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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Re[tail] Estate

"Pen Sale" originally uploaded by sophiacreek
The front page of the Sunday, July 30, 2006 New York Times Real Estate section featured a lengthy article titled "Sold at First Sight" [free registration required]. The subtitle states "as the market cools, sellers are seeking help from landscapers and professional home stagers to get buyers in the door." The premise: a buyer's market requires a different strategy for success.

It dawned on me: given all of the choices that consumers now have, retail is also a buyer's market, and the same strategies that used to work, no longer do: "with so much to choose from, buyers are getting much pickier." [Hmmm. Substitute 'consumer' for 'buyer.] And curb appeal matters more than ever! Hence the need for landscapers to improve the outside, and for HOME STAGERS who use props "that can be quickly placed outside a client's house to create little vignettes illustrating what life could be like there."

Isn't retail all about considering possibilities? About imagining how a product might look in one's home? The curb appeal of a store tells me a lot about what I can expect from the inside, especially if I am on the lookout for fashion statements for myself or for my home. A store that looks unappealing can be spotted a mile away! Women notice these things!

In a sidebar, the article offers advice from Barb Schwarz, founder of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals:

SURVEY THE OUTSIDE Go across the street, for example, and view the house from a distance, as a buyer would, then walk around the perimeter of the property. Does the front door need painting? Is the shrubbery overgrown?
----> retail: how does your parking lot look? how do your windows look? are there weeds? will the overall look attract drivers by? will it draw them inside??

CLEAN, DECLUTTER AND REPAIR That includes everything from removing seasonal d├ęcor and garbage cans (don’t forget the clunker in the driveway, too) to patching the driveway and power-washing or painting the deck.
----> retail: is your store neat and uncluttered? can consumers walk through without tripping? is the bathroom clean? are all of the light fixtures working? have the new samples been placed into their displays and the old ones discarded?

POLISH THE LANDSCAPING Flowers and plants of varying heights should be added to bare areas in the yard or placed in stylish pots and containers. For a crisper look, use a trimmer on the grass bordering walkways, and cover beds with mulch or crushed stone.
----> retail: what about some flowers outside the shop? maybe some window boxes or planters? don't forget to water and weed the plants, though!

CONSIDER ‘THE POWER OF THREE’ Three shrubs planted in a triangle will have more depth than two in a row. And, Ms. Schwarz said, “no more than three colors when painting the house.”
----> retail: consider the power of 3 inside, too! maybe a color coordinated display area to showcase some new fashion patterns and styles.

PAY ATTENTION TO COLOR Earthy colors like burgundy, deep green and taupe help to create a homey feel. “Use the brighter colors for accents,” Ms. Schwarz said.
----> retail: color draws the eye. Consumers may opt for a neutral, but what drew their attention initially may have been an unusual shade that showcased the pattern she ultimately chose. Interspersing some variety - in a carefully considered manner - offers contrast and visual breathing space.

CREATE VIGNETTES. These are cozy scenes that help prospective buyers visualize what life could be like in the house. “You can take an ordinary patio chair and put a pillow or an afghan on it,’’ Ms. Schwarz said, “with a magazine or book on a nearby table.”
----> retail: YES! ABSOLUTELY! Do it! Help the consumer visualize possibilities. She's looking to express her individuality through her choices, and she's expecting you to be an expert, so be one!

My take on this: if you are serious about successfully connecting with your customer, then you need to look at your overall experience from her perspective. In essence, walk in her shoes. See, feel, smell [yes!], hear and experience things as she would. Shopping engages the consumer's senses - ideally in a pleasurable way - and encourages her to interact with merchandise and eventually buy it, just as a pleasurable house hunting experience does. The more satisfying the overall experience, the more likely she will be to return to buy, and then to promote the experience to everyone she knows.

Details matter. Look at the store as if this customer were going to buy the store as opposed to only a few items within.

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