Monday, November 29, 2010

The post Turkey Leadership Sensation

Now that this year's Thanksgiving has come to an end, we are pretty sure that you have returned to work relaxed, belly full, wallets empty, and ready to take on your job with gusto! With that in mind, we have noticed a few bits and pieces that could help in  motivating your team, improving your leadership and of course, adding some fun into the workplace.

Mr Rogers and Management Advice 
Most of us can remember Mr. Rogers. From PBS, Mister Rogers Neighborhood ran on TV from 1968 to 2001, offering a safe and sane TV show for millions of children over the year. Much maligned and mocked, It seems that there is some advice for the workplace in Mr. Rogers approach, and you can read about it HERE. it is a summary of an article from a recent issue of Fast Company.

We liked one of the five management tips best: "Be Consistent in who you are, and what people should expect. We think this is especially important in the campus world, and for retailers to stay focused on their core products and values. Although the desire to snag trends is important, staying focused on your history, and your core mission creates an environment of customer trust and satisfaction.

Speaking of Values...
Have you ever spent what seems like an endless amount of time with staff and bosses hashing out your mission statement, core values and the like? After you wordsmith and hammer out some pithy statements, what happens next? They often become just words on the page, added to annual reports or appearing on the staff bulletin board.

What about sharing these values with your customers? We stopped for a burger at the restaurant chain "Red Robin" recently, and were intrigued by how this restaurant gets their message out. They have printed their core values on the back of drink coasters and the check envelope. There are four values; Honor, Integrity, Continuing Seeking Knowledge and Having Fun. They call it "Living the Core Values", and the descriptions are well written. It suggests that this might be a good place to work, or at least someplace you might want to come back for more meals.

We liked the core value of "Having Fun". As Red Robin sees it, fun is about staying fresh, vibrant and always willing to seek out and learn new things. Value number two is good as well. Integrity. Empower people to do the right thing and they will.

We think it is smart and clever. Does it work in campus retail? We think so, if you took your values and printed them on receipts, receipt holders or displayed them individually throughout the store. A way to share your values with your customers.

Cyber Monday and Holiday shopping.
A few surveys gave us pause last week as the media looked at workplace, employees and holiday shopping.

The first survey asked 100 large company IT managers how they handled employees shopping on line during work hours. 44% said they now block popular online shipping sites to combat "time theft", especially at this time of the year. Most employees admit to shopping on work time, but under estimate the time they spend online, or argue that their activities are during break times.

We thought it is something for managers and supervisors to keep an eye out as Cyber Monday rolls along.

The second survey (one commissioned by Ebay), was intriguing as we had just not thought that much about it. Their survey showed that 6 percent of workers admitted to calling in sick in order to Christmas Shop. 20% of the respondents had considered doing this.

It is not a large percentage, but it does give one pause, and, as always it's something for people supervisors to keep watch on during the holiday shopping frenzy.

Can Campus Retailers.....Connect?
There was a recent article in NACS Campus Marketplace about Assumption College (Worcester, MA) that we liked. Presumably this store has an employee by the name of "BookstoreJosh". In a fit of creativity, they have created two YouTube videos to promote the bookstore, both as a place with more products than textbooks, and a fun place to hang out.

Now many stores have done similar on YouTube, but have generally been a bit flat and boring. YouTube by committee, without much spark. Assumption and BookstoreJosh have gone the other way, creating fun and friendly videos that highlight the store in a positive and enthusiastic vein.

We like video #2 best, with it's campy batman theme music and focus on the bookstore as a campus community center. "The Bookstore....we've got time" is the tag line, and while we would have nixed the "window shopping" line, we enjoyed the focus on using the store's Mac demos for "time wasting activities"

Good job, and we are waiting for the next chapters in the Assumption College Bookstore video library. You can see the whole video at
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Friday, November 19, 2010

Annette Verschuren - Female Home Depot CEO

When the president of the Home Depot Canada says she'll do something, it's hard for anything to stop her -- whether it's childhood hardships, male-dominated workplaces or the daunting task of growing a U.S. home-improvement company from its shaky early Canadian toehold of 19 stores to its current 179.

Annette Verschuren will receive the 19th-annual Henry Singer Award from the University of Alberta School of Retailing for excellence and leadership in retail at a ceremony in Edmonton, Canada.

One of only a handful of female chief executives in North America, Verschuren says her upbringing as a daughter of immigrant Dutch dairy farmers on Cape Breton Island pushed her to shatter glass ceilings.

When Verschuren's father suffered a debilitating heart attack, the five kids, including 10-year-old middle child Annette, had to shoulder burdens beyond their years.

"We worked hard as a family together on the farm, and having that responsibility at such a young age really influenced my life in terms of capacity," Verschuren said.

"One doesn't think that a 10-year-old can pull a calf from a cow, but I got to do that and learned a lot about life."

Verschuren contracted a kidney condition, which required four operations between ages 15 and 21. "That makes you focus too, on life and where you want to go and what you want to be. I decided not to be a victim. I decided to fight it and here we are at the age of 54."

After switching from arts, she earned a business degree from St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia and got a job with the Cape Breton Development Corp., giving loans and working on business plans with sawmill operators and metal fabricators.

After moving into the coal-mining side of the business as director of planning, she moved to Toronto to work for the Canada Development Investment Corp. where she worked as executive vice-president privatizing Crown corporations such as merging Eldorado Nuclear Ltd. and Saskatchewan Mining Development Corp. to become uranium producer Cameco.

She joined Imasco Ltd., a tobacco, retail and financial services conglomerate where she worked for prominent businessman Purdy Crawford, who was impressed by the fellow Maritimer. He made her vice-president in charge of corporate development, responsible for investing in companies. But Verschuren wanted operational experience so she could run a company.

She was put in charge of 63 Den for Men stores. Verschuren stayed a year and then struck out on her own, forming her own company. She persuaded the CEO of crafts giant Michael's to partner with her and expand into Canada.

As president and co-owner of Michael's Canada, the chain grew to 105 stores.

That's when the Home Depot came calling for Verschuren.

Verschuren said it was tough to leave Michael's, and she wasn't sure if her independent nature would fit into a corporate job.

"We set the ground rules very clearly at the front end that I would have a lot of autonomy, and to this day I have amazing autonomy -- but you have to produce."

When she started in 1996, the Home Depot Canada "was not in good shape," Verschuren said.

"They had opened up five stores and hadn't put any inventory in, that's how tough it was. It was tough during those few years, and so we had to build it up, get the right team around me and build the organization. There were great people in the organization; they just needed leadership.

"Fourteen years later, we have 179 stores and do almost $6 billion in sales. We have 28,000 people working for us. It's been quite an exciting career."

Her gender is not a factor for her, Verschuren said. "I never knew that women and men were treated differently until I left home. ... My parents never treated me any differently than the boys, and the Dutch are a little like that. They recognize the equality of people."

Arthur Blank, co-founder of the Home Depot, told Verschuren he was heavily criticized for naming her to run the company in Canada.

"He said, 'I knew you had the energy and the passion and the determination to make it happen,' " Verschuren recalled.

"And remember Arthur Blank and Bernie Marcus, the two original founders of Home Depot, are Jewish -- they were discriminated against too, and so they respected diversity. I never, ever honestly have felt in this company discriminated against."

But the fact a woman leads a home-improvement retailer still surprises many. If she's in a store with one of her male vice-presidents and someone announces the president is in the building, "every customer will come up to the man I'm with," she said, laughing.

"But you can't take that stuff personally. That's just society."

But she's as comfortable with volunteers on Habitat for Humanity building sites as she is with CEOs and politicians.

Volunteerism is a big part of her life and she encourages it at the Home Depot. September was the month of service where staff at all stores volunteered for community projects.

"People love to work with organizations that genuinely give back," Verschuren said. "Whether we get credit for that or don't doesn't matter. What's really important is that the community we serve gets better."

Friday, November 12, 2010

A tale of Two Retailers

The is the story of two fashion retailers. One that had it all, and the other that wants it all. A tale of how one retailer has a ride to the top, only to experience an inglorious collapse. The other, a small regional company, that has defied all odds to become bigger and bigger - even in a tough economy.

Our story begins with the manufacture and retailer "American Apparel". From the very beginning, American Apparel sought to redefine clothing basics. Their spin was to create well made, high quality T-Shirts, sweatshirts and the like. Good quality, no frills, basics you could wear outside your house without feeling embarrassed. They added to this quality by creating products that were cut specifically to fit women. A new idea, and one that was embraced wholeheartedly.

Now selling basic t's is pretty dull. So, American Apparel made their name known by creating provocative advertising, and to being one of the first to tout their clothing as being sweatshop free, ethical clothing. A differentiators from the rest of the marketplace. Spurred on by the media attention and customer enthusiasm, American Apparel went on a rapid expansion plan. Opening stores everywhere, pouring millions into marketing campaigns, and creating a pop culture star out of founder Dov Charney.

Yet now it is saddled with $120 Million in debt, the retail stores (over 200 at last count) are doing poorly and customers have lost interest in the company, finding other retailers to fill the void for basic fashion wear. Now, just over a decade from inception, American Apparel is contemplating Chapter 11. A shell of its former self.

On the other side of the fashion coin is manufacturer and retailer LuluLemon. Founded in Vancouver BC less than 10 years ago, the moderately priced yoga and fitness fashion label has grown from a few local stores to a dominate player in the fitness clothing sector. Touting fashionable, moderately priced fitness wear, LuLuLemon rode the wave of increased popularity of Yoga as the new fitness regimen.

The company has found success, and expanded rapidly throughout Canada, and now into the US marketplace. What makes their story remarkable, is this rapid and successful expansion during the recession. While other retailers pray for 1% or 2% same store sales growth, LuLuLemon is experiencing double digit growth this year - 30% to 40% over 2009. A company to be reckoned with.

A fall from grace and a Phoenix from the recessionary ashes. That's our tale of two retailers.

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Friday, October 29, 2010

When Banks pay it forward

Like most of us, my in-person connection with the bank is a twice yearly visit. The rest of the time, I have pretty much accepted bank machinery to deal with financial needs. Bank machines, On-Line, Phone. Rarely do I talk to a real person at a real bricks and mortar location.

Except for the other day. My twice yearly in-person visit. As I finished up with the teller, she handed my a colorful brochure. "It's called the feel good ripple!", she said. "You take this, and pass it on to the next person - like paying it forward"  Now I was impressed, not only because of the well thought out graphic design (It didn't look like the usual bank marketing piece), but more importantly it contained a $10 bill!

Now when was the last time a bank gave money out like that? I was totally impressed, and inside the brochure the bank talks about building better communities and doing something with the $10 just to make someones day. You can also share your story of giving back at the website

I think the campaign is brilliant! I had a whole new respect for the place I bank at. Which got me  to thinking. Wouldn't this type of campaign be great for a college store? Talk about building some good will, giving back, and providing at opportunity to pay it forward on campus. I think it would send a powerful message of community support, building empathy for others, and providing the campus store with a strong community focused value message.

So what did I do with my new found $10? Well, I thought briefly of keeping it for myself, but that would have defeated the point. Instead, I walked up to a mother with her two kids in the Starbucks drive through window, and after she realized I wasn't gonna attack her, handed her the cash. She was thrilled.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Is Textbook Rental The Way to go?

The TV show "Dragon's Den" is a reality show where 5 entrepreneurs listen to business pitches and decide if they want to invest their own money in the latest business idea pitched to them. The show started in the UK and has been widely popular. Across the pond in Canada, "Dragon's Den" has been a success for the CBC, and spawned a less than successful US Version called "Shark Tank"

The premise is simple. Everyday people pitch their new product or service and look for investment from the "Dragons". Sometimes the Dragons invest, many times they don't, pointing out the problems withe products or service, or more likely, the individuals high company financial valuation.

A recent episode of the Canadian show, included a pitch for a Textbook Rental Service. The individual who started the service, pitches the dragons asking for money to expand the operation to include more Universities and Colleges. His business model is like all other textbook rental schemes. The student goes to his website, enters in the course information and then pays to rent the textbook for a semester.

The whole process is web based, with the books mailed back and forth between the student and company, bypassing the campus store. The owner of this company sees real saving for the student, and of course profit for him. His pitch is no different than the hundreds of text rental ideas that are floating around right now.

So, do the Dragons bite? not in the least. These venture capitalists, far removed from the economics of Higher Education and the textbook business don't take long to point out the flaws in the business model. One Dragon does the math, realizing quickly that buying and reselling used copies is a better deal for the typical student. Another dragon sees the textbook rental business as a limited time success story - ebooks is where to put the attention.

The clip is a sober wake up call to the textbook rental business model. When venture capitalists such as these five Dragon's can't seem to see how text rentals will make any profits and be financially successful, it should give any store pause when considering this idea on campus.

You can view the clip HERE, where you can also enjoy watching the presenter dress up as a Lion / Sunflower; illustrating how not to make a business pitch.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Noteworthy Nuggets - Halloween, Bookstores, and General Ephemera

Sometimes we just notice things that are interesting and noteworthy. As the rain pelts the windows of Muse operations, we pelt you with some noteworthy ephemera:
Calling the Textbook Dead:
Ipads and Kindles and Ebooks oh my! This is the year that the textbook dies right? Of course pundits have been predicting the death of the textbook from as long ago as 1925. Yes, 85 years ago, the filmstrip projector arrived in school classrooms. Inventor Thomas Edison stated proudly that "books will soon be obsolete in schools. Scholars will soon be instructed through the eye". 
The TV Brand
What the most successful TV merchandising sales brand of all time? No not Jersey Shore. "The Simpsons". Word wide, this ubiquitous animated story of every one's favorite dysfunctional family has racked up merchandising sales of more than $8 Billion. Second was Sesame Street. Time to stock up (again) on Simpsons merchandise, along with Big Bird underwear.
Halloween 2010
One month till Halloween 2010! Have your costume ready? This year Halloween will be big business, with an estimated $5.8 Billion in sales. That's an increase of 17.7% on Halloween costumes, decorations and the like. Believe it or not, 11.5% of Americans plan to dress up their pets. Americans are still in the economic doldrums, and plan to use Halloween as a bit of escapism. But, they will spend money on their costumes, and reduce their spending on candy. Poor young kids trick and treating.  The Lady Gaga costumes will be in large supply, but the candy corn will not.
Toys popping up everywhere.
If there is a sales category that might be best left alone this holiday season, it's Toys. Toys R Us is opening a phenomenal 600 pop stores across the country in vacant mall spaces. FAO Swartz is opening another 10 pop up stores, and Sears has plans to unwrap 85 toy shops in their stores. This coming as national bookstore chains are expanding  their product lines with toys. Will it all work? We bet not. We're thinking the Toys R Us gambit, while successful on a small scale last year, will be too much, too late this year.
Make my dishes clean!
Interesting story in a recent Sunday issue of the New York Times, showing how consumers are getting angry at their dishwasher detergent. Turns out that detergent manufacturers like Procter and Gamble have been reducing the level of phosphates in their products in an effort to be more environmentally aware and meet tough new legislative guidelines.
All well and good, but consumers are un happy with the products effectiveness once phosphates are eliminated. It's an interesting conundrum. Do you want clean dishes or clean uncontaminated water? Turns out you might not be able to get both.
Smart Corporate Partnership.
Macy's has partnered with "The Heart of Haiti", a non profit organization to offer handmade products from Haitian artisans at 25 stores this fall. The products offered support full time work for over 200 Haitian artists whose business was interrupted by the earthquake this year. The Macy's partnership will assist these artisans to rebuild their businesses. A worthy purchase.
From Window Dresser to Couture
Simon Doohan has made a name for himself as the great brain behind the visual merchandising at Barney's in New York. He has become famous  with his out of the world windows during the holiday season, along with penning and peddling a few books along the way.
Now Doohan is stepping out with Target to create a line of "Costume Couture" designed by Doohan for the Halloween season. It is available now, exclusively at Target. You can see his designs HERE. We are not sure that it's really that interesting in terms of design, but we give Doonan his due for continuing to effectively self promote.
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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Campus Retailers can Snag some trends.

It is a great big exciting day here at Muse HQ! A grab bag of trends are brewing in the retail sphere, and we thought they are items that those forward thinking and risk taking campus retailers might want to investigate further. So here we go, a few trends to watch and capitalize on:
Dude! Can I Borrow your Eyeliner?
Yes it is true. The cosmetics business for men is becoming a fast growing big business. Men (those that admit it), are getting in to wearing cosmetics as they let their inner metro sexual out, and become more focused on their appearance.
The Men's cosmetics business all started a few years back with hair care and body washes. Now however, men are interested in things like under-eye concealer, anti shine products and yes a bit of stealth foundation.
It's a growing business, and online retailer is the leader in the sales field. Menaji reported a 70% increase in online sales over the past three years. A trend analysis firm, Euromonitor reported that men's grooming products grew more than fivefold in the the past three years to $4.8 Billion.
Much of the uptick in sales comes from confident and self assured younger men, the 18 - 30 bracket. Who, we assume might be shopping at your store? Time to stock up on the men's mascara products. In a dark quite part of your store of course.
Design and Decor teen.
Interior designers are thrilled. They have a new revenue stream! The hottest thing going in the interior design world has been the remarkable increase in designing rooms for teens. Teenagers (and pre-teens), are increasingly interested in the look and feel of their environments. The result has been a renewed focus on developing rooms for teens and young adults that are cohesive, reflect the individual, and provide a comfortable surrounding.
Designers involve the teens directly in visuals for the new room. In fact, DeAnna Radaj is an interior designer that specializes in interior design for the younger set. She has just released her second book called " Feng Shui for Teens"
So what does this mean for the campus retailer? As we have written about in the past, adding items that would fit in to your on campus dorm rooms is worth considering. Sears, and Target are both courting this market, along with many more. Are you missing a new revenue source?
Good Things Come to Those Who Whine.
You can't make every customer happy all the time. In the past, a small percentage of your unhappy customers might make themselves known to you and you could respond. Now, with Facebook and Twitter so prevalent, customers are taking to the social networking street to voice their opinions - often within minutes of their experience.
And companies are taking notice. Breanne Hughes took to the Twitter network, voicing her frustration with her sky high cell phone bill after being given incorrect information by her service provider. Within a couple of hours, her service provider had contacted her, apologized and corrected her bill. She also received twitter posts from a competing provider offering her options to move her plan to them.
It was personalized and speedy corrective action from the business. Which got us to wonder if campus retailers are making sure to keep an eye to the social networking world. Field  out negative comments and correct them in short order. Retailers could easily monitor the feedback traffic and resolve issues with key trend setters on campus.
Coupons, Coupons We All Scream Group Coupons!
Coupons are so 20th century. But, have you heard of Here's how it works. In (most) cities, groupon works with existing businesses to promote their services and products. Then they sign up customers by email and each day send them a coupon for a special deal. The deals are usually half off, in your area, and generally are for businesses that are new or something you have never tried out. We get the coupon each day, and has included businesses ranging from rock climbing experiences to half priced baked goods at a local bakery.
Now the key is that you, as the consumer, have to make the decision to buy the coupon on the day it was released. If enough people join in, then the coupon is released and off you go to the never known business. And that is where the "groupon" name comes from (group coupon - get it?).  Marketers and national advertisers have mixed feelings about the success of this, although "The Gap" has been experimenting with it across a number of large metro markets. 
Besides the tepid response by marketing gurus, we think it is a great way to promote collegiate retailers, and the overall university community. Universities and College events can often fly under the consumer radar, so we we see this as great way to promote events on campus to build traffic and increase exposure. Retailers on campus could work with their Athletics department, or the Students' Union, or any academic department to promote events, speakers, or special on campus promotions.
Sounds like a great experiment and would be fun to try out with a few select events or experiences!
So there you go. Four ideas to build your business. You need to get out there and watch what people are saying about you, grab the mascara, set up your dorm room design center and get those groupons working for your campus!
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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Weird and the Wonderful

Every once in awhile, here at "Muse" headquarters, we come across marketing ideas that seem both strange and poorly developed, as well as ideas that are brilliant. Today we thought that a few of these weird ideas, and a couple of wonderful smart ideas might be in order.
The Weird
First on the bizarre marketing ideas is the ubiquitous KFC. Their restaurants are everywhere and they are the leader in chicken fast food marketing. Still, that doesn't seem to satisfy their need to brand everything imaginable. After a 2004 campaign to "brand" pot holes, their newest campaign is to wrap fire hydrants and public fire extinguishers with a "Fiery Grilled Wings" advertising campaign.
We find the whole thing a little disconcerting. Sure, cities need cash big time, and these public/private marketing campaigns might help to bring in some dollars. Yet, the idea that you can now brand emergency equipment with a marketing campaign seems both a little desperate and frankly a little dangerous.
You can read more about it here, and how the city of Buffalo, NY is experimenting with the idea, but don't rush to market yourself in this way. This is not the way to be a good corporate citizen.
Second on the weird (or maybe woeful) is about the Sears Company. We have written about Sears in the past, and generally not in the most glowing of terms. Sears continues to be desperate for sales, and trying to attract a younger demographic. Fair enough, kudos for them for at least trying. Their newest venture is to hook up with "French Connection" the UK based company that brought us the FCUK logo, creating a firestorm of consumer protest oh so many years ago.
Well, Sears is a tired brand, and so is French Connection. So it makes sense that the two would come together and create a line of French Connection branded clothing to be available exclusive at Sears stores in 2011. The spokespeople talk about "contemporary fashion" and "luring a younger demographic", but it all seems a little desperate and ill conceived.
Does Sears plan to alienate their core demographic when the teens rush their local Sears for FCUK wear? We think not.
Finally, we took pause at an article in the New York Times Media section with an article on fake online purchases through social networking sites and virtual worlds. Presumably marketers think this is the "next big thing", to push products through fantasy worlds like Mallworld, Facebook and Mytown. Volvo, MTV and H and M are into this right now, as are "stars" like Snoop Dogg and Paris Hilton.
This "trend" is so old world. It was tried at least five years ago and was a bust. Now marketing agencies, and companies desperate for *any* sale (fake or not), are trying it again.
Our prediction? good money after bad. This won't stick, and after the initial rush of buying fake jewellery from Paris Hilton, the thrill will be gone. Run, don't walk, away from this idea.
The Wonderful
Our first wonderful idea comes from a viral video to promote Google Chrome. Using some new technology called HTML5, the video is a mash up of the "Arcade Fire" song "We Use to Wait" and some nifty interactive technology from ""
In terms of interactive, the user enters in the street address that they grew up on. As the video plays, google earth and other technologies scroll through your hometown address and show you what it looks like now. Users can then write themselves a note to their past self, post and save their childhood address experience, and share with others.
It's a beautiful and compelling interactive piece of viral video. Nothing works better to evoke emotions that touch on our nostalgia and remembrance of things past. Check it out here:, and enjoy the experience.
Second on the wonderful list is experience billboards. Billboards that come alive with real buzzing bees. Banrock Station, an Australian winery, put up the cash to develop a living billboard of honeybees in Devon, England. The campaign was to assist "Save Our Swarms", a non profit group campaigning to boost the population of honeybees in England.
It is remarkable, both in it's simplicity, and in this advertising vehicle coming to life with bees swarming to spell out S.O.S. You can see the video HERE. Now what can you do on your campus to create a living breathing billboard experience?
Finally for the wonderful, we couldn't help mention the consumer and advertising magazine called "Contagious".  A UK based publication, Contagious scans the world for the best in marketing, advertising and consumer trends. A recent case study focused on the shifting business plans of Levis. It is full of gorgeous high resolution photos and has become an industry standard for the marketing and creative design communities.
Inexpensive? No. The quarterly publication comes with the princely subscription fee of $1500 per year. You are welcome to contribute to the "Retail Muse Contagious Subscription fund", but in the meantime, we found it at our local university library. It is worth checking with your campus library or marketing department to see if they have a subscription, or will get one. A pretty big ticket item, but an amazingly worthwhile one.
That's all we have for this week! Enjoy your bee billboard, salivating over your new pricey magazine and wrapping those campus fire hydrants with your "hot and fiery" specials for the week.
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Thursday, September 16, 2010

In a New York Minute - Pop Tarting America

Checking out the Pop Tarts Restroom
Alright, so I am standing again in NYC Times Square and looking for the Pop Tarts Store. I am sure you have all heard about this. The new Kellogg's Pop Tarts Pop up store that opened in August of this year. I'm trying to find this place, but having some trouble. Turns out it is not just right in Times Square but off a side street a couple of blocks away. When I finally find it, it is closer to Bryant Park, and a few days later help a group of young dudes find the place by given directions. I feel like a New Yorker.
So I go and find this great new sugar filled testament to the American Dream. It's on a side street, a giant POP TART splashed across the front of the building. I find the nondescript door and enter. I feel like I am going into an exclusive club that only a few know about. Andy Warhol will be there with his Polaroids, so will Liza. I'm part of the pop tart elite.
So you enter and discover that you are in fact in a pretty special place. Lasers and light shows swirl around, a huge two story mechanical delivery cylinder raises in the middle of the store, shooting all flavors of pop tarts down to be placed in a box for the happy tourist to purchase.  The line up for the Pop Tart sushi bar is massive. Every tourist in New York has found this place, and I stand next to kids and adults ordering and purchasing things like peanut butter Pop Tarts with raisins and bananas. It's a weird world, and if I actually liked Pop Tarts, then I would be more enthused.
But, I suddenly found my inner Pop Tart, when I recalled that my late Mother, whenever bored by cooking, or grocery shopping while hungry, would purchase the frosting confection and bring it home to us kids. We would devour them in a day, and sort of patiently wait until Mom had another sugar fix in aisle four.
But enough about the past. I actually need the toilet. Which in NYC is a terrific problem, what with the dearth of toilets, and you find yourself visiting retailers, that you would never go to (like the American Girl Place), simply because they have facilities. Thankfully, Pop Tart World has toilets. And, what great toilets they are! It's one small loo, but the walls are adorned with tiles that look like Pop Tarts. Can you ask for anything more? It is perfect retail design, carrying the concept into all areas that the customer might experience, leaving nothing to chance. I just had to take a picture.
Pop Tart merchandise is pretty sparse in this place. They seem to have forgotten this, and the poorly merchandised t-shirts and tchochys seem almost an after thought again the industrial Pop Tart delivery system and sushi bar concept. My enthusiasm was enhanced however. Staring at the limp unkempt merchandise, the place suddenly darkens, lasers flicker, and the staff at the sushi bar drop their tools and begin a whole store customer experience.
Music blares, a dance floor suddenly seems to appear and what with the laser light show, the staff begin something like a meet up performance art shouting and signing their love of Pop Tarts. It is in fact, quite amazing. Staff sing and dance about being frosted and flavored and packaged as the customers clap and sing along. A little Broadway play by Kellogg.
Of course they have lots of competition. The three story M and M store is just down the street. A testament to the fact that if you have a popular confection, you can build your sales by branding everything in site with cheerful M and M's. Hershey's chocolate is right across the street, and takes a more reverent historical approach, choosing to tell the Hershey story all through their small concept store, while serving up every chocolate flavor imaginable.
The Pop Tart Store though is different. Short on merchandise and actual product, it focuses on the experience. The customer smile as they watch the dancers and performers act out their  act every fifteen minutes. Does it create sales? Yes, I am sure, but probably not enough to make the store viable. Yet, from a marketing perspective, it drives home the fun and excitement of Pop Tarts.  The customer leaves, not with an M and M's broach, or a Hershey's historical tin, but with a smile on their face.

You know that when they get home, they will remember their experience when cruising their cart down the local grocery store aisle. It's the experience that stays with the customer, and creating memorable and engaging experiences in your own stores, sushi bar or not, makes for happy lifelong consumers.

Now get out there and create your very own campus store dance!

In a New York Minute - The Walgreens experience

A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to visit New York City for a week. It was a spur of the moment trip, and I didn't give much thought to my plans, just headed out looking for adventure. Of course I couldn't stop my curious mind from making note of some retail and cultural trends  as I walked and explored the Big Apple.
My first stop, like all good tourists, was Times Square. Now I've been to Times Square before. Yet, it never ceases to amaze me." Bright Lights, Big City" said Jay Macanery, and the area continues to live up to that moniker. It's all giant neon and scrolling screens, looming above a mass of humanity. Humanity of course being all tourists. I doubt many New Yorkers spend much time there, what with the flashing cameras,  the out of towners, and the heavy preponderance of chain restaurants all proclaiming how BIG they are (The Largest Chili's in the world!).
There is lots to write about Times Square retail wise, but what I experienced was the Walgreens Drugstore. It's a super drugstore to be sure. A tower in the middle of Times Square, and is the first retailer that greets you as you come up from the subway. But it's a Walgreens, and beside the giant neon ads on the front of this drugstore, the three floors inside remind you of that.
My experience at Times Square Walgreens is what's interesting. Or frustrating. Or maddening when you see chain retailers that want to operate all of their units from the same mediocre play book.
You see I wanted a bottle of wine. Yes, I could go into any number of places to have a glass of wine, only to discover that (a) they don't put the prices of drinks on menus and (b) there is a very good reason for that when you get the bill. So, being ever so slightly worried that I would spend all my consumable cash on 2 glasses of wine, I went looking for a wine/liquor store around Times Square.
There are none. Well, I'm sure there are,   but I was starting to feel a bit peckish and the glare of the Toys R Us Ferris Wheel may have disoriented me. Or,  it was the crowds and the big SUV Strollers that seem to always be biting at your heels. And then my great inspiration. Walgreens! Wine and Beer! I love America! Perfect. Pick up a bottle, walk across the street to subway, go back to my place and day one of my adventure pleasantly comes to a close.
And yes Walgreens sells wine and beer, and some alcohol cooler things that I think are marketed to 14 year olds. (Seriously, what adult drinks bubble gum tutti fruit rum infusion coolers? And why? ). So I pick up my wine and begin the quest for a corkscrew. Yes, normally I pack a corkscrew for emergencies such as this, but  this was a spur of the moment trip, so my packing regime was a bit out of whack. Trolling the shelves for said corkscrew, I finally found a surly employee who, without so much stopping to chew her gum, raised a well manicured finger and spat out "Housewares - third floor". Thank you dear I muttered, wondering if customer service manuals were written by members of the East German Police.
Cruising the escalator to the third floor I wonder aimlessly until I find the minuscule housewares section, somewhere between hygiene products and disposable diapers for every age group. I'm carrying my bottle around, curiously drawn to the 12 liner feet of every age group diapers (cradle to the grave indeed),  and finally, after three cruises through the aisles found the shelf tag for corkscrews. Out of stock. *sigh*
So here I am. Corked bottle in hand, third floor of what I am sure is the LARGEST WALGREENS IN THE WORLD, and no corkscrew. I thought of going back down and asking Miss manicured finger if they had one in the back room, or picking up the bubble gum rum infusion drinks with the easy twist off cap. Neither seemed like a great plan, nor did the "I Heart NYC" Corkscrew that I found in the souvenir section for the princely sum of $25.00. So i left sans corkscrew, hoping that I could find one back at the apartment that I was staying at. I stood in a long line, paid for my wine and stepped over the SUV strollers. I pushed out the Walgreens entrance,  a  a sigh of relief, and stood next to Miss manicure finger puffing on her Virginia Slim.
Of course you are asking yourself. What does this whole story have to do with Walgreens head office and operational efficiency and building sales? Well let me tell you:
First off, It's your environment that matters in retail. You can 800 stores, all across the country, but each one is unique in where it is located. Someone at head office has missed the fact that they could make a lot more money by expanding their wine and beer and bubble gum cooler selection. No not at all 800 stores - but at the Times Square one. If I have trouble finding vino, I'm sure I am not the only one, so why can't the chain recognize this and work to modify the selection based on location? Seems a no brainer to me.
Second, What's that adage in retail about putting complementary products together to drive add on sales? Did Walgreens miss that day at retail 101? Why on earth would you put wine on one floor and corkscrews two floors up? Everyone, from the manager to the district manager,  to the head office plan-o-gram folks, should have figured that one out. It's like putting the Anthro textbook at one end of the store and the Anthro study guide far off in the other corner.
And finally, I've been around the block a few times retail wise. I can smell a push a mile away. I bet they haven't had stock of the $5.00 corkscrews for ever, forcing consumers to by the cheap plastic "I Heart NY" products for four to five times the price. Yes that increases sales, but at the cost of consumer cynicism and lost on-going loyalty.
So there are my retail tips for the day. Look at your location and what you can leverage. Remind yourself to check your product selection and see if it makes sense, and above all, watch those out of stocks!
I went home, found something that was close to a corkscrew, and had a lovely glass of wine from a mason jar.
Hopefully Miss manicured finger has finished her gum.
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Monday, August 16, 2010

Food for Thought

The Retail Muse must be hungry this week, as our post is all about food. From local produce to food deserts, to a menu of Pop Tarts and goat meat, we'll cover it all and provide a few inspirational snacks along the way.
Local is In.
Customers are becoming more and more engaged in where their produce is coming from. Grocers have started to respond by adding a greater selection of produce sourced from local farmers. In Indiana for example, Meijer's grocery chain has increased locally sourced produce to 27% of their inventory. A spokesperson sees this as a way to create a fresh new Farmer's Market experience in the store, while at the same time saving costs and cutting out the food wholesaler. Customers are enthusiastic, as it means fresher, locally grown produce, with a lower price point.
Over on the west coast, in California, The Fresh and Easy grocery store chain has created a new program. It's called "Farm to Store in 24 hours". Fresh and Easy have worked with local growers to get produce on the shelf within 24 hours of it being picked. Although their have been challenges working out all of the mechanics for this, customer response has been positive and the chain is seeing big increases in their produce sales.
What struck "The Muse" most about these stories is how a campus store might be able to capitalize on this buy local obsession. Farmers want to deal with local retailers, customers want to buy local products, and the campus store is positioned about as local as you can get. Some imaginative campus retailer should head down to their local farmer's market this weekend and see what opportunities their might be.
Imagine the Campus Farmers Market each week......
Food Deserts
No, not dessert. Deserts. The inner city of large metropolitan areas that are real food deserts. No place to buy fresh produce, no grocery store available until you hit the suburbs. Walgreen's is piloting a program, adding fresh produce, meat and cheese to inner city stores in the Chicago area.  The idea is to expand selection, offer healthier alternatives, and reduce the emphasis on packaged foods.
Campus retailers? Well another far out there idea for those stores in urban areas, far from the traditional grocery store offerings. If you operate in an area like this, then it is worth considering as a new revenue stream and expanding your marketplace.
Pop (up) Tarts Store
Joining other candy purveyors like Hershey and M&M's, Pop Tarts have created a pop up store in Times Square, NYC. It's a weird and wonderful creation, including such bizarre things as Pop Tarts sushi, a laser light show that stimulates the look of frosting, and a create your own pop tarts vending machine. The store is more an experience centre, which boasts pop tart video games and pop tart cafe.
We have no idea how this weird pop tart culture center would impact campus retailers, but love the idea of a frosting like light show distracting students in BTC lineups!
And finally, Goats. We just had to mention a recent article  that Harrods, the UK luxury department store, is adding goat meat to it's offerings. Presumably goat meat is the next big thing for uber trendy restaurants and foodies, and Harrod's is determined to pick up on the trend.
That's it for this week! YOU are off to check out the farmer's market and to think about food deserts. We here at "The Muse" plan to work on our exclusive goat meat pop tart creation. Ummm goat and frosting!
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Friday, August 06, 2010

Back to Campus Shopping Season

Ah the world of back to school (BTS) shopping. In the great big world of retail, BTS is the second biggest cash cow of the year. Retailers pull out all the stops, run major promotional campaigns, and look for ways to weave themselves into the minds and wallets of customers. So, onwards to BTS 2010. A time when Back to School now means "Back to Campus" (BAC). When hauls are the new marketing brainwave, and social networking becomes the new medium for snaring shoppers.

From BTS to BAC
Back to School campaigns have often been focused on the K to 12 marketplace. But, as campus retailers know, there is a huge market in the "Back to Campus" crowd. Mainline retailers are waking up to this fact, inspired by estimates showing that the Campus crowd will spend twice as much (45.8 Billion) than the K to 12 crew (21.4 Billion).

The National Retail Federation (NRF) has a great article on the campus trend, and points out a few interesting facts. They mention that Freshman don't seem to be the buyers this year, suggesting that they may be deferring purchases right now. The upside is a focus on male shoppers. Dads will spend more on their children this year, while Mothers are a little more economically cautious, planning to spend 25% less than their their male counterpoint.

Following this gender study, College guys are another hot buying group this year. And, it's not just electronics they are buying. College guys plan to spend more than ever on personal care, clothing and dorm decor.

Campus retailers can read the full article at the NRF website, and consider how they can hook in to this male campus shopper trend before the big boy retailers do.

I Haul, You Haul, We all Haul.
Retailers seem to have embraced "Hauls" as the next great marketing trend. Hauls are videos of shoppers showing off their finds at the local mall. We talked about this trend a few months back, and it appears to be the latest craze for teenage girls with a web cam. Smelling a great promotional idea, retailers are now actively encouraging and promoting hauls of their products as a BTS promotional campaign. J.C. Penny is using hauls as a major marketing campaign this summer, paying popular "haulers" to raid their stores and post videos of their finds. American Eagle is operating a similar campaign, and fashion retailer Forever 21 is in talks to develop a marketing strategy around hauling.

The big trend this year. Will it last? Experts say right now it's working, but with every trend, as soon as retailers start paying (and manipulating) the hauls, viewer cynicism increases. From the campus retail side, I still think there is some value in pursuing this with interested students. Posting hauls of their finds from the campus stores on YouTube can't do any harm right now. It just might lead to a few new sales.

Social Retail Networking.
Retailers were one of the first to grasp the importance of social networking to drive sales, predominately on Twitter and Facebook. Results have been mixed, and there is a fair bit of consumer push back on too much marketing through social networking sites. Still for this BTS season, retailers are focusing attention on this medium.

Sears and Kmart have created "Campus 2010" on Facebook, allowing incoming freshmen to connect with there new roommates and create their dorm room decor online using Sears and Kmart products. The application and portal is a nifty idea, allowing using to virtually see their dorm room made up, and to create wish lists of products they want for unsuspecting parents.

It's cool technology, a clever idea, and a great way to build brand loyalty. I still think the application falls short, simply because of the Sears and Kmart brand. Why can't Campus retailers look at this as a new marketing strategy? Not for 2010, but for 2011? Imagine partnering with some key merchandise suppliers, grabbing some innovative students to develop the application, and launch in the spring of 2011? Remember, brand loyalty is still high for college bookstores, and incoming freshman are looking for a trusted source.

Happy BTC 2010!

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Thursday, August 05, 2010

The summer 2010 Retail reading list

Summer is half over. And you are finished working your way through the "girl who" trilogy by that Scandinavian author. Now it's back to business, and breeze your way through a few well written books on creative, retailing and trends.

Here it is.
"The Retail Muse" Summer reading series for 2010:

1. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking | Malcolm Gladwell
The Blink: The Power of Thinking Without ThinkingGladwell, the author of "The Tipping Point", takes the reader on a journey into the subconscious mind and how we make snap decisions. His treatise is to reveal the difference between good and bad decision making. How, if we focus on a few key details, we make better decisions than if we scan all the vast information available to us.

Lots of discussion related to neuroscience and psychology, but don't let that turn you off. Gladwell is an engaging and enthusiastic writer that takes dreary concepts and makes them come to life. Recommended for anyone interested in becoming a better decision maker.

2. What Women Want: The Global Market Turns Female Friendly | Paco Underhill
Paco Underhill has been retailers' guru since the publication of "Why We Buy". Now Underhill turns his sites from the shopping aisles and considers the aspect of gender in the shopping and buying process. Paco asserts that females are now new power consumer in retail, and it is the influence of women that is reshaping the commercial landscape.

Peppered with his usual charming but soft touch sense of humor, Underhill goes on a mission with us to understand the difference between female and male shoppers. Every retailer should be reading this book to understand he difference between the sexes in the shopping aisles.

3. Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy | Gary Singer
Cover of "Buyology: Truth and Lies About ...Retailing and neuroscience is the new black. Singer goes into a great deal of detail (and a few brain scans or two) to show us how neuroscience and brain activity play an immense role on our purchasing decisions, from toothpaste to T-birds. Unless one of your hobbies is reading neuroscience textbooks, this one is not for the faint of heart. Still, some of the chapters on consumer behavior, along with discussions on how advertising and marketing agencies use neuroscience to drive purchasing, are well worth checking out.

4. Waiter Rant | Steve Dublanica  -AND - Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress | Debra Ginsberg
Cover of "Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip...Alright. So not exactly about retail, but any tale from the restaurant trenches make a retailer feel like they are living the lap of luxury. Both books are similar formats. Not planning to become restaurant servers through a series of coincidences, living to tell the tale. Both share the terrible customer stories, the poor working conditions and management that have gone out of control.

Highly recommended for their fun and breezy style, and the anecdotes that they offer. Perfect beach reads before you head back to the store for back to college rush.

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The re-usable shoplifting bag

What is she up to?Image by wili_hybrid via Flickr
Seems like the past couple of years has seen the demise of the plastic bag,and the increase in the re-usable shopping totes. Retailers are heavily encouraging the use of these totes, while legislatures are contemplating (and implementing), no plastic bag legislation.

All well and good. But now comes reports that re-usable tote bags are causing an increase in shoplifting. One national grocery store chain has raised the concern with head office. With customers increasingly shopping the grocery aisles with their tote bags in hand, it's become easy to slip a few items in the tote and leave without paying. In other cases, shoplifters are filling their bags with high end items, paying only for a portion of their selections.

Retailers are especially vulnerable to the shoplifting tote bag when coupled with self checkout systems. Difficult to keep an eye on both the customers with tote bags and the self checkout lanes.

Loss Prevention Specialists note that re-usable tote bags lined with tinfoil are on the rise. Professional shoplifters use these bags to nab expensive items, while the tinfoil lining allows the merchandise to clear alarm systems.

So far the national chains are not asking customers to leave their tote bags at the front door. Instead they are focusing on staff training to keep an eye out for these re-usable tote bandits.
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Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Retail is Hard

Image via Wikipedia
Making of a teddy bear 3 filling
For years I've heard from many that working in retail is a breeze. Everyone has an opinion on how easy it would be to work at the cash register all day, or has these romantic notions of how much fun it would be to own a little shop by the seaside.

Customers also seem to have a wide range of advice of how to staff your store. What products to carry (and how many), and of course what your operating hours, pricing strategy and marketing programs should be. Everyone is an expert, especially when it comes to retailing.

I was reminded of this curious state of being recently. I was watching the UK version of "The Apprentice" on "YouTube". This British version, (now in it's 6Th season) is basically the original "Apprentice", sans Donald Trump and the addition of sometimes difficult to interpret accents.

The show follows the same format, with each team of apprentices sent out on weekly tasks to make money. In one episode, the teams are sent off to Harrods, billed as the largest department store in the world (7 floors! Luxury goods! something for everyone!). Teams were given the task of choosing items from Harrod's inventory and then sell them to unwitting tourists in special pop up units within the vast store.

Watching the teams perform this task made me realize how incredibly clueless this group of bankers and lawyers and entrepreneurs where about the mechanics of retail. One team learned that it is very difficult to choose products for resale. They settled on teddy bears - nothing else, including a $2000 mega stuffed bear. A dubious and ill advised choice. Then other team added more variety, but learned that merchandising products is not just about hanging one sad t-shirt on slat wall.

Both teams found pricing hard to figure out. All these accountants and business majors couldn't figure out the difference between cost and retail. They were lost on the concept of retail margin, and stared glumly at the point of sale equipment wondering what all the flashing lights meant.

By the time they started to actually operate their store, I was in heavy eye-rolling mode. One team member shrunk into the the woodwork, fearful of chatting with strangers. Another became panicked and aggressive, almost demanding frightened customers to buy a bear. Finally a team member couldn't take the pace any longer, snuck away to the stock room. As he rubbed his aching feet and moaned about how he has never spent this much time on his feet, he looked at the camera and said;

Retail is Hard!

Yes dear apprentice, sometimes it is.
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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Heating up Retail

Oh the heat! "The Muse" is melting! Before turning into a giant puddle at your front entrance, "The Muse" found came across a few trends heating up the retail world:

If it fits you must.....
One of the great drawbacks to shopping for clothes online is how the garment fits. We are all not the same body type, and generalized sizes like small, medium and large, can be a bit confusing. No fitting room for you! But, a company called "" aims to change all that. They have created a nifty online fitting room application. The user enters their specific body measurements (in the privacy of your own home no doubt), and then a 3D mannequin is created. Choose the garment you want to purchase and click select. Your new online mannequin illustrates how the garment will look on you.

What we really like about this application for campus retailers, is that it is a simple button that it placed on your website. Users click to the site, set up with your campus gear, and then away they go. No muss, no fuss for the campus store. It would be great for parents, staff and alumni that browse your site, and may be compelled to purchase if they could use this application.

In beta tests with a large German retailer, sales increased 3.1 times and returns were reduced by 28% using this application. Those type of numbers alone makes this a" must"investigate item for your store ecommerce site.

Texts and Facebook cool
Two recent surveys suggest that retailers diving into online marketing might want to take pause. In the first survey, fully 48% of college aged students indicated that they do *not* want marketing text messages. They find them expensive, intrusive, and annoying. Only 17% of college students surveyed wanted to opt in for marketing text messages. One of the clear signals that came out of the survey was that consumers would accept text messages if it offered them an online offer for something free - otherwise they wanted no part of your sales promos. This went for Twitter promotions as well, so use caution when Twittering all your sales or special offers.

The second independent survey was on Facebook users. The survey found that high school and college students were leaving facebook in fairly large numbers. The reason was not privacy, but more a demographic shift. Young users leaving Facebook cited the fact that their parents and older people were signing up in droves, and the site was loosing its appeal. They also cited the vast amount of marketing messaging as another drawback. More tales of caution when marketing to the fickle college age crowd.

Pop up retail heats up
We've written a bit on the pop up retail trend in the past, especially as a money making application for college stores. has a very good concise article on the "how tos" of opening a pop up retail site, with some real world examples from retailers. The article sites 4 factors for a good pop up store:

First, "to get the word out" - A phrase that every campus retailer focuses on - especially at back to campus time.
Second, "to unload new inventory" - Go look at your back storage room, how much product is hiding about?
Third, ""to test new markets" - how often have you wanted to connect with campus visitors? alumni? parents? - this is one way.
Finally, "to vet a new business idea" Have a new exciting product or service? Pop up might be a way to get the message out.

Read the article HERE, and consider the applications on your campus.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Value, Innovation and Chipotle

Today let's take a look at some themes like value statements and innovation in product offerings. We'll also take a peek into brand identity, and find out that there is finally a good use for junk mail.

What does "Value" Mean?
For many retailers, the term "value" is simply a code word for cheap and discounted products. This is changing for retail marketers, as they broaden the term to mean not just lower prices. Value messages now incorporate such aspects as service, customization, craftsmanship, and convenience.

WalMart is a good example of this trend, dropping the "always low prices" tag line in favour or the more aspirational "Save Money, Live Better" moniker. Upscale furniture retailer Ethan Allan is another trying a new message, focusing on quality and style, rather than competing on price with mass merchant furniture vendors.

Broadening the value message comes as retailers look for ways to engage recession weary consumers. Customers want products that carry a aspirational "feel good" message at a reasonable price.

The Next Big Thing
Retailers have slashed costs and shuttered poor performing stores to combat the recession. But that doesn't mean they have given up trying. Many major retailers are investing heavily in the development of new products, trying to find the "next big thing" to woo customers and drive sales. Watching the sales of new and innovate items like the IPad, retailers are bringing products to market that are new, innovative and different than the same old tired products they are presently stocking.

It doesn't all have to be whiz bang technological products either. Medicines, Organic foods and a futuristic bra are some of the product lines that retailers are rolling out to snag your hard earned dollars. You can read more here.

You are what you buy
A recent article summarized some new research on how we identify with various brands. The study, called "Got to get you into my life: Do Brand Personalities Rub off on Consumers?" was written by a pair of University of Minnesota researchers and published in the "Journal of Consumer Research".

In one study, Women were given a Victoria's Secret shopping bag to use at a local mall. After using the bag for awhile, women perceived themselves to be glamorous, good looking and feminine carrying the bright pink bag. These were all traits of the Victoria's Secret brand personality, rubbing off on the users.

In a separate test, students at the University of Minnesota used pens branded with the MIT logo for a six week period. These students felt that they were more intelligent and harder working than those with regular non branded pens - another example of brand cache connecting with the user.

You can read more about the research HERE. It is interesting how some people get connected and "feel" the brand, while others are completely immune to any brand strategy. Worth contemplating as you slap logos on pens and binders and t-shirts.

Spam - Glorious Spam!
Chipotle has come up with a great promotional campaign, along with a useful fund raising effort. Starting last Friday, Chipotle is asking customers to forward their junk mail to For every 100,000 junk mails it receives, Chipotle will donate $10,000 to "The Lunch Box" a nonprofit that provides healthy recipes to schools throughout the US.

The campaign is part of Chipotle marketing and brand strategy to focus on good healthy food without any "junk" included. It's a very clever campaign and you can watch the junk mail countdown on their facebook fan page.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

From Loss Prevention to Iggy Pop

The Muse found a few interesting nuggets from the giant world of retailing that might be of interest. Loss Prevention, Texas IKEA Gen Y speak and a little bit of Iggy Pop. What more can you ask for as Summer officially begins:

Whole lot of Loss Prevention Going on
An interesting article from an NRF Retail blog, described how two companies made modifications to their returns policy in order to combat ongoing fraud. Making simple changes, such as asking for Identification, and asking questions about the return, was a couple of changes these companies made, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process. It's worth a read, and to think critically about your store's return policy now, in anticipation of the upcoming Fall "Rush" period.

Conversely, a story in the New York Times describes the practices of stores in the NYC area where detaining shoplifters, displaying shoplifter photographs, and demanding payment for stolen goods, is infringing on people rights. It's a cautionary tale of what NOT to to when confronted with shoplifting, and once again is a "rush" focused reminder for you and your staff.

Big Hat / IKEA Cattle.
A curious article appeared in the Houston Chronicle concerning the newly renovated Houston IKEA Store. Besides the fact that Swedish meatballs are $1.00 as a grand opening special, I was struck by the news that IKEA was modifying it's furniture offerings to be more "country" focused. 30% of the products are now country style compared to the contemporary Swedish style we have all come to expect from a typical IKEA store. I guess that is what people like in Texas?

An IKEA spokesperson stated that the company does a fair amount of adapting to the local market. This was a bit of a surprise, as I have never noticed this. Perhaps I live in a Swedish friendly town?

As an aside, note that IKEA is continuing it's focus on college store dorm room solutions. Ideas to take back to your own store! I also like that IKEA is shifting production into the US rather than off shore. Good to see a big corporation seize on the "made in the USA" idea these days.

It Smells So Good.
All along I thought that the smell emanating from my local Abercrombie and Fitch store was coming from the shirtless dudes spritzing cologne throughout their shift. Turns out I am wrong. There are many companies that scent the whole building for you. From apartment blocks to retailers (including Abercrombie), they supply an "ambient scent" process to bring customers in, and provide a relaxed setting. It's a growing industry, and is the latest and greatest retail environment craze. Much simpler than getting your staff to spray your campus cologne over the heads of customers standing in line...

Wearing Heritage and Nostalgia.
A fascinating article, again from the New York Times, points out the burgeoning trend of nostalgia and heritage clothing items. Eddie Bauer is re-introducing the WWII airplane pilot bomber jacket. Janzen is introducing a swimsuit modeled after 1940's pin up girl fashion, and L.L.Bean is revising a hunting shoe from a 1911 catalogue.

All of this heritage couture is an attempt to appeal to customers on an emotional level. Trading in on our nostalgic thoughts of a simpler, gentler time. It made me think that while retailers are combing their back catalogues for inspiration, perhaps college stores should be doing the same thing. Checking out graphics and logos from the forties and fifties, and refreshing them for today. Creating a private label line of iconic nostalgia wear.

Talk Gen Y
Plan on your customers speaking to you in a language you don't understand. But no fear. Now you can brush up on some Gen Y slang for this fall. The link here gives a quick overview of some new slang to know. I particularly like OMLG (Oh my Lady Gaga), to replace OMG. The article also suggested checking out - a great resource to while away some time at work. After all it's customer research!

I am the (online) Passenger.
Special Group Advertising just won a major international award for their Iggy Pop video, promoting ORCON Broadband service in New Zealand. Special Group held auditions for Kiwi's to play Iggy Pop's "passenger" song while he sang along. The kicker? Iggy was in Miami, and the amateur musicisans where all in New Zealand, connected live through ORCON's broadband service. (The video is below). It's a marvelous video, not only for the shirtless Iggy punk smirk, but also that it sells the service so well. Not sure it has a practical college store application, but it does make me sit up and take notice.

As Iggy Says:
Socks are good.