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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Hallowe'en Bathroom Horror Stories!

Well, it wouldn't be a proper Hallowe'en without some scary stories, right? And the Bathroom Blogfest '06 is going on, right?

Here we go!

If you remember from Your Bathroom is a Work of Art I referred to the winners of the Golden Plungers awards. One of the NYC winners - the Best Bathroom for Extroverts - is called Bar 89. Well, Bar 89, and others sharing a similar spirit, appear in several bathroom horror story writeups!

This article from The Gothamist titled When Bad Bathrooms Happen to Good Restaurants refers to public bathrooms that confuse [i.e., Bar 89] as well as disgust.

And this 5/4/2005 article from The New York Times by Frank Bruni titled Forget the Specials, Explain the Restroom puts into very human terms the exasperating tendency to be confusing, obtuse, unclear, impractical and frustrating at a time when both men & women want and need to be efficient! He writes: "It's an exercise in stress, an invitation to exasperation. You tread tortuous paths to befuddling destinations. You encounter too little space or too much whimsy, the funhouse flourishes sowing enough confusion to warrant operating instructions, which a few restrooms actually have. You wish - oh, how you wish - that you never had to go." The article is well worth a read.

The author's wish - to never have to go - represented my mantra as a child attending French schools in West Africa where public toilets [IF I was lucky] were of the squat variety. Pretty traumatic for a little American girl!

My friend Jody shares this worst bathroom story:

Sorry I don't have a photo...but I distinctly remember the worst! I was in Leuven, Belgium at a pub drinking those Belgian beers that are each served in their own distinctive glass. I asked where the ladies room was and excused myself. But upon following the directions I found myself at the men's restroom instead. So I returned to our table for new directions. I was told you just walk thru the men's urinals to get to the women's restroom!

Hallowe'en isn't all about horror, though. It's also about little kids dressing up and having a fun time [and adults maybe raiding their candy stash??]. In that spirit, I include the following critiques:

In What Makes a Destination? I mentioned having to return to the Disney Store in Manhattan to give it proper consideration. Accompanied by my soon-to-be-5-year-old, we took photos by statues of Mickey, Cruella deVille, and then with a real live Cinderella [as whom my daughter will be dressing up today]. Fabulous experience! An official Disney photographer took photos. I was invited to take my own photos, too. We were issued a Disney PhotoPass with website info to view the photos for the next 30 days [remember the lousy Toys R Us photo experience?]; they are available to share via email [at no charge] as well as for purchase.

Being good travellers [we had gone into the city for the afternoon], we used the ladiesrooms before leaving. Cinderella was up on the 3rd floor. The bathrooms were down in the basement. Escalators down to the first floor, then stairs down. [Sure would have been nice to be mechanized all of the way down.]

At the bathrooms, a long line.... out into the hall. The mensrooms seemed empty. Doors to both were open [amazingly!]. The womensrooms featured a nice waiting area with 2 leather chairs and a baby changing table [no privacy here, unlike Bloomingdale's Bathroom Makeover]. Then, the sink and toilet area: 4 stalls, 4 sinks. Don't you think they could have included a few more toilets given how busy this story is EVERY DAY OF THE WEEK? It is a major tourist destination!

The bathroom stalls could also have been better designed. I had to straddle the toilet in order to get myself AND my daughter into a stall. Don't a lot of small children visit the Disney Store? And if they need to use the facilities, don't you think that a parent will need to accompany them?

Time to wash hands [we sing our ABCs to make sure the hands get properly cleaned]: no stool! My daughter can barely reach the faucet on her own. If IKEA [see How To Achieve An Inspired Environment] can think to offer step stools in its bathrooms for its youngest customers, don't you think that Disney - whose specialty is catering to the child within all of us, big and small - would and should?

The moral of these horror stories is: Unless you have a really good reason, don't overdo it with your bathrooms. Do, though, relentlessly and passionately think of your consumers and how to deliver a consistently clean, dependable, thoughtful and delightful experience. Imagine how your consumers [men, women and children] would navigate through your space and figure out how to make it easy for them. Do the kids need a stool? Should the door handles be easier to grasp?

The more you can anticipate, the more appreciative your customers will be, especially your women consumers!

Happy Hallowe'en!

These are the latest Bathroom Blogfest '06 posts:

+ Sara Cantor at Curious Shopper just posted Shoppers Must Wash Their Hands. Yes, Sara!

+ Maria Palma at Customers Are Always just posted My Bathroom Phobia and Secret. I look at shoes, too!

+ Susan Abbott at Customer Experience Crossroads just posted Integrated Customer Experience Applied to the Bathroom. I, too, am most grateful to the wonderful MacDonald's bathrooms around the world for being so consistent in their experience.

+ Stephanie Weaver at Experienceology just posted Where Are the Well Designed Bathrooms?

+ Linda Tischler at Fast Company's blog FC Now just posted Posh Porta-potty

+ Thanks to PurpleWren for joining the Blogfest!

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Your Bathroom Is a Work of Art

In Let The Bathroom Blogfest Begin!, I referred to The Bathroom Diaries and the Golden Plungers for 2003. Talk about over-the-top bathrooms! Five are in the U.S., 2 in Singapore, 1 in Scotland, 1 in Antartica [!] and 1 in Hong Kong.

Of the U.S. ones, one caught my attention.... And, although 2 are located in NYC [I'll have to check those out], the one that jumped out was located on the campus of my alma mater!

Yes, the best bathroom for a 'Cerebral Experience' can be found at the Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton, MA. Talk about being floored! I remember nice bathrooms in my day, but nothing along these lines - and I was an art history major!

"These two bathrooms, besides being functional, make profound statements about creation and water."

Two artists participated in the creation of the bathrooms: Sandy Skolund created the men's room, titled "Liquid Origins, Fluid Dreams" in 2002. Ellen Driscoll created the women's room, titled "Catching the Drift" also in 2002.

"Artist Sandy Skoglund [class of 1968] created a giant 3-D checkerboard in her men’s room Liquid Origins, Fluid Dreams. The artist based her designs on 10 myths associated with water and the creation of the universe. The images reflect the two most primary human functions, creation and cleansing.

Ellen Driscoll's women’s bathroom is a deep blue watery world, called Catching the Drift. Around the room—on the walls, in the sinks, in the toilets—are painted images of fishing nets, hooks, and various flora and fauna relating to the sea. The artist also incorporated four images of women. “The images are in profile, so they’re gazing at each other, but they’re also looking at you,” the artist said. “I like that bit of tension.” "

Photos of "Catching the Drift" are available here and photos of the installation of "Liquid Origins, Fluid Dreams" are available here along with drawings of the ten myths referred to above.

The Smith College website includes this interesting writeup on the bathrooms and states that they "blur the boundaries between form and function as well as personal and public space." Photos of the 2 are available here, too.

You can also read more about the project in this article titled Flush with Art by John MacMillan. He writes that both artists have "transformed the fixtures ... into pieces of art that suggest fanciful spaces and extend the gallery experience into hidden corners of the building. "It's the idea of taking art off the walls and using every aspect of the building for art".

Now, I'm not necessarily suggesting that you transform your store and its bathrooms into an art gallery, but what if you projected some of the fun and whimsy and obvious commitment to elevating the bathroom experience to your retail experience? Don't you want to take and use every aspect of your flooring store to project a strong message about your knowledge and passion for your product AND your consumer?

Interestingly, the Kohler Company [maker of bathroom fixtures] is active in supporting bathroom design efforts. So even the most utilitarian and functional items in our lives can be sources of art. Imagine these totally amazing works of art by Clark Sorenson in your mensrooms. Admit that these would forever change how your customers perceive your retail experience!

And, if for some reason, you need a portable solution, then consider reading the Springwise Newsletter trend about "Luxury loos on location" featuring Igloos.co in the U.K. These, too, will forever change your expectations!

Given these examples, I hope you'll consider that your bathrooms represent significant opportunities... to create your very own best cerebral bathroom experience for your retail environment!

Check out the latest Bathroom Blogfest '06 postings from the following participants:

And, thanks to David Polinchock for contributing to the conversation at Customer Experience Crossroads: It's all happening at the loo. He promises to post more during the week!

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Bloomingdale's Bathroom Makeover

My first job out of college was in the Bloomingdale's Third Avenue/NYC store when Bloomingdale's represented the ultimate in glamour and fashion. Thanks to the work of a team of very talented and visionary designers, those days are back! I'm very excited to share the following post contributed by Lisa A. Contreras, Senior Associate, Retail Group Resource Director at MANCINI DUFFY ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN, located in New York City. Lisa has led the team redesigning the Bloomingdale's Third Avenue store in NYC for the past 7 years and the results have been drop-dead gorgeous!

When I think of using public restrooms, I often cringe. Bright fluorescent lighting, floor to ceiling tile, and metal toilet partitions make these spaces feel uninviting and very utilitarian.

Recently, I had the experience of designing the new 4th floor Women’s Lounge and Restroom facility for Bloomingdales at their flagship 59th St Store in NYC. Bloomingdales has been re-strengthening their brand identity over the last several years and I have been fortunate to lead the Mancini Duffy team of designers in assisting Bloomingdales in creating and re-branding their customer experience package.

This customer experience challenge with Bloomingdales was to create glamour, to bring the brand identity of Bloomies to each Customer Experience and to make the space easy to maintain by Bloomingdales in house facilities team. The palette is inspired by 1930s glamour which we have updated and made “modern deco”. Bloomingdales signature Black brings drama to the space, along with creamy polished marble floors with black granite borders, polished chrome sconces with white linen shades, silvery gray wallcoverings, and lots of mirrors.

The Women’s Restroom facility is divided into three zones:

As the customer enters our restroom facility from the newly renovated Intimate Apparel Department (another renovation by Mancini Duffy bringing customer service to the much needed Intimate Apparel world), she is greeted in the lounge area with comfortable seating to the left and a make-up area on the right. A classic Platner table with fresh flowers sparkles in the center of the room. Comfortable seating is a must. (There are many times that I have needed to check my blackberry when I am out and about and this is perfect). We chose fabrics that have a soft hand, but wear like iron in quilted silvers and blacks. The make-up area is accented with a black granite counter and ’30 French inspired cream lacquer chairs in a silver fabric (solution dyed yarn, of course, for easy cleaning). Good lighting and lots of mirrors round out the space.

Next is the sink area. Here, the area is highlighted with beveled halo lit mirrors, black granite counters, and “flocked” damask wall covering (that is actually a vinyl wall covering). We created a gallery shelf in clear glass and polished chrome for hand towels and easy disposals in the sink top for the trash (all the guts of big trash bins, etc are hidden from the customer view but easy to access for the cleaning crew).

The toilet rooms are individual rooms with frosted glass and black rubbed wood doors. Inside the rooms, the customer will find hooks for coats and bags and a purse shelf for her convenience. The baby change area is easily accessible for a Mom with a stroller, but the actual changing pad is hidden from view. (Even as a mother of a young son myself, I don't like to have to watch another Mom change a dirty diaper in public.)
The new Bloomingdale's 4th floor Women's Lounge and Restroom opened to the public in May 2006, and have been a huge success. Lisa's team has taken the basic design stategy and rolled it out to most of the Bloomingdale's branch stores, with the balance to be completed in 2007. In NJ, for example, Short Hills has recently been updated.

In addition to the 4th floor Women's Lounge and Restroom, and Intimate Apparel Department, Mancini Duffy has redesigned the Bloomingdale's giftwrap, elevator lobbies, personal shopping service and the Visitor Center [for out-of-town guests] to further enhance the shopper's customer experience and strengthen the Bloomingdale's brand identity. The entire 59th Street Store is being re-worked floor by floor to consistently reinforce the brand experience throughout the store.

I encourage you to visit Bloomingdale's on Third Avenue in NYC and experience for yourself the power of a fully integrated brand and store identity, where every detail exists to delight the consumer and reinforce the customer experience - even in the bathroom!

How might you do the same in your store?

Check out the posts so far today from the following Bathroom Blogfest 2006 participants:

- Susan Abbott at Customer Experience Crossroads recently posted about Bathroom Blogfest: Clubs.

- Stephanie Weaver at Experienceology recently posted Bathroom Blogfest Begins and Calgon Take Me Away.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Let the Bathroom Blogfest Begin....

Welcome to the Bathroom Blogfest! After all of the anticipation, it is finally upon us! Are you ready? Maria Palma at Customers Are Always is; she just issued Announcing the Bathroom Blogfest '06!

To put this Blogfest into perspective, consider the following questions: How seriously do you take your retail experience? Do you care about the messages your environment projects onto consumers? Do you care whether consumers breathe a sigh of relief upon entering your store or shudder in disgust and escape as quickly as possible? Do you want your customers to tell everyone they know about what a fabulous experience they had, and what impeccable service they encountered at your store? Or, are you indifferent to it all?

Well, if you do take all of this to heart, then you have considered that bathrooms matter. They matter to women and they matter to men. And, clean ones matter particularly to women, your primary consumer. Clean bathrooms send a strong message that you CARE about your consumers, and that you take care of DETAILS.

Even Seth Godin [speaker, author, blogger, entrepreneur, guru] has touched on the matter. Read his post titled How Much Do You Care? with 2 photos that capture the essence of what bathroom details communicate!

Many women helped me gather materials for this BlogFest: within my company and outside of it, within the flooring industry and beyond it. It has been fascinating tracking comments and reactions. Some thought I was off my rocker to address such a subject. Interestingly, when they got to talking about it with their peers, their customers, their mill reps, their friends, and their families, they realized that -often at an unconscious level- they were paying a great deal of attention to the state of bathrooms, and making decisions based on those reactions!

As with most topics, there's a continuum of states:
  • horrific
  • functional
  • clean and functional
  • nice touches
  • fabulous attention
  • over-the-top

In a previous post titled Two Hands I shared my frustration with the Dallas convention center bathrooms that didn't take into account the stuff that people have to lug around and deal with in a public bathroom. Nonetheless, this was a clean and functional bathroom. [We just needed more of them to eliminate the line of women waiting out into the hallways at each break.]

Women have high standards for the bathroom experience. And, when they step into their chief purchasing officer role, beware! Women also fill the role of chief health officer. When they travel with their other constituents -especially children- they become ferocious!

Women expect at a minimum to encounter 'clean and functional'. We are grateful for nice touches and really impressed with fabulous attention. When we are in a store, we tend to scan and get a sense for the overall store. We notice whether the displays are neat and well organized, whether the lighting is pleasant, whether light bulbs are functioning, whether brochures cases are full or empty.... We're looking for clues to confirm whether we can relax in your store, whether we can trust folks in your store, and whether we'll have a good experience. We have enough stress in our lives and we're hoping that you'll alleviate the stress rather than contribute to it. If we can relax, we'll spend time in your store and we'll appreciate that your bathroom reinforces the other positive cues and clues we've gotten.

In researching the topic of bathrooms, I came across this useful site: The Bathroom Diaries which lists the best bathrooms in the world. You can search by country, you can upload locations to your wireless device, read essays, write your own reviews, and take in the beauty of the 2003 Golden Plungers Winners. You can read Mei Mei Thai's article describing the site in When You Gotta Go, Wherever You Are.

I will address one of the winners of the 2003 Golden Plungers during this Bathroom Blogfest! Hint: it's a high-brow experience! I'll also share some horror stories on Hallowe'en, tips on how to improve the bathroom experience, and some very exciting flooring and non-flooring examples.

Stay tuned, and let the Bathroom Blogfest of 2006 begin!

Be sure to visit the other bloggers participating in this week's Bathroom Blogfest ‘06:

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Enhancing the World Around Us

Moon Glow originally uploaded by Heaven's Gate.
In Making The World A Better Place I described Mannington Mill's Stand On A Better World Awards Program. Well, the results for the 2006 program are in, and I feel truly humbled reading about the accomplishments of these marvelous women.

The press release states: "From an 81-year-old retired lawyer saving destitute children in Nepal to a 20-year-old college student fighting to eliminate second-hand smoke in her community, the recipients of the 2006 “Stand On A Better World” Awards are a true inspiration to women everywhere who strive to make a difference in people’s lives. "

Read the descriptions of these womens' lives. They reacted to a defining moment in their lives: an injustice, a personal challenge, a gap in the system, an opportunity to makes things better.... And, in reacting they took action and came up with solutions that helped so many others in the process, truly enhancing the world around us:
  • Olga Murray – Sausalito, Calif. Founded the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation which benefits the lives of impoverished Nepalese children by providing life’s basic necessities
  • Dana Dakin – Wilmot, N.H. Founded WomensTrust, a grassroots non-profit that helps poor women and their families in Ghana, West Africa
  • Ritu Primlani – Berkeley, Calif. Launched Thimmakka Certified Green Restaurants helping first-generation ethnic business entrepreneurs to provide a “green-certified” way for restaurants to do business.
  • The finalists: Jenny Bowen – Berkeley, Calif. , Jill Sheffield – New York, N.Y. , Amy Jaffe Barzach – West Hartford, Conn. , Debora Sponsel-Jolley – Albuquerque, N.M. , Meghan Pasricha – Hockessin, Del. Each has created a solution equally powerful and beautiful.
It's amazing to witness women's 'other-mindedness' or group focus in action, engaging community, creating epidemics of enthusiastic support for causes, helping others, and nurturing children -our global future- and others in need across the globe.

I love the adage that inspires Dana Dakin: "life comes in thirds: the first third you learn, the second you earn and the final third you return". It certainly seems to apply to many of these women, who have finished raising their own children, retired from careers and jobs to follow a new passion: changing the world for the better, one child, or person, or project at a time.

At the same time, the finalists represent women in the 'earn' stage [Amy Jaffe Barzach, Debora Sponsel-Jolley] and in the 'learn' stage [Ritu Primlani and Meghan Pasricha]. They aren't waiting to 'return'; they're doing it now! This bodes well for the complex world we live in!

These women and so many others all around us - our Mothers, Sisters, Friends, Daughters and Teachers - constantly nurture us and support us and encourage us and provide us with safety and love and education and inspiration. They have, more often than not, been unsung heroines in our lives and now we can take a moment to honor them.

And, by the way, these women, in addition to being our Mothers, Sisters, Daughters, Friends and Teachers, are also our customers. So how do we show them the appreciation they are due for enhancing the world around us every day?

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Atlanta's Atlantic Station - A Lifestyle Center

Atlantic Station originally uploaded by wizum.
After hearing so much about them, I have finally experienced a Lifestyle Center, this one in Atlanta - the new Atlantic Station which the website describes as a live/work/play community in midtown Atlanta.

The 9/25/06 issue of Ad Age features an article titled "If You Shopped Here, You'd Be Home By Now, FIRST IN A SERIES: Yaromir Steiner is Convinced the Future of America is the Shopping Mall" by Greg Lindsay. It defines lifestyle center as "a real-estate industry term for the upscale, open-air malls that eschew both the department-store anchors of traditional malls and big-box behemoths with acres of parking." This article and its companion piece from the 10/2/06 issue titled "Say Goodbye to the Mall SECOND IN A SERIES: Regional Plazas Face Extinction Thanks to Growth of Mixed-Use 'Lifestyle Centers'" provide a fascinating glimpse on how this new phenomenon differs from the traditional mall.

In case you weren't aware, the traditional mall is a thing of the past. No new malls are scheduled for development for the foreseeable future. Instead, we'll see approx. 60 new lifestyle centers going up between now and 2008. The reason? "It's a couple of things," said Michael Kercheval, CEO of the ICSC. "One is recognizing that the baby boomers will respond ideally to something that recalls their pasts. The second is that it's much easier these days to win approvals from cities, towns and their mayors to build a mixed-use development with trees and fountains than a mall, when the outside of most malls resembles a prison surrounded by a sea of asphalt." [grim description!]

Lifestyle centers -like Atlantic Station- recreate the feel of an urban center, with streets and traffic and stores mixed in with restaurants and movie theaters, offering convenience, camaraderie and entertainment on a human scale. Retailers generally feel that the centers "actually liberate and empower their brands in a manner the typical enclosed mall never could."

They break with traditional malls on several fronts: no department store anchors and plenty of 'barriers' to fully engage shoppers in the experience [e.g., streets to cross, traffic to watch out for, no piped-in music, unexpected weather...]. In integrating living with shopping and working, they represent the "holy grail" of New Urbanism, "the movement of urban planners and architects working to reintroduce the human scale and layouts of traditional towns to the snarled development of sprawl."

To get a big picture perspective of Atlantic Station, I purposely stayed in the car [I was also really tired!]. Next time, I'll go for the pedestrian approach.

Atlantic Station is still a work in progress, but as part of a large sprawling city like Atlanta, it is widely touted as an excellent example where living, working, shopping are fully integrated in a more holistic manner. [See Atlantic Station Delivers by Suzanne Marques from the 10/19/2005 issue of 11Alive.com.]

It's a massive project with 3000 to 5000 residential units [10,000 people expected to live there eventually]. IKEA anchors one end of the 138 acre environmental redevelopment and reclamation of the former Atlantic Station Steel Mill. It will include 15 million square feet of retail, office and residential and hotel space broken down as 11 acres of public parks, 2 million square feet of retail space, and 1000 hotel rooms. Just staggering, and equivalent to creating a small city [it even has its own zip code]!

As of October 2006, the core shopping district is mostly complete [Target has yet to be built]. In many ways, it resembles a traditional mall laid out in an urban grid complete with streets and parallel parking spots [time to polish those skills!]. Ample parking is available underground and subway-like stairways take you above ground to the shopping.

A surprise: a supermarket amidst the Studio D, Victoria's Secret, Abercrombie and other stores, restaurants, and movie theaters. Kind of neat - if you don't mind shlepping your grocery bags around.

Although some of the retail spaces will have living spaces above them, I was disappointed that the townhouses/condos weren't better integrated with the shopping/dining/entertaining areas. Living, although compact, is still separate from the rest and has a suburban feel [except for those few who live immediately adjacent to the action]. If I assume that a lifestyle center wants to create an urban area similar to a NYC or a San Francisco or a Paris where neighborhoods have distinct personalities resulting from the neighboring resources, then I would expect flower shops and corner grocers interspersed amidst the buildings in the 'Home Park' and the 'Commons'. Where are those 3rd places [as described by Ray Oldenburg in his book "The Great, Good Place"] that create community? I hope they're coming.

I was also surprised at the potential for intense traffic jams within the 'District'. On the plus side, it allowed me to gawk from my car and experience the big picture! Rereading the Ad Age articles, though, I appreciate that the congestion is part of the experience!

That said, I'm interested in watching how this develops. I'm excited about the concept of lifestyle centers. These are models for smart growth and sustainable development. They are also about retail experience and integrating that experience into our work/live/play lives, creating an environment that fights urban sprawl, attempts to recreate urban town centers, and certainly addresses the flaws of the mall model [Have you read Paco Underhill's "Call of the Mall"? See recommended reading section/retail trends].

Lifestyle centers represent a fascinating opportunity for retailers, too. Especially those wanting to test new formats and approaches that mesh more fully into their target audiences' lives. What an opportunity for a carpet or flooring store to reinvent the store model -- maybe as a "flooring cafe" as suggested by John Jantshch from Duct Tape Marketing in this post titled The Return of the Department Store -- in a format that could create that 3rd place, and establish itself fully into the day-to-day lives of the consumers of this mini-city! It's ripe for the picking for retailers with the right level of passion! If you aren't convinced that some get it, read Atlantic Station broadens retail base from the 10/5/06 issue of TheStoryGroup.com.

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! Upcoming Blogfest....

I'm thrilled to announce an exciting upcoming event titled "Bathroom Blogfest" that Flooring The Consumer has been invited to participate in!

What is a blogfest you ask?

Well, it's a celebration of sorts, an opportunity to have a focused series of exchanges on a common topic. In this case, the topic is bathrooms and how they matter to your customer's experience. You can learn more by reading further and also by Scrubbing up for the Bathroom Blogfest.

Since women make or influence over 80% of the purchase decisions, it matters to her that she have a positive experience in your establishment. How appealing your bathrooms are signals to her that you value her, her time and her business. In her mind, if the bathrooms are well taken care of, chances are you'll take good care of her, too. And, how positive a retail experience she has matters to you if you are serious and passionate about your business!

The Bathroom Blogfest will take place Hallowe'en week, starting on October 30th, 2006. It includes the following extremely discerning and knowledgeable customer and retail experience experts from the U.S., Canada and India:
If you have examples of good [and bad] women's bathrooms, consider sharing them here. Simply email me, or post a comment. Photos can also be loaded onto Flickr. NOTE: I'd really like to showcase some great flooring bathrooms!

This is looking to be an eye-opening plunge into a world that matters more to your women consumers than you ever appreciated!

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Upcoming NYC Event.... 11/3/06

Roller coaster originally uploaded by Lava.
If you find yourselves in New York City on November 3, 2006, consider attending the Columbia Business School Marketing Association of Columbia's 2nd annual Marketing Conference .

This year's conference addresses a topic that is garnering increasingly more attention from the news and the marketplace: “From Tuning In to Plugging In: The Future of Integrated Marketing.”

Organizers expect over 350 faculty, alumni, students and prominent leaders from the marketing field to address the theme and describe the conference as follows:

The rise of interactive and new media marketing has brought new challenges to companies. Creating, building, and differentiating brands have never been more difficult. Heightened consumer fragmentation and empowerment are challenging marketers to create innovative marketing strategies that extend beyond traditional television, print, and radio media. Then there's the hype of non-traditional approaches – Internet, guerilla, viral, product placement, and interactive marketing – and the expectation that brands require an alternative marketing strategy to succeed. So what's fact and what's fiction? What works, what doesn't, and what's next?

The conference will meld the new and the old to explore how companies create effective marketing strategies by leveraging traditional and unconventional marketing approaches. We invite you to join this forum to explore the latest trends and research in the field, and foster personal and professional networks.

It's a stellar lineup of speakers and panelists, with a few more to be finalized:

In addition to keynote addresses, the conference will feature two panels:

  • The Age of Consumer Generated Content
  • Creating a Winning Brand: Integrated Marketing Done Right

This should be a fascinating and thought-provoking event!

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What Makes a Destination?

My retail experience 'treat' - which started with Retail Experience and the Human Element - continues with a focus on what makes a retail experience a destination.

In other words, why would you go out of your way to visit a retail store given all of the choices available? Certainly, how well you are treated plays a big role. And how special the retail environment matters, too. But, another aspect has to do with the uniqueness of the products and consistency of the merchandising. Or, a passion for the mission.

I was excited to finally experience Zara 5th Avenue [I walked past another on 59th by Lexington later] . I first learned about Zara from a November 2004 Harvard Business Review article [titled "Rapid Fire Fulfillment"]. And, earlier this year at the Envirosell "Science of Shopping" conference, Paco Underhill introduced Jose Luis Nueno, marketing professor at Spain's IESE business school, to talk about Zara [he sits on the board of Zara and several other European 'powerhouse merchants'].

Zara is remarkable for being absolutely on top of the fashion game with the most efficient supply chain system in the world - it can develop, make and deliver anywhere around the world a new apparel style in 15 days! It has created a means of rapidly responding to changing customer preferences via an amazing store communications system. This enables the company to get feedback on new styles [10,000 new introductions per year] to decide whether to ramp up or down on production runs. Part of their secret - which goes against conventional practices - is to limit product supply, and constantly replenish with new products. In other words, deliver 'fast fashion'.

Do read Andrea Learned's posting titled " Women Buy Zara's Scarcity" which will point you to a February 2005 HBR archive on Zara. Do also check out the Zara website which offers a marvelous visual display of many of its store fronts and store windows around the world, and even discusses the latest fashion trends.

I thoroughly enjoyed the store: elegant, with a European fashion feel, and fun Spanish music pulsing throughout. Product did indeed look unique, wearable, well made yet not stratospherically priced! I liked the variety and quantity of garments available: enough to be interesting and showcase different styles, but not so many that I felt overwhelmed. I checked out both women's wear floors. The store offered wonderful oases of space to allow the consumer to better absorb and internalize the choices. I felt welcome and look forward to returning to investigate further.

- A quick dash through the Disney Store 55th/5th Avenue. I definitely need to give this store more time. I became quickly overwhelmed with all of the Disney theater effects - music, lighting, unbelievably elaborate costumes [with high price tags] and had to get out for air. I plan on returning with a member of the target audience [5 year old girl]! Check out the website; it effectively showcases how unique this store is compared to the mall based stores, as well as the DisneyLand/World stores. I have high expectations that this store does a good job linking emotionally to the NYC based Disney productions.

- Toys R Us, Times Square: yes, the Ferris Wheel is impressive! As I entered, a Toys R Us employee took my picture and said I could check it out in 10-15 minutes. A few steps further and a circus ringmaster wouldn't have been out of place given the strong sense of 'let the entertainment begin!' Toy demonstrations, employees with silly hats... It reminded me of what I imagine old style retailing to be like.

On the 2nd floor, I saw the gigantic Lego dinosaur. Impressive, but I had seen it last summer. Shouldn't that change? I needed some directions and had to interrupt 2 salespeople for help. Oops, I definitely bothered them. Now, mind you, it was approx. 10:15am on a weekday and I was a customer. Right? Made it past the Thomas the tank engine section with a large interactive kids play tables, and then found the Barbie Boutique.

The Barbie Boutique is supposed to be a big deal - 2 stories with all things Barbie. A celebration of sorts, right? Wrong. I noticed sales signs everywhere. I expected to find a deep assortment of all products associated with the Barbie brand extensions. Not. I expected to find a place where all of the fancy castles are displayed for inspection and play. Not. I expected something exciting on the 2nd floor of this unusual store within a store, something that recaptured the magical playhouses of childhood. Not! Rather it was uninviting and unengaging; no magic, no soul. No passion!

And it's not just in the Barbie area.

I went down to check out my picture; it wasn't yet ready. Do you know that they wanted $13 for a copy? or $25 for a digital file!!!! Hmmm. I might have felt better about the photo had I been asked if I had a camera. I originally thought the photo idea was a nice touch, but why so expensive? Just because I'm a captive audience? Seems the photo can also appear on a marquee, but no one really explained the various options available. It wound up making me angry and suspicious of the store's motives and it all seemed really amateurish: the young woman at the photo desk thought she could refer me to a website to decide later [Disney does that], but she couldn't locate one. I learned that with the $25 I was eligible for a discount on a purchase. Now, wouldn't a consumer want to know this before leaving the store?

Here's another point of frustration - make sure to integrate your website with your physical store: I later visited the Toys R Us website. It had little to do with how the store was organized. I called the NYC store, left a message [no live person available] and a week later I'm still waiting for someone to return my call. I guess they don't want my business. By the way, I found what I was looking for on eBay, and have already received it.

For a so-called destination or flagship, this was a so-so retail experience. Cool ferris wheel, but I have plenty of other more satisfying options available.

As I think about which of these stores were truly Destination Stores, I realize that Zara offered me the most unique and differentiated product selection in an environment that passionately believes in its mission: Fast Fashion. Urban Outfitters in Retail Experience and the Human Element conveyed passion and uniqueness in its desire to create an engaging consumer environment: it made me want to stay and browse. These 2 stores are not flagship stores; they represent one of several in the NYC area. Yet, they have managed to create a desireable retail environment as a normal course of business whereas two of the flagship stores I visited had issues - with the human element and the un-integrated, uninspired merchandising.

So, if it isn't necessary to be a flagship to be a Destination, then any store truly committed to showcasing passion for product and experience qualifies, including carpet and flooring stores!

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Retail Experience and the Human Element

My previous post, Retail as Experience-More Important Than Ever, referred to Jesse James Garrett's manifesto titled 6 Design Lessons From the Apple Store. Here I focus further on lesson #6 and the role that the Human Element plays in delivering on an awesome retail experience.

The Human Element can truly make or break a retail experience. It can mean connecting in a meaningful way with consumers or completely turning them off. It is extremely powerful and the one best able to overcome shortcomings in other areas. Yet, it is also the hardest to manage, to control and to deliver consistently day in/day out. It doesn't require a degree in rocket science, but a lot of people -some of them really smart- bungle it completely because it does require common sense.

Late last week, I made it into Manhattan and 'treated' myself to several retail experiences: Toys R Us/Times Square, the Hershey Store, Zara/5th Avenue, Disney/5th Avenue, Urban Outfitters/3rd & 59th and the Apple Store/5th Avenue.

The Apple Store 5th Avenue. Ahhhh. I was so looking forward to this unbelievable experience! I pre-listened to my TREX podcast and was primed for the experience. I approached the store from the southeast side of 5th Avenue and..... caught sight of it. The cube was smaller than I had expected from the photos. No matter. It still looked really cool and I couldn't wait to go down the glass staircase and be able to absorb from on high the Apple energy below.

Well, it wasn't to be. Instead, I came across orange traffic cones blocking the entrance [see photo], and scaffolding inside the famous cube. Several Apple-guys directed people to a small doorway between some construction and FAO Schwartz, and down a narrow, grungy, concrete staircase. At the bottom of the staircase, 2 more Apple-guys further ushered the traffic down a hallway into the store. One in particular seemed to resent having to hear so many moronic consumers asking the same questions about the store and the construction! No humour, no enthusiasm, no attempt to welcome consumers to the store after an unpleasant stairway walk down to this Apple gem of a store.

What a missed opportunity to connect with people and continue nurturing the relationship. I anticipated experiencing Zen, Wow! and sheer joy and was I ever disappointed. I wanted to understand what was going on with the cube [the Apple was being changed from white to red? and maybe they were repairing some leaks?]. It sure seemed like the store couldn't be bothered with explaining; must have been on a need-to-know basis and consumers weren't sufficienlty worthy.... Not good.

The store was crowded [midday]. Nice bright light coming in from the cube, but I felt trapped underground from having the main staircase blocked off. I spoke with a helpful young man, but my final memory as I squeezed back up the narrow staircase was hearing those same Apple-guys sneering at another poor bumbling consumer.

Here's the irony. If it hadn't been for the construction on the cube, I wouldn't have had to interact with anyone. But I did. And it was lousy. I still want to experience entering from the cube staircase one of these days, but the SoHo store will forever remain my idyllic Apple experience.

The Hershey Store Times Square: I listened to my TREX podcast review of this store before going in and had a better appreciation for all of the details. And, they are spectacular. The store is small, but my how jammed packed with candy it is! Some unique candy, but also plenty of the tried and true. Shoppers within were really into the Hershey's experience and willing to line up to wait to pay. I found it claustrophic.

As I was leaving I asked the 2 guards stationed by the door a question. They had been talking so I expected an attitude from being interrupted. Not at all! They were both charming, helpful, courteous AND had a sense of humour. They smiled and wished me a 'sweet day'! Very nice and appropriate for a candy store. I left feeling great about stepping into HersheyLand.

Urban Outfitters 3rd Avenue/59th: I wanted to visit this store because Herman Miller's Viaro division had supplied a really neat modular ceiling infrastructure that integrates electric, musical, digital, computer cabling and wiring making it easy to modify lighting, setup, displays, etc. without a major construction overhaul. The system was so subtle and effective that if I hadn't been looking for it, I wouldn't have noticed it. The store showcased a fabulous variety of textures and construction elements [wood, brick, wrought iron, etc.] and had an Anthropologie feel to it [by the way, Urban Outfitters owns Anthropologie, and both believe strongly in the consumer selling themselves vs. the traditional hard sell approach]. It was fun, extremely engaging, inviting, whimsical and fun. I found a pleasant seating area at one end by some large windows and.... an amazing seating area in the changing room area! Sales associates were friendly, and looked like they wanted to be there. They greeted me, smiled, but didn't pursue me. I relaxed in there.

At these 3 retail stores, the Human Element played a major role in making these experiences come alive for me. In the Apple case, it made for a bad experience; with Hershey and Urban Outfitters, it made for a great experience. All 3 of these stores are gorgeous retail establishments with fabulous lighting, store design, sight lines, visual displays and sensory elements. The Human Element was the differentiator that led to a Wow! experience.

Customers Are Always lists 10 Ways to Wow Your Customers. Read the list. These are practical, actionable and valuable ways to connect with customers. Some may be more relevant for a browser, and some for a buying customer. But none are difficult or impossible to implement, although they do require common sense! They also call to mind a lot of the wisdom that Jack Mitchell shared in A Good Hug is Worth from his book Hug Your Customers.

So, how do you ensure that your Human Element is completely and passionately on board, delivering your message consistently day in/out? What do your consumers say after browsing your store? Are they wowed? Do they say that your people made their day? Do they rave about the human connections that took place and do they come back? Or was it just ho-hum?

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Retail as Experience - More Important Than Ever

Big Fruit originally uploaded by soldierant. [At the entrance to the grocer-as-experience-design experiment known as Jungle Jim's.]
Retail as experience is more important that ever!

Case in point: the new 5th avenue Apple store. It's generating buzz and I can't wait to check it out later this week. The SoHo store was my first Apple store experience and that blew me away. The contrast between the very formal classical government post office building exterior and the ethereal Apple environment within mesmerized me. The large central glass staircase drew me in body and soul and made me desperate to chuck my Dell computer for a MacIntosh! Luckily, I didn't and having an iPod in my pocket helped me feel like I belonged in this marvelously soothing environment.

The 5th avenue store seems to represent a new prototype for Apple stores. Per this article titled Apple to unveil new store design in the 9/13/06 issue of the San Francisco Business Times by Mark Calvey, "The new design features will draw from Apple's new Fifth Avenue store, which is built in a former underground parking garage with a 32-foot glass structure above ground featuring the Apple logo. The new elements will be unveiled Sept. 23 at new stores in Providence, R.I. and Columbia, Md. The Apple Store is the nation's fastest growing retailer, opening a new store every nine days. The company expects to open 40 stores annually for the foreseeable future, Johnson said. "

David Polinchock offers his perspective in this post titled Brand Autopsy: Designing Retail Experiences – The Apple Way. He refutes a Fast Company negative review of the store as follows:

Fast Company, in their current review of customer experiences, didn't rank the Apple stores because they didn't think they delivered a good experience. After all, they say, if people are lining up at the Genius Bar, then people must be having a hard time understanding and using their products!

We, as you can imagine, don't agree. Here's what we think the Apple store is all about: They took the barriers to entry to buying an Apple product and answered those barriers with the store.

Wow! isn't that a cool way to describe a retail experience? Imagine doing that with your carpet or flooring store!

The post refers to John Moore's Designing Retail Experiences – The Apple Way which refers in turn to a ChangeThis manifesto by Jesse James Garrett titled 6 Design Lessons From the Apple Store. Moore offers a summary of the manifesto, but also strongly recommends reading the original. It is short, succinct and relevant: the lessons matter to all involved in creating retail experiences. Lesson 6 [Don't Forget the Human Element] makes critical points about the role the human element plays in delivering on an awesome retail experience. As good as everything else is, if your human element isn't completely on board, isn't completely committed to delivering the most impeccable, dedicated and passionate customer service experience, then you are just another retail environment.

Think about that.

Experience Manifesto also refers to Business Week Online's slideshow titled "Retail Wonders of the World - Today's boutiques, malls, and flagship stores seem intent on recreating old-fashioned shopping magic, but with a distinctly high-tech flair" by Kurt Soller. The introduction to the photo essay states:

From luxury brands to candy stores, companies are recognizing that their retail space is more than a distribution channel. It can be a branding opportunity, a marketing stunt, and a chance to draw in customers with an exemplary experience or to deliver a service on top of their product offerings.

This is the list of the stores showcased, many designed by high caliber architects. The visuals combined with the individual store descriptions make a strong impression.

  • In Manhattan: Hershey Store, Toys "R" Us, Apple [5th Avenue]
  • REI - Location: Seattle
  • The Dubai Mall - Location: Dubai
  • Selfridges - Location: Birmingham, England
  • Louis Vuitton - Location: Hong Kong
  • Prada Epicentre - Location: Los Angeles
  • Chanel - Location: Tokyo

If you have experienced any of these retail wonders, I welcome your perspective!

The whole notion of retail as experience becomes more important as consumers develop increasingly more options [online and offline] and the retail landscape gets more cluttered. Many manufacturers [e.g., SonyStyle] are looking to develop their own brand experience outside of their traditional distribution outlets, not necessarily to compete, but to offer consumers a level of service, of education, of branding, of experience, that they cannot otherwise control. And the consumers they are looking to appeal to - women - have responded positively.

This article Hello! This is your dryer calling ...Makers of 'smart' home products know they must appeal to women by MICHAEL PEARSON in the 9/9/06 issue of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution describes one example of the evolving brand experience. Perhaps an extreme one, it nonetheless highlights that much more effort is going into understanding how women [the target market] use products and shop for them.

These next two articles about actual shopping experiences take many of the lessons from Paco Underhill's Why We Buy [see recommended reading/Retail Trends] and describe what happens in retail environments: Just browsing at the mall? That's what you think by Mindy Fetterman and Jayne O'Donnell in the 9/1/2006 issue of USA TODAY and Enlisting Science's Lessons to Entice More Shoppers to Spend More by Kenneth Chang in the 9/19/2006 issue of The New York Times.

As you read these 2 articles, think back to the 6 Design Lessons from the Apple Store. Also, think how you react to retail environments. What works? What doesn't? Note that "narrow aisles crammed with goods are going away." Remember that "receipts show what people are buying, they do not show how people are shopping."

Finally, TREX [the Total Retail Experience conference] is coming to NYC in December. They have just made available on their website a pdf highlighting noteworthy retail stores in Manhattan as well as a downloadable podcast reviewing Apple, Babies R Us, Dean DeLuca, Lancome, Lenscrafter and LoHo stores. If you are on the lookout for sources of retail inspiration, these are the tools for you!

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Managing Consumer Expectations

Two weeks ago in Kennesaw, GA, I had a spirited discussion with two talented members of our carpet fiber group: Ann Hurley and Ben Jones. Ann comes from the contract carpet side of the business and avidly follows color, pattern and textural trends. Ben handles consumer warranty claims - among other things!

We got to talking about flooring trends -hard vs. soft surface [i.e., wood/ceramic/vinyl... vs. carpet]- and consumer expectations about product performance in carpet.

Consumers rely heavily on the store salesperson for product recommendations. And, if the salesperson doesn't listen or makes incorrect assumptions, the consumer might be steered in a direction that will lead to unrealistic performance expectations.

Ben: Application absolutely matters. Consumers feel so disappointed when they've been steered toward a carpet solution that doesn't meet their expectations for wear. A high traffic area - like a main hallway - is not a place where a soft, fluffy, shaggy construction will do well. So, why would a salesperson suggest that?

C.B.: Maybe it's that it's easier to sell one solution for the whole house rather than looking at each room as its own micro-environment. And, there is so much talk about soft, so why not push it!

Ann: Yes, texture is extremely important for carpet. It's one of the critical decision factors for consumers, along with color. And soft has been an important trend in carpet texture, as it has been in other consumer categories like sheets [think 500+ thread count!], towels and cashmere sweaters.

But, as in these categories, there isn't just one soft carpet solution for every consumer. It all depends on the end use area. I think the consumer is much more educated and sophisticated now and both understands and appreciates stores and salespeople who try to come up with a better answer or solution to what she is trying to accomplish.

C.B.: What are your words of wisdom for matching texture with end use?

Ann: I don't think we want to encourage the consumer to put "soft" down the main hall in her home connecting the bedrooms. That would be a great injustice!! For a product that will be in a high wear zone I look for something visually pleasing but one that will also have good abrasion. Now, a product with good abrasion doesn't have to feel like a brillo pad. But it won't be a fluffy, loosely constructed, soft, shaggy carpet! Good abrasion resistance is a function of carpet construction and fiber type. So is softness. So, there is a continuum for consumers to choose from to match with their end use.

It's a matter of listening really carefully to what the consumer says about her needs AND doing a good job of communicating realistic performance expectations about the product choices. A cashmere sweater is deliciously soft, but I wouldn't wear it to do my workouts in because it will not perform well. It's the same with carpet. Just observe what kind of carpet you walk on in a hotel lobby -often a densely constructed carpet with low pile- compared to the hotel room. It's often different. What about in an airport? In a commercial environment, you must consider how the high levels of traffic will affect wear. It's the same in your home.

Ben: Look at it a different way. If you purchase a sports car and a truck both with a 100,000 mile warranty, do you expect the sports car to wear out the same way as the truck if you take it off road and in ditches? No. The sports car isn't meant to go off road. It's a more delicate machine. It's the same with the carpet you choose. Regardless of the warranty on the carpet, you still need to match the construction with the end use. Do you expect the tires on your car to wear until the end of the warranty period? No. You expect to change the tires after 25,000 miles. Same with carpet, you still need to take care of the carpet and vacuum it as much as possible!

The following sites on Expert Village offers tips on how to care for carpet and about vacuuming your carpet.

The lesson here: don't make assumptions about what your consumer needs. Listen to her carefully. Don't suggest products until you've given her a chance to fully explain what she is looking for, what she wants to accomplish, and then make her a part of the solution!

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Mad For Color!

Wall of Lamps originally uploaded by Steelight.
I am mad for COLOR! Color lets me be creative. It lets me be me.

Color, texture and pattern go hand-in-hand with fashion and fashion trends. They form the basis for Fashion Statements. For the majority of women consumers, fashion is what flooring decisions are about. After all, aren't these consumers choosing products to help express their sense of style and individuality in their home?

Here then follow several color and fashion resources I have come across and list in a new blogroll section titled "Color & Fashion Links" over on the right hand side of Flooring The Consumer.

  • Sensational Color by Kate Smith is a fabulous color resource featuring color related quotes, photography, perspective, inspiration, and even a color related Squidoo lens [Color: Meaning, Symbolism & Psychology on Squidoo].
  • Michelle Lamb from The Trend Curve shares her trend views at Connecting The Dots. You'll notice lots of photos capturing the latest trends from her travels around the world. I'm partial to this site because my very good and talented friend Carole D'Arconte shares her keen color and trend views. See "Florals Look Right for Men in St. Tropez" in the July 2006 archives.
  • The Runway Scoop from Maria Palma [author of Customers Are Always] provides a practical and refreshing view on the happenings in the fashion industry. I consider this a grounded view on fashion and how consumers interpret runway messages. Some of this will get translated to home furnishings!
  • I came across The Cool Hunter while reading this article "Trend Firms Use Blogs to Search for the Next Big Thing" by Mary Riekert from the 9/21/2006 issue of The Age in Melbourne, Australia. It's a fascinating glimpse on how ideas travel around the world, how they influence personal fashion statements, and how this is happening instantaneously. The Cool Hunter showcases fabulous design pictures as well as relevant news items from all around the world.
  • I subscribe to trendwatching.com's and iconoculture 's newsletters [free].
  • The Color Marketing Group [CMG] is one of the premiere organizations for color forecasting. At the CMG 2nd annual designers summer luncheon on July 18, 2006, I heard Maxine Lauer, President of Sphere Marketing, Inc., discuss macro and micro trends in the marketplace. She explained how the experiences of different demographic groups affects home and fashion design, and how we need to be aware of the changes in society being brought about by the internet to stay relevant to consumers.

  • This article from Home Lighting & Accessories [Fall of 2005?] titled How to Woo Your Customers gives a taste for Maxine's and Michelle Lamb's messages.

    The September 11, 2006 issue of HFN magazine featured an article titled "Trend Expert: Contradiction Can Be Key to Better Business" by Nancy Meyer. It talked about Robyn Waters, author of "The Trendmaster's Guide" and recently "The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape", and formerly Target VP of trend, design and product development.

    The article refers to several trends from her most recent book: "everything old is new again" [think Vespa scooter, Mont Blanc pens, handmade stationery paper, cell phones with global positioning....], "mass customization" [think iPod, Mini Cooper, myjones.com for customized soda], "luxurious commodities" [think Philippe Starck at Target, Whirlpool's Duet washer/dryer], "extreme relaxation"[think calling a toll-free number in Austria for "1 minute of silence"] and "social capitalism" where combining profit with purpose is the goal [think Body Shop, Aveda, Costco].

    You can read more about Robyn Waters in this Fast Company article by Linda Tischler titled Masters of Design: Robyn Waters - Founder and president of RW Trend, LLC from: Issue 83, June 2004, page 73. It describes the role that trend, design and product development play in creating differentiation in the mind of the consumer.

    Be sure to look at the link to Masters of Design: Lessons From the Masters also in Issue 83 on page 62. The lessons are: 1. Design is the Differentiator; 2. Those Who Write the Rules, Rule; 3. Confront the Unfamiliar; 4. Make It Real ; 5. Get Emotional.

    Finally, take a look at this fun article titled Color forecasters looked into coffee cups and saw the future by Nicole Tsong in the 10/2/06 issue of The Seattle Times. It describes how color trends happen - the influences [think Shrek as well as Starbucks], the role culture plays, the interpretations... It's a great read and puts the colors around us into perspective.

    Consumers want to make fashion statements, especially in their homes. So, how do we provide them with the right choices? How do we showcase color and fashion trends in our flooring stores? I'd love to hear what has worked for you.

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    Tuesday, October 03, 2006

    Upcoming NYC Event... 10/12/2006

    Excitement! originally uploaded by Vicki & Chuck Rogers
    For those of you in the NYC area, the Columbia Business School Alumni club of New York is sponsoring a very exciting panel discussion called Marketing To The Sexes on Thursday, October 12th, 2006 from 6pm to 8pm.

    Here is a writeup on the event:

    What We Can Learn from Changes in Gender Roles and Buying Behavior

    Since the days of only "pink or blue" brands are over, both male and female roles are changing and many brands have had to adjust. The question is, are the distinctions between men and women widening, narrowing - or both? Which brands have successfully ridden the tide and which have fallen under? What does the new gender equation mean for marketing today?

    For anyone with a product or service that appeals differently to men and women, come learn how successful marketers target, develop and communicate differently for optimal results. Understand what works and what falls flat. Gain valuable perspective from leading brands in diverse categories.

    The panel will be moderated by Alpa Pandya, Managing Director for Strategy at
    Sterling Brands and includes:

    • Anthony Cirone - Global Brand Development Director, Dove Body Care, Unilever
    • Barry Herstein - SVP, International Payments & Communications, American Express
    • Joanne Hsieh, class of '03, Director of Strategic Planning & Business Development, MAC Cosmetics
    • Bernice Kanner - Author, How to Reach the Hearts and Minds of Today's Most Coveted Consumer -Women
    • David Lang - Senior Partner, Director of Programming, Mindshare Entertainment, representing 13 of the top 20 worldwide advertisers including Axe men's fragrances.
    • Dario Spina - SVP Marketing, Spike TV
    You must pre-register for the event to attend and can do so at this event site.

    I'm looking forward to this event as it will be a fabulous opportunity to explore marketing to women and the buying perspective from a range of perspectives. I hope to see you there!

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    Monday, October 02, 2006

    How to Achieve an Inspired Environment

    IKEA originally uploaded by Oimax.
    IKEA continues to amaze me as it successfully establishes new stores across the US and around the globe. I consider it an inspired environment.

    Given that, here follow IKEA related thoughts: a 8/8/2006 article titled "Ikea: Swedish for invincible" by Lianne George from Maclean's which provides a fascinating and detailed perspective on what makes IKEA unique, and the following article I wrote for the May 1/8, 2006 issue of Floor Covering Weekly titled "How to achieve an inspired environment" [note some Chico's inspiration, too!]:
    How often do you look at your store with an eye to improving how it meets the needs of your target woman consumer? And, where do you find the inspiration for improvement? Do you regularly visit stores that she visits? Do you consider your own consumer buying experiences as opportunities to experience your consumer’s world? And, do you then try to apply the best of these to your store?

    Some retailers are already answering these needs. IKEA, the $2.9B Swedish home furnishings store with 26 U.S. stores, each generating $100 million, has perfected the self-help environment, bringing a sense of discovery and entertainment to the process.

    Starting with the parking lot, IKEA identifies user specific sections [e.g., parents with kids, loading spots]. Enter the store and find store maps, measuring tapes and pencils for taking notes. By the entrance you encounter the IKEA magic forest, one of many children’s play areas found throughout the store, including the cafeteria. You progress through the store via a one-way path taking you through fabulously coordinated and accessorized vignettes, to a cafeteria [with very good food] offering smoked salmon, Swedish meatballs [available for purchase] and well-priced kid’s fare, and then to the marketplace where product can be purchased.

    Signage communicates vital information [shortcuts, section identifiers, bathrooms]. Bathrooms are spotless and feature colorful stepstools [available for purchase] so kids can wash their hands. And, although the checkout experience is uninspired and slow [perhaps it should be automated], the rest of the experience is fun and a reason to return on a regular basis. My parents consider it a treat to have lunch there.

    Here's another example: CHICO'S, which also owns White House/Black Market, Soma by Chico’s and Fitigues, designs, sources and retails unique brands of women’s sophisticated, casual apparel in 782 stores [547 of those are Chico’s], generating $1.4B in sales across the 4 divisions.

    Chico’s has perfected retailing on a human scale: the stores range in size from 1200 to 5000 square feet, with most approx. 1500 square feet; and all feature comfy chairs. The stores beckon passers by, drawing them into a welcoming and friendly environment where the sales staff readily offers help and advice acting generally more like good friends than sales clerks. Merchandise changes weekly and color coordinated groupings of products – anchored by fully accessorized outfit displays – communicate freshness, newness and excitement.

    Chico’s epitomizes ease of access, of interaction, easy care and easy sizing via a unique simplified sizing system. Finally, it offers an interesting loyalty program – the Passport Club – where one becomes a permanent member after a certain level of purchases. Members represent a loyal and profitable following.

    How to translate this to your store? Well, how well do you know your customer base? Is she an empty-nester or just starting a family? A sophisticated urban dweller or a practical suburban multi-tasker? A traditional Southerner or a successful Latina? This can help you determine whether your parking lot needs tweaking, or you require an area to accommodate children. All of your customers will appreciate tables and chairs to sit and pass time or seek inspiration for their flooring project. Your store should convey a sense of style, fun, cleanliness, and inspiration.

    Could it look less cluttered? Consider introducing a loyalty program to generate work of mouth referrals and strong loyalty. It's also important to evaluate your everyday activities as potential sources of inspiration.

    Why do you frequent the same drive-through? Do they greet you by name? Is the product you order consistently delightful?

    What about your banking relationship? Do you feel passionate about it? Can you bring some of that passion to your customer relationships?

    Think of places you frequent – an elegant flower shop, the produce section of the supermarket in town – that just engage your visual senses. Why do they catch your attention?

    Can you bring some of that drama to your store? Should you intersperse lush green plants between your product displays? You can create a seasonal display, accessorized with flowers and fabric swatches that customers will pause at when they pass. Maybe it’s simply greeting everyone coming through the door and offering each a cup of tea as AVEDA does.

    Remember that your customer has many options for her disposable income, including simply postponing a purchase, so don’t underestimate the value of creating an amazing buying experience in your store.

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