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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Book Review: Threshold Resistance by A. Alfred Taubman

In my last post, A. Alfred Taubman: Overcoming Threshold Resistance, I didn't get a chance to explore with you Taubman's book, Threshold Resistance: The Extraordinary Career of a Luxury Retailing Pioneer. I will do so here.

First off, this book is a fascinating read. It captures a truly extraordinary career, during an extraordinary time. Taubman describes a Wild West of retailing and business that puts where we are today into better perspective.

I particularly enjoyed the retail experience related parts of the book. They reinforced many of the points Taubman made in his presentation.

More specifically, these chapters caught my fancy.

Chapter 4 - The Evolution of the Arcade
It offers an historical perspective on malls - from fabric bazaars in Isfahan, the bazaars of Istanbul [also see Authenticity At Retail], the Galeries de Bois of the Palais Royal in France, Milan's Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, to London's Burlington Arcade and the Philadelphia Arcade.

He introduces the concept of the "people pump" [e.g,. churches at mass-time, train stations, department stores] that efficiently draw concentrated groups of people in as potential retail consumers, and explains that the "earliest department stores were born as arcades" where "the landlord would take over the space to make sure all merchandise categories were represented sufficiently"... "offering customers the resulting advantages of consistent return policies, predictable hours of operation, and store wide promotions."

Chapter 5: Creating 100 Percent Locations
Taubman's 100% locations consist of locations that can "count on the highest level of pedestrian traffic passing by their front doors day after day, and benefit the most from impulse buying." These are prime retail [i.e., high rent locations] spots. According to a Leonardo da Vinci study "a person feels comfortable walking only about three blocks, or 1000 feet, from his or her home for discretionary trips. Beyond that, one senses a need to return home." Isn't that fascinating?

He also brings up Townscape [or The Concise Townscape] by Gordon Cullen as a critical influence for mall interior design. More specifically, he describes the notion of "serial vision in planning productive, stimulating spaces" that draws the visitor in because not only does it show existing views, but it also allows glimpses of "emerging views" that turn into existing views. I immediately thought of Disney World's Main Street and how perspective and architecture effectively move visitors through to the Magic Kingdom.

According to Taubman, "the objective [in a mall] was to give every retailer a good chance of attracting the shopper into the store, to make every location a 100 percent location." The chapter addresses all of the mall elements [creating multi-levels, opening the levels to draw the eye to the other floor, parking lots, ring roads around the malls, adjacencies, surface and flooring decisions, ceilings, lighting...] and how they together facilitate interaction between customer and merchandise. They encourage shoppers to spend time, relax and buy. Appealing to every sense ranks high!

I love the attention to details like adding a tenant to the shopping center which is like "mixing a new element into a chemical formula. The addition changes the experience for the shopper and the merchants. That's one of the reasons the Taubman Company negotiates the shortest leases in the industry... Lease renewals always mandate store renovation, and if a retail concept has lost its appeal, we want the store out of the center...." These are critical to the success of a mall, but often aren't strategically managed.

Chapter 8: Minding the Store
Lots of good advice in this chapter: "Every good retailer understands that the customer... lacks confidence. ... While this inherent insecurity contributes to threshold resistance, it also presents the good retailer with a golden opportunity. By earning the trust and confidence of your shoppers -- through product knowledge, service, taste level, and consistency -- you can win a customer's loyalty for life."

He further describes how much more fun shopping is "if you are guided and supported in your decisions by a professional, courteous salesperson who wants to help you... And it's even better if the store in which you are buying the apparel stands for something important to you and meshes with your self-image." [Note: replace apparel with flooring, or carpet.]

Here's another gem: "A clearly defined brand bolsters a customer's confidence. So does a good salesperson."

Chapter 9: Fashion Statement
Taubman states that "it's difficult for department stores and other large retailers to compete if they stake out the middle ground." This brings to mind the Trading Up and Treasure Hunt world that Michael Silverstein describes where the middle ground has disappeared!

He refers to luxury retailers and how they have grown and expanded [see my interview with Chris Ramey]. In fact, Taubman's organization has made a point of appealing to that luxury retail customer and specifically ensures that Taubman malls only feature 'fashion' retailers [e.g., Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue vs. Sears or JC Penney].

He says that "the fundamental quality that elevates anything into the fashion category is design. Not just any design: good design that appeals to your taste. Fashion is added-value through design."

This is not limited to apparel. It certainly includes flooring, as well as tea pots [think Michael Graves at Target] and citrus squeezers [like the one from Williams Sonoma] or even an Oxo mango peeler!

The focus on fashion and design elevates all categories. The only ones to lose are those focusing entirely on price .

Chapter 12: Selling Art and Root Beer
This chapter offers Taubman's four personal precepts presented during a Harvard Business School session.

1. "Our consumer society, not driven by the satisfaction of basic needs, is fueled by the fantasy, flight, and excitement of a possible purchase..."

2. "You can sell almost anything once. But repeat business is built on consumer confidence, perceived quality and value, excitement, and a rich mix of customer opportunities, as well as convenience and service."

3. "The biggest mistake you can make is to price your product or plan your development based on what others are doing, rather than on how you see the opportunity. Study the consumer. Work for that part of the market that's there for the taking, with a creative new idea or an old idea made better, not just different."

4. "Become an expert in one fundamental area of your market or business. No one starts out as a generalist. In my case, I started as a store planner and learned the basics of successful retail design. Through that discipline, I sharpened my understanding of the customer."

Lots of wisdom there relevant to delivering a better retail experience for today's consumer!

I haven't touched on Taubman's effect on Sotheby's and the auction house world. Nonetheless, the success of that venture illustrates the benefit that comes from bringing integrity and transparency to a process and industry, creating an exciting experience and opening it up [i.e., breaking down that "Threshold Resistance"] so that all feel welcome within.

Which is what today's retail experience is all about.


Anonymous said...

"You can sell almost anything once. But repeat business is built on consumer confidence, perceived quality and value, excitement, and a rich mix of customer opportunities, as well as convenience and service."

This is sage advice from Taubman, advice that will stand the test of time. All of those aspects (confidence, quality/value, excitement, opportunity) strongly contribute to the customer experience.

Thank you so much for sharing it, CB, and have fun at Blogger Social! Hopefully, I can make the next one - how about in Disneyland?? :)

CB Whittemore said...

Becky, funny how I was thinking you might react to those very words! Thanks for drawing attention to them.

We missed you at Blogger Social!

Susan said...

I am so glad to be back on your list! Thanks for this helpful, relevant, timely information.

CB Whittemore said...

Susan, welcome to the blogosphere! I am thrilled to have you involved and really appreciate your comment. Good luck!

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Reminder: Please, no self-promotional or SPAM comments. Don't bother if you're simply trying to build inauthentic link juice. Finally, don't be anonymous: it's too hard to have a conversation. Thanks, CB

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