Monday, May 31, 2010

Selling individuality

Most of us want to be unique. Different than all the rest. We regale in our find of a TV show, or cinematic treasure that no one else has discovered. We troll the Internet looking for the next big musical sensation. We can recall the time that we found the perfect pair of jeans or shirt, for our lumpy and less than model styled bodies. That thrill you get when fashion seems to weld to our bodies; a near blissful synergy, made only for us.

So it's no surprise that retailers are re-tooling their businesses models to offer customization, detailing and "made by you" as a way to capture customer interest. Not that any of this is new. We've been able to slap our name on the back of a t-shirt since the days of the slide rule. The difference now is the ability to customize well beyond the name, choosing colors, fit, fabric and style. All powered by advances in technology, but also a shift in manufacturer thinking, that there is a financial return beyond the "one size fits all" approach.

One company in the new DIY fashion arena is a company that focuses entirely on custom designed men's shirts. You are "co-creator" on their website, choosing fabric, style, sizing and adding your own personal touch, such as monogramming, buttons or your own private label. The experience is billed as being fun, easy and more than anything, the opportunity to create something that is all your own, not one of ten thousand. They have received a great deal of lavish press, all of which you can read on their website.

Blank Label joins a new and growing movement of individualized products. allows you to create a personalized custom granola (what better way to start your day by celebrating your oneness through cereal). is a youth oriented site that allows members to create and upload their own t-shirt graphic creations to show the world. Threadless builds a community, while at the same time providing cash, and exposure to budding graphic designers, likely silkscreening away at a campus near you.

If online customization is not your thing, and you prefer the in store personal touch, check out "Tailored Clothing Technology Corp", or TC2. This company has been developing 3D scan technology, allowing for customers to achieve the perfect fit, The customer stands, in what is essentially an airport security scanner, strips down and dons a scan wear outfit as 16 scanners cruise around creating an incredibly accurate 3 dimensional image of your body - lumps and all.

The technology was first installed in 1999 at Levis' San Francisco flagship store for perfectly fitted jeans. Now the technology has been installed at Brooks Brothers and Victoria's Secret. The US Coast Guard has bought a machine (for perfectly fitted underwear!), as have 40 to 50 Colleges with fashion design programs.

A little closer to the campus store experience is the company At first this company build its reputation on customizing sports jerseys at arenas throughout the US and Canada. Using a vending machine concept, customers can use the interface to order their favorite players sports jersey, or add their own name and number to the product. Now FanZones has been reaching into the college market with their in store customizable solution. They showed at Camex 2010, and while their focus has been in the college team customization, they make a good case for campus stores making this customization product available to many groups on campus. Alumni, Presidents office, Student Groups. The list is endless as how this company could really help the camps store build goodwill (and sales), by offering an in house customizable product. Worth checking out to build incremental sales and weave your store further into the campus community.

Finally, you can be an individual even while staying abroad. In Brussels, you can stay at the newly opened Pantone Hotel. Each room is designed in an official Pantone color palette. Your room shade is assigned based on your mood at check in. From there, the color matching concept is carried over to the hotel's amenities. The rooftop bar is a great place to sip a Daiquiri Green 12-0435. Guests can sign up for color consultations and seminars on color psychology. You can check it out here.

"Make it mine" seems to be the statement of the day. Enjoy creating and wearing your own styles, choosing just the right color palette for your stay in Brussels, and wouldn't it be great if you could scan your way through airport security, receiving a perfectly fitted suit at the same time? It makes taking off your shoes in the airport that much more worthwhile.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Design Thinking

Do you think of yourself as a designer? Can you think with an emphasis on design principles? Heather Fraser, the director of DesignWorks at the University of Toronto thinks we all have a bit of hidden designer within us.

Fraser posits that design thinking means applying design principles to business applications. " It's about the way designers look at opportunities and problems" says Fraser, and if you stop and think about it, she's right. She goes on to say that designers approach problems with a holistic and human dimension. Meaning that designers think of the whole problem, and the customer perspectives, when making decisions on retail operations, restaurants, and business practices.

Fraser goes on to say that we likely make design centered thinking without knowing it. The key is to let go of the focused MBA style analytics and spreadsheets, embracing this whole mind thinking to combat problems. The idea, again, is to look at the problem from a distance. Consider a college store renovation. How will the students navigate the store? How will they find the books easily and effectively? Are you a school with a strong athletics program that you want to highlight? A large committed Alumni base? A street scape location that favors tourist traffic to your store? Each of these questions (and many others), highlight the holistic design thinking process that makes your store stand out, and creates an environment that fits the customer, not you.

For college stores, it is a reminder to think creatively. Think outside of the boring textbook box, and embrace the unknown. Customer attitudes and desires come into play. The key is to develop merchandising, marketing, and store design that offers creative, and new world thinking to age old problems.

Embrace some right brain thinking, and remember the term "Design Thinking" when planning changes to your business.

Baggy shorts out!

Not two weeks ago, spring sprung. So I was out and about, cleaning up the February detritus on the lawn, enjoying the sunshine, and burrowing in my closet for a pair of shorts. Shorts! I was so excited. Happy to show off my pasty white legs of winter, giving em a bit of sun to celebrate the season.

As I pulled out last summer seasons' short collection, I was reminded of a certain sun drenched frustration. That being, the rise of baggy shorts. For years now, it seems that men have had no choice but to wear shorts that had a vague suburban rap singer pastiche. Male bloomers. Big and hippy, with 16 pockets and falling below the knee. It was akin to wearing a full on military flak jacket around your waist, with the stiff cotton scratching below your knee caps.

Desirous for my legs to at least see some sunlight each year, I suffered through this unhappy trend. Schlepping around in my voluminous cargo capri shorts I found myself saying "dude" alot, and at least could carry a weeks worth of groceries in all the pockets. My knees never saw sunlight. It was a distasteful fashion.

Go forward to 2010 and the fitted, above the knee short is the new hip trend for men. This year it's all about slim fitting shorts for the summer. How great! The new shorts are above the knee, fitted to the leg and no longer baggy and voluminous. A slim silhouette for men, tired of the blooming shorts of the past. Designers are encouraging men to go slim, go above the knee, and show off those spindly chicken legs. As one observer pointed out, Men focus on the chest and abs, but ignore their waist and legs. This resulted in the cargo baggy shorts look of yesterday. Now, with the slimmer look, men are encouraged to go down one size (use your imagination as to why), and to choose shorts that are tightly fitted and above the knee.

For retailers, especially college retailers selling to a trend conscious youth market, this trend means putting all your baggy rap shorts on sale,and embracing the fitted wear of 2010.

At least this year I can tan my knees.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The New Frugality

I'm all for saving a buck or two. Snatching something on sale, striking a deal, or getting something for nothing. Yet, I'm also one of of those types that gather coupons in my house and car, dragging them out for redemption two days after expiry. I have tried to read flyers and check sales, but I just get bored and end up shopping at the same places as always. After all, no matter what I might hope for, wine and camembert just never seem to be good items to hang your frugal hat on.

So I read, with a certain amount of bemused fascination, an article on the "new frugality" that people have embraced. Of course frugal living is a by-product of the recent economic malaise. Coupon hoarders have been around for decades. Carrying in their binders and organizers packed with clipped bargains, we've all heard the stories of these "coupon heads" leaving the grocery store with carts of food stuffs and paying $1.25.

But that is passe. The new frugal living folk fill blogs with tips and tidbits on extreme frugalness. Splitting two ply toilet paper into two rolls, grabbing ketcchup packs from fast food restaurants for home use, and in one case, bragging that you live in a house without a toilet (Which of course saves you a great deal in the two ply to one ply activity). At the most extreme, the new frugal folks even recycle and reuse dental floss. These activities might save a few pennies, but they hardly seem sensible, or even very practical.

For retail and service industries, all these uber frugal practices create one big headache. Frugalites brag of their conquests with restaurants to score free meals with their endless criticism of minor imperfections. After chowing down on free burgers, they go shopping, scoring discounts for slight imperfections in clothing. Asking for (and receiving) dollars off on products that are slightly banged and bruised. When that does not work, they go dumpster diving, looking for case off merchandise and food.
Whats the lesson here? Well for one, "The Retail Muse" is far too high maintenance to unroll toilet paper and reuse dental floss. Besides that, awareness if the lesson of the day. While these individuals might be the extreme of frugal living, College stores should be aware of this movement, and assess their customer refund and discount expectations in light of the possibility of uber frugalists living on campus.

Beware the new frugalist, and grab only as many ketchup packs as you need for one meal.