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 www.menaji.com 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 http://www.groupon.com? 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 "thewildernessdowntown.com"
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: thewildernessdowntown.com, 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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