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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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