motivates action within a specific time frame)

2. Write the Title and Author of the three books on the entry form. (They learn what books I'm into reading)

3. Indicate your top 3 choices for an "Inside Look" tour. (They learn more about my interests)

4. Complete name, address, contact info, and library branch. (They find out who I am, where I'm using their services, etc.)

5. Drop off entry form and cross fingers!

They have partnered with some local Cleveland businesses and such to offer some really cool "Inside Look" tours, among them:
- Cleveland Browns Stadium
- Playhouse Square (our historical, multi-venue theater complex)
- Progressive Field--Home of the Cleveland Indians)
- Severance Hall--Home of the Cleveland Orchestra
- FBI Building

How easy would this be to replicate on your campus? Tours of the stadium, concert hall, or other community landmarks. You could focus this kind of contest or promotion about purchases, used textbook buyback, or any other activity that you want to encourage or motivate.

Contest are a fun way to interact, learn about, and reward your customers. And back to school might be the perfect time to try one out!

Tony Ellis, CAE

Sunday, June 29, 2008

If it's FREE, it's me.

Looking for a cheap (even FREE) way to promote your next store event, new hours, buyback promotion, or author signing?

Try This web-based printing company offers free (yes, free) business cards and very inexpensive postcards, tee shirts, and other items. Sometimes they run free offers on postcards and such, too.

Here's the deal. You can get 250 business cards printed in full color using your choice of about 45 stock designs. Choose a design that floats your boat, use the text entry fields for the "business card" for the text you need to use for your event. The business model is based on upgrades to items they offer for free and the other items that they sell.

See the screen shot of the sample I mocked up on their site earlier today (click on the image for the large version). I went about it as if I was going to host a Poetry Slam event at the store. You could get the cards printed and sent to you and then use them at your registers and other places to hand out to customers.

Not a bad bit of promotion...considering it's free!

Tony Ellis, CAE

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Make 'em try it!

A younger friend of mine works at Old Navy. Since he's in their target audience, he (and other employees) are great judges of the styles, colors, prints, and fit of the clothing that Old Navy carries.

Yesterday he was grumping about having to try on clothes all day at work.

"What?!" I asked.

He replied by explaning that Old Navy is doing a company-wide evaluation of new styles that they just released to their stores. They have asked that every store ask a group of employees (in the target demographic, of course) try on the clothes in the new line and provide feedback to management. That feedback will be sent in, consolidated with other stores, and result in some outstanding information for Old Navy merchandise planners and buyers.

So you know what's coming next... .
- Do you have your student employees try on your new fashions?
- Do you involved your student employeers and customers in reviewing new styles in the vendor catalogs?
- Do you take students along to CAMEX and other buying events?

Just how involved are your student customers in your merchandise selection, planning, and evaluation?

If you want to meet their needs, you should start by talking to them.

If you want to engage them as customers...engage them as partners in the process!

Tony Ellis, CAE

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Picture’s Worth A 1,000 Visits

Retail is becoming more and more about providing engagement, entertainment, and memories. That notion has been around for years now and continues to gain traction.

Well, coming home from a business trip the other day I spotted a new “ad” for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Yes, Cleveland (OH) is the home of the Rock Hall—even though NYC always gets the limelight of the induction…but I digress.

This new wall-sized (think window display in your store) is set up to allow you to take your picture and look as if you're at the microphone in front of the Rock Hall and thousands of screaming fans. See the pic--click on it to enlarge.

I know it's not the best picture, but there were some little kids lining up for a pic of their own and I didn’t want to look like some kind of pervert stopping to take their picture. Besides, I took the picture on the fly so as not to delay claiming my luggage and getting home! :-) Still, you can tell that by positioning your camera just right, you get a fun souvenir pic!I’m not sure how easily this might transfer into the college store. But with today’s poster makers and fabric screen-printing—I could see some fun applications:
- Get in the Game (for big game days)
- Graduation?
- Pics with the Mascot for a spirit display?

Come on…you can come up with something! I’m just here to muse….

Tony Ellis, CAE

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Priority: Retail!

The NACS Education Committee and Board of Trustees both met for their summer meetings in the last few weeks.

In separate, but related, exercises to update and establish strategic direction, both groups agreed that Retailing should be a strategic focus for programs and information sharing from NACS to the membership during the coming years.

Speficially, they various discussions suggested the following:
- Understanding the student customer.
- Analyzing and implementing research on retail trends, etc.
- Staying abreast of retail best practices.
- Identifying new products and services to offer.
- Offering premiere customer service.
- Understanding and communicating the store's value contribution to the campus/communcation (a form of marketing and branding, if you will).

So, you can only imagine that my mind is spinning with ideas and excitement about all the things there will be to muse about this year.

The Retail Muse

Friday, June 20, 2008

Product Watch ~

Once again, David Crass, Associate Director of The University of Arizona BookStores, chimes in on the Muse to share a hot product.

This time, David pitches the entire category of non-emblematic, fashion-forward clothing as "Very successful!"

Thanks David!

The Retail Muse

Monday, June 16, 2008

It's all in a name... .

The focus on creating an experience and unique environments in retail continues. So much so that the National Association of Store Fixture Manufacturers (NASFM) is now the Association for Retail Environments (A.R.E.). Yes...there's an association for everything!

If you're in the market for fixtures, consider checking out this month's VM&SD magazine--The Fixture Issue. If you don't subscribe or have access, they're online at Subscribe online at

The Retail Muse

Friday, June 13, 2008

Boring no more.

How many front page web site have you glanced at this year? Hundreds? Thousands? Do you remember any of them? Usually boring lists of text in 8-point font and endless clickable links or, worse yet, obnoxious pop-up flash ads vibrating on your screen.

While many mainstream retailers have tried to make their sites a little bit more interesting with cool graphics and slick transitions, it seems like it has all been done before and, more often that not, I bet you’re like me and scramble to click the little box at the bottom letting you “Skip Ad.”

But wait – here’s a site that is fun, clever, smart and just makes you smile. Allow for it to load up when you go to

Hemo ( is a Dutch Department store with over 150 stores in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, and Germany. They have been in business since 1926. Watching and interacting with the front page I couldn’t help but notice that no matter how boring a tea kettle or garbage can (or textbook!) is, adding some fun and play to the product makes it that much more appealing.

Mark Patten

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Keeping Promises

In today's retail environment, your success is much more about the relationship you have with your customer--fulfilling your brand promise--than the items you sell. Let's face it, they can get many of the things you sell from various other sources.

The first step to establishing an open and honest relationship with your customer is to clearly communicate your value proposition, brand promise, or MISSION to them.

"Don't have a mission statement," you say? Get one! Go to the Business section of your Trade Department or textbook area RIGHT NOW and find a book that can help you learn about vision and missions for organizations and get busy drafting one for you store!

When you're finished, follow the lead of your colleagues at the New Mexico State University Bookstore (among others) and post your mission statement in a prominent place for all to see. At the NMSU store, they put it right at the entrance. You can see the sign on the pillar just below and to the right of the store's main sign in the image below.

It’s a simple thing that goes a long way in today’s ultra-competitive retail fight for customers and their loyalty.

Tony Ellis, CAE

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Flops Remain Hot!

Here's a quick hot product tip for you: Havaianas!

David Crass, associate director at The University of Arizona BookStores and chair of the NACS Retail Edge committee, says these things are a "huge success."

Check 'em out at

He's on his THIRD order in only TWO months!

--The Retail Muse

Monday, May 05, 2008

I Found a Latte to Talk About

I love TJ Maxx. Even more...I love TJ Maxx/Homegoods and a venti latte! Mmmmmmm....

But I digress.

I was indulging myself the other day--latte in hand--strolling through my local TJ Maxx and More (some of you may have a full-blown Home Goods or a Marshall's or, for our friends to the north, a Winners, and the list goes on).

Anyway. TJ Maxx and More has more of the home decor stuff. That's what I like. Lamps. "Set-abouts." "Dust collectors." Great fun to see what you can find in these stores that, quite frankly, are all about "the hunt".

Well, I was walking along, rounded a corner, and saw something that completely took me aback. A full-sized, black wire body frame on a stand...of the classic type. Check out the pic. It's the only way I could do it justice. As a matter of fact, I'm kind of shocked that store management didn't come and ask me what I was snapping all the pictures of. It took quite a few to get one that I liked.

The first thing that came to my mind was, "Every store needs one of these. This is awesome! Think of what you could do with this to merchandise with?!" As a matter of fact, I'm actually a day late and a loonie short. One of YOUR Canadian colleagues already did this one up with a white wire frame. Check out some of the cool things done by Colleen Olexiuk and her colleagues at the University of Alberta Bookstore. Colleen is a member of the NACS Retail Edge Committee, so she's supposed to be "edgy" and I'm allowed to swipe and share her ideas! :-)

I know, you're saying, "We don't have the $100+ to throw down for that awesome wire form" or "We don't have space or enough product to fill up something like that." Well, guess what I saw next? Yep, mini-me's.

These little beauties would be perfect for bracelets, watches, necklaces, rings, etc. That IS what they're made for, after all.

So what does all this mean? Why am I taking time away from my precious collection of DVR'd TV to blog about this? You know me...there's a list coming at ya!

1. Get out of your store! It's a classic, and more true that ever. You never know when or where you will find that next inspiration or awesome new prop for your store. So get out and about and see what comes your way.

2. Surprise and delight your customers--even in small ways. It doesn't take much, sometimes, to create an engaging moment for your customer. I know I was high on my latte, but if it stopped me in my tracks, it might just do the same for your folks.

3. Try something different. Don't we all just beg for stores, even our favorites, to give us a little something different now and then? You may not be able to do it all the time. You may not be able to commit a lot of space. But try some new tricks. Allow yourself to play--as see if your customers don't respond in kind.

That's it for this time. Thanks a latte for reading.

Tony Ellis, CAE

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Awaiting the Rebates

The squeeze is on in our economy and the consumers are feeling it.

The government hopes that the economic stimulus program will encourage consumers to spend, spend, spend.

According to a recent NRF/BIG research study, consumers plan to spend one third of their $600-$1200 rebate checks on necessities/groceries. While this puts a slight damper on things for college stores, the study also suggests that $3.9 billion will go to apparel, $3.7 billion to electronics, and $2.1 billion on "splurge/impulse" items--all things that most college stores carry in some form or another.

May is a time of extra cash in pockets (buyback) and high emotions (end of term and graduation). It's a time when stores should be ready for inpulse purchases of gifts, keepsakes, insignia, and other general merchandise. The pending rebates should only enhance this situation.

So you should be getting ready to sell, sell, sell!

Tony Ellis, CAE

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Some Things to Think About

A few days ago I posted about Steven Little's book. Another tip of his (to better understand your market and business) is to subscribe to as many magazines as you can in order to scan your environment, your customer's world, your industry, etc.

I read a lot of magazines. Well, skim a lot, reading parts. And in the last few days I've run across some interesting statements and bits of content that got me thinking about the work of college stores. Just some things to think about:

-- Innovation is the pre-requisite for sustained growth.

-- Price only becomes an issue if you don't win loyalty on experience and/or product.

-- Retail Experience means nothing if it's not unique.

-- Consider these examples of "retail purpose in action":
- Communicating an iconic brand: Target
- Celebrating customer service: Nordstrom
- Creating a proprietary language to tell the business' story: Starbucks
- Delivering a exciting product: Nike

Gleaning these statements from my casual skimming of 3-4 magazines this weekend told me several things:

1) Steven is right. We should all increase the scope of our reading to stay better informed about our industry, our businesses, our customers, etc.

2) We don't have to commit hours and hours to reading in order to find thought-provoking ideas and tidbits that can spark new ideas for our personal and professional lives.

3) Inspiring ideas and engaging concepts don't always come from industry publications. I'm not knocking industry publications. But rather encouraging you to open your mind to new sources of information and inspiration.

So if you've been wondering how to justify that subscription of Simple Life, Entertainment Weekly, or Popular you go!

Tony Ellis, CAE

Friday, April 25, 2008

Building the Business from the Basics

In my role at NACS HQ I solicit, review, and select (or not) professional speakers for CAMEX and a few other programs. As you might guess, I get a LOT of invitations to read books, consider presenters, and otherwise contemplate hiring professional speakers.

Today I picked up Steven Little's book, The 7 Irrefutable Rules of Small Business Growth (Wiley, 2005). I saw Steven speak at a conference last year and have him on the "potential" list for CAMEX 2009 in Anaheim. After cruising through the first 4 chapters of his book--which reminded me of many things from his presentation--I'd have to say you might just see this fellow on one of our stages next March.

I would recommend the book. Easy read and good content. And of course, I thought..."This is a blog post."

So, I'm here to share two teasers with The Muse crowd to give you something to ponder in your spare time. Hey! I'm a middle-aged, single guy. What else am I going to do on a Friday night?

Rule 1: Establish and Maintain a Strong Since of Purpose
Suggested Next Step 3 (Little explains each Rule in a chapter and then ends with "Suggested Next Steps--what YOU are to do to act on the content.)
--Write down your organization's sense of purpose, including whom you want to serve, how you serve them, and the highest goal of the organization. Be sure it is clear, unique, and credible. (pg 67)

-> Editorial:
Can you do this? Many college stores do not have a vision or mission statement. Often, we overlook the importance of having a central, understood, and communicable raison d'etre. Every house must have a firm foundation.

Rule 4: Develop Customer-Driven Processes
Suggested Next Step 3
-- List all the ways you currently "touch" customers. Prioritize each based on how important it is to a CUSTOMER. Set about improving the priorities.

-> Editorial: The vast majority of our customers (students) are changing all the time. Indeed, they change completely every 3-5 years. Their standards for our operations are set by the full expanse of retailers available to them. One of our best strategies for meeting their needs is to understand the touchpoints and interactions as THEY experience them, determine which ones should stay or go, and ramp up the ones we decide to keep!

Core purpose and focusing on the customer. Does it get any better than that?

In a market that is continuously being challenged by new competitors--building (maintaining?) our businesses must start by evaluating and re-enforcing at the core.

That said, I guess the rest of my Friday night is at the mercy of cable TV. Wish me luck!

Tony Ellis, CAE

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Whole New Mind...Again

I was recently at a conference and heard Dan Pink give a keynote presentation.

You might remember Dan Pink and the presentation he gave at CAMEX a few years ago based on his book A Whole New Mind and the transition from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age.

My recent opportunity to hear Dan was my third. His message on the importance of design, the impact of "story", and the preeminence of "right brain" abilities going forward resonated as clearly for me now as they did when I first heard him in 2004.

With that revelation, I decided to post about Dan and his wonderful book. To ask you, "Have you read it?"

-- If not, you should.
-- If you have, read it again.

Dan's points, examples, and recommendations are as poignant for retailers as for any others.

Great book. Great message.

Tony Ellis, CAE

Friday, April 11, 2008

Going Green with even Greater Purpose

Reusable shopping bags are big. Stores are offering them to save the evironment, but are finding other benefits along the way:

- Reduced quantities of plastic bags are needed

- Enriched connections are made with customers who appreciate the chance to do a little good by using the bags

- Visibility of the store is enhanced when the bags are returned to the store (or other places--as in my case--the gym, the dry cleaners, the park, the beach, the farmers market....)

While in New York not long ago, I saw two enhancements to this already exciting program. The first was in a college store. The second in a specialty grocery.

1. NYU Bookstores uses Green Bag as a source for their reusable shopping bags. But the neat part is when you choose to buy one. Buying one of these bags from the store earns you a "wooden nickle" (actually worth a quarter, I think) to put in one of four bins on your way out. See the pic above. That's donating real "coin" to the charity of your choosing. Wow! That's doing good, from doing good, that promises to help you do good later, as well. Pretty good!

2. At the Food Emporium, at the Queens Street Bridge, they take a slightly different approach. Still a choice of purchasing a reusable shopping bag with proceeds benefitting one of 3-4 charities. But for they took a specialty/gift approach and created four different bags--each with a rich imprint tied to the charity that would benefit from your purchase. Think Bengal tiger for the zoo or a bamboo-munching panda for the National Wildlife Federation.

Two great twists on an already great concept!

Tony Ellis, CAE

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Dynamic Displays and Cool Ideas!

Everyone loves to get new ideas--for displays, for sales, for windows, for events.

NACS recently announced the winners of two contests--Dynamic Displays and Cool Ideas--that offer numerous ideas.

Give yourself a shot of inspiration. Review all of this year's entries for both contests and see what you can use at your own store! The winners of each contest are marked with a star. Click on any listed entry to see a photo and details.

Please note that the contest information is for NACS Members only--in the Member Resource Center. So you'll have to log in when you click either link below. Appologies to any non-member readers of The Retail Muse!

Dynamic Displays:

Cool Ideas

Have fun!

The Retail Muse

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

S(m)elling Like a Rose

College stores are always looking for unique new products. Something that has a unique connection to the students or campus.

Well, the folks at the University of Alberta Bookstore (Edmonton, Canada) have created something truly distinctive--their own perfume!

Created by The Pampered Rose, "08" is custom fragrance created from the following individual scents:

Top: Ambrosia, Marigold, Dandelion
Middle: Bamboo, Rose, Hydrangea, Sugar, Tulip
Base: Bamboo (Again), Rose, Pikaki, Sugar

Store staff worked with The Pampered Rose to custom build the fragnace to their specifications, and designed their own label. They retail the fragrance for just under $40 for a 75ml/2 oz eau de parfume.

To find out a bit more, watch this vlog ("video blog") clip prepared by the folks at the Univ. of Alberta Bookstore exclusively for The Retail Muse!

Interested? The Pampered Rose is in Stephens City, VA, and may be reached at or online at

-- The Retail Muse

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Another Great CAMEX!

Well, one more outstanding CAMEX experience is in the books.

One of the wonderful things about CAMEX is that it is a living exhibition of our industry in action.

The excitement - The learning - The sharing - The passion

Education and Celebrations – Buying and Selling – Endings and Beginnings

Thanks to everyone that attended, exhibited, participated, presented, and shared.

CAMEX—like our industry—is truly unique and special. And it renews my energy and commitment to campus retail every year.

I look forward to seeing you all in Anaheim for CAMEX 2009!

Tony Ellis, CAE

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Cleaning up Green

"Green" is here to stay.

Why, they even had a green/eco-friendly section of the Cleveland Home and Garden Show (nation's largest, thank you very much).

This flurry of spring amidst a flurry of snow in late-February Cleveland is one of my favorites.

As the search for green products has busied the e-mail discussion lists and filled CAMEX sessions, it reminded me of a great product I found at the HG show this year.

Green Clean is a local company (although happy to wholesale nationally) that produces totally organic cleaning products. Their "show special" was a spray cleaner, liquid cleaner (mopping, etc.), a scrub (scented with peppermint essential oil), and a bowl cleaner in a great reusable canvas bag for about $25. An added touch--return your empty bottles for a discounted refill.

The display was based on bulk presentation of the bags with a few sets of the product presented on either corner of the table. A real eye-catcher and something that I could instantly see near the front of a college store for back-to-school, etc.

Now this producer may or may not work for you. And the "refill" advantage would obviously be for locals only. But there are two take-aways here for any college store:

1. Great new products (some with interesting local connections) can pop up in unlikely places. Always be on the look-out!

2. It's all about presentation. There were hundreds of booths with thousands of products. The clean (no pun intended), effective presentation of this product caught my eye and the "package deal" motivated my purchase.

More on Green Clean can be found online at

Tony Ellis, CAE

Sunday, February 17, 2008

We're Talking About the Customer Experience

The Retail Muse welcomes guest blogger Doug Fleener, President and Managing Partner of Dynamic Experiences Group LLC. Doug was the primary facilitator for NACS’ Xtreme 2007 seminar and is a featured presenter at CAMEX 2008.

Doug recently offered “Random quick hits about the retail customer experience” in his daily e-mail “The Daily Retail Experience”. His thoughts are shared here with his permission:

The customer's experience isn't what we say it is. It's what the customer actually experiences. They're not necessarily the same thing.
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The goal of a great customer experience is to create a sale and/or a customer advocate.
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Too bad most retailers only focus their employees on the "sale" part of that equation. Creating customer advocates is like banking future sales.
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Know what you want the customer to say when advocating your store and you can design your experience to create that statement.
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I used to say that if you create a great store experience the sales will come. I was only partially correct. Creating a great store experience does result in some sales, but focusing your experience on creating sales results in a lot more.
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Every great customer experience starts with the belief that a customer is in the store to buy something.
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It's usually the smallest detail that ruins a customer's experience. More often than not it's a detail we missed because the customer was not our #1 priority.
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It's impossible to make every customer happy. The advantage of focusing on the customer experience is that you're more likely to notice an unhappy customer.
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I used to always put a mirror on the back of the door that led to the sales floor. Above it was sign that read something like, "You're looking at the most important part of the customer experience."
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Waiting on customers and delivering a great experience are not the same thing. Waiting on customers is passive and reactive. Delivering a great customer experience is engaging and proactive.
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The difference between being engaging and being overly aggressive is in the employee's motives as well as in their desire for the customer to have a great experience.
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A great experience in a specialty store is almost always the result of a connection between a customer and an employee. If that's not happening often then the store is really a self-service store and, to be blunt, it's not that special.
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I like to work with companies who aspire to deliver a great customer experience. I really love working with companies that understand it's the actions they take that will create a great customer experience.
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My favorite stores are those that appreciate the fact that I'm there, not those that think I should appreciate that they're there.
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Employees who are on the receiving end of a great work experience are much more likely to deliver a great store experience to their customers. If we focus on wowing our employees we don't have to spend as much time worrying if they're wowing our customers.
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You can teach employees how to deliver a great experience but you can't teach them to care about delivering a great experience. That's why finding GREAT people is key to your success.
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The best part of the customer's experience is watching them leave the store with a smile on their face and a shopping bag in their hand. So let me ask, how many of your customer experiences are leading to smile, a sale, and a high likely hood the customer will advocate your store?

Hear more from Doug in his CAMEX sessions:

Hiring the Right Skill Sets: How to Avoid Misfires and Find Your Next GREAT Hire
Friday, February 29, 2008 1:00 - 2:00 PM

Creating Xtreme Customer Experiences
Friday, February 29, 2008 2:30 - 3:30 PM

Doug may be reached at

--The Retail Muse

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Color sells!

It's true. I've heard it from one after another of you. Same on supplies flying off the shelf when they are offered in an array of striking color. Same for apparrel, gifts, and other categories.

So, with CAMEX just around the corner and many of you preparing for the industry's largest buying event--I wanted to draw your attention to the two current Pantone Fashion Color Reports that NACS has available for download in its White Papers section:

Spring 2008
Fall 2008

What better time to get the expert's dish on the colors that will make the next two seasons sizzle!

With names like Cantaloupe, Snorkel Blue, Shady Glade, and Shitake--Who can resist?!

Tony Ellis, CAE

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Online Retaling: A few interesting bits

I recently had the good fortune of attending the National Retail Federation's annual meeting--The Big Show., the NRF component that follows online retailing, and Forrester Research offered results of a survey on the "state of retailing online". Following are some interesting take-aways from their presentation:

- eCommerce year-over-year growth has slowed since 2003, but has been about 25% for the last three years (2004-2006)
- 2006 eCommerce sales totaled $220 billion (US$) and projections anticipate continued YOY growth of 25%
- Online retaliers/online shopping still lacks in the basics--complete product informaiton, effective and efficient package delivery, and site slow-downs/outages.
- Many, if not most, online retailers focus too much on the analytics of their sites instead of the feedback (voice) of their customers.

So what should we do in light of these findings?
1. Focus on getting the correct and complete product information on your site.
2. Offer a feedback mechanism for customers and consider implementing customer services from time to time.
3. Stay away from the whiz-bang features--they detract from your site and take energy you could be putting toward 1 and 2.

Online retailing is only one component of a successful multi-channel approach to retail. But it's important that you give it proper attention and resources.

For those of you attending CAMEX this year, considering learning more about your online retailing web site by attending one of the following sessions:

10 Ways to Make Your Web Site Smokin' Hot!
The Top 7 Things You Should Know About Your Web Site and Online Sales


Tony Ellis, CAE

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

In and Out

Each year, TRU offers it's In and Out of teenage wants and desires.

I want to share a few thoughts from their results. But not to steal TRU's thunder (or rights), I'm lifting only a few points and taking from their Fall 2007 results. They're interesting and suggestive for college stores, nonetheless.

According to TRU:

Of tech and toys - Technology:
- Console video games are MOST "in" according to guys, while online photo sharing tops the list for girls.

- Social-networking sites came in second for most "in" for both guys and gals.

- Virtual worlds seem to be just coming into the field of play.

Dressing the Part - Fashion:
- Sexy and revealing threads topped the list for most "in" with guys, while girls rated that lower on the list. Girls are preferring the girly and feminine look for now.

- Goth seems to be remain on the fringe, holding the last spot (most "out") for both sexes.

- Notably, business/professional dress ranked 3rd "most in" for both sexes.

You've Got Issues - Issues:
- Eating healthy is most "in" for both sexes. Stock those healthy snacks, everyone!

- Delaying sex until marraige is most "out" for both sexes. I'll let you decide for yourself what your store should or should not stock relevant to this one. :-)

More take-aways from the TRU research studies are available in The College Store magazine on a regular basis. And watch your e-mail for the TRU View e-newsletter.

Hope your 2008 is off to a good start!

Tony Ellis, CAE