Shinola Store Experience

Last week, I finally went to the Shinola store in Tribeca.  For those who are unfamiliar, Shinola is a luxury watch brand based in Detroit, Michigan. They embrace U.S. based manufacturing and are helping to revitalize the Detroit economy, while providing an exceptional product to customers.  They are getting quite a bit of press and attention recently.  My brother, Michael, now works at their corporate HQ, so I am definitely biased and have personal ties to the company, but I think they are doing some impressive work!

Currently they operate Shinola stores in NY and Detroit and are slated to open a bunch more this year.  Their products are also carried by a number of retailers like Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, Saks, Nordstrom and many many more smaller retailers, boutiques and jewelers.  They also have their own e-commerce site, shinola.com.

So as I mentioned I finally made it to check out the Shinola store in Tribeca last week. I had such a positive store experience that I wanted to share a bit about my visit…

The store itself is a VERY cool space.  Located on Franklin street, in a hip area of Tribeca, when you first walk in there’s a coffee bar operated by The Smile. I’ve been to The Smile’s Soho location multiple times and it’s a very cool cafe/restaurant, known for being very “in” — so automatically there’s some unique cache to the experience, not to mention the opportunity to caffeinate or get a treat when you set foot in the store…

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Then, the store itself has super high ceilings and feels very open, like a lofty space. They have NY corporate offices that are actually upstairs from the store.  It conveys a feeling of hipness, yet in a warm and not offputting way. There are bikes hanging in various spots and interesting displays of both Shinola merchandise as well as other brands that are curated — all are items manufactured in the U.S.A. with a similar aesthetic and sensibility.  The store kind of felt like being a museum with interesting things to discover and explore around each bend.

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I was greeted very quickly upon entry by two of the sales associates who spotted me wearing my “Mini Runwell” watch and struck up conversation right away. Jocelyn was incredibly charming, warm and nice and spent a lot of time with me, showing me around the store and sharing the back-story of various products and tips about the watches and bands. She showed me the women’s watches along the back wall and helped me try on a bunch of colors of The Birdy, which I am eying as my next Shinola purchase.

I then wandered the store myself and decided to purchase a few journals.  I went to check out — which is also nice they just use an iphone type set-up and don’t have a monstrous check-out kiosk/counter. Instead it felt really seamless and pleasant. Jocelyn then asked me if I wanted the journals monogrammed (a complimentary service) and I was so excited and thought this was super unique!

So, I then watched her put them through a huge machine, akin to a letterpress machine. She did two for my husband (RSF) and two for me (TLF). I got to choose whether I wanted gold vs. silver and the size/placement of the lettering. It was a really unique process to watch and to be part of the “making” of these products, staying true to the Shinola spirit.

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Overall, my visit was much more of an ‘experience’ than just ‘transactional’ focused. I left feeling so intrigued by the brand, and re-energized that physical retail stores really CAN have value-add and create interesting experiences rather than just be a nuisance…  (I so often prefer to shop online that I often dread setting foot into a real store – too often the sales people and environment can be a turnoff or let-down).

A few other random reflections —

– Without my new “friend” Jocelyn to show me the ropes, I may have missed the women’s watches myself, particularly if I was doing a quick pass-through the store. At first, I only saw the men’s watches on the center table. This may be intentional on their part — I am guessing a much larger % of their business is Men’s watches, or perhaps they think that women troll the perimeter of a store more and uncover items more easily. But personally I almost didn’t see these!
– Speaking of mens vs. women’s, I thought the whole store has more of a Men’s vibe to it. (This isn’t a bad thing). Just interesting to me to observe how a store that appeals/sells both genders skews male in feeling (darker colors, bold boxy letters, more mens merchandise, etc).  Probably more important to attract rather than turn off men, while women who wear Shinola are more “downtown” in aesthetic and comfortable in these types of environments / don’t need super feminine touches.
– I thought the monogram services are actually a big draw and could be promoted to encourage the purchase of journals (or other items too)! I think there’s opportunity to visually display journals with initials on them near the blank ones so customers can see this is possible to have done. (Right now, the salespeople just told me about it, or I wouldn’t have known). I think this tactic may be intentional so they don’t get over-run and can control when they offer the service (not mention it if they are too busy at the moment, and make it seem like more of a “secret” giving you a feeling of being an insider when you are offered this service)… but I think it would be excite people by showcasing it more prominently and possibly result in more journal sales.
– Speaking of the personalization, after getting my monograms applied to the journals, the next day I interestingly received a promoted Facebook post from Madewell (brand owned by J.Crew) about their monogram services. I thought this was ironic timing — maybe it’s a new trend to offer this type of thing in store…  (See below)
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– Lastly, Shinola has the bones of a great e-commerce site. Pretty easy to navigate, clear descriptions, vivid imagery and is a great start. However, I do think there’s opportunity to do even more storytelling and weave in more editorial on the site. When you click “our story” for instance, you can watch a video, but it would be nice to have a written story too if you aren’t in the mood for watching a clip. Some of the great press stories would be nice to include and highlight. I could also see opportunity to showcase how real people (customers) are wearing their Shinolas — so others can get styling ideas from their photos. Shinola includes this regularly on Instagram, but it would be cool to incorporate this imagery on the site itself. Lastly, featuring some of the amazing work and partnerships they are doing in the city of Detroit, like the clocks they have around the city.
All in all though , a fantastic and impressive store experience and I was excited to share!
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Stand-out sites in their response to Hurricane Sandy

This has obviously been a week turned upside down for many in the New York area, including several friends/family who are still without power. While I personally am in a neighborhood that was not impacted, and led life in a fairly normal sense this week, not everyone was so fortunate.  In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, it was interesting to see how various NYC-based companies were affected and how they mobilized to relay this information to their customers, despite challenging circumstances to pull this together.

A few in particular stood out:

Delivery.com – I first saw this posting on Facebook and thought this was a creative effort. With the subways largely out of commission, yesterday, buses started running from Brooklyn to Manhattan, but with lines of over an hour in some cases, due to exceptional demand.  Delivery.com reacted quickly and took this opportunity to hand out coffee and morning breakfast to people standing in line in hopes of easing their commute.  I thought this was a smart move and demonstrated their agility and ability to respond quickly.

delivery.com

Fab.com – This was the first communication I received (on Tues 10/30), kudos to Jason Goldberg and team. It was a straightforward and basic text explanatory email highlighting how the Fab.com team was impacted and how the storm may also impact customers.  I am continually impressed with their team for being incredibly proactive, transparent, and the way Jason has established a personal reputation/visibility with the fab.com customers.  I did not receive most other email communications from companies until two days later, 11/1.

fab.com

AirBNB.com – AirBNB waived fees on listings that would help those evacuated/without power in the NY-area to find alternate lodging.  While not free (the renters still can make money and set their price), it seemed that AirBNB encouraged people to discount these listings and is not making any profit themselves on this type of usage.

airbnb

WSJ.com, NYT.com I first got wind of this on Twitter, but these media sites dropped their paywall for the week, allowing all users to access the content on these sites so they could stay up to date on the latest in NYC.  I think this was the appropriate action from these media companies.

wsj.com

GiltCity.com – GiltCity NYC is donating 30% of profits from this week through Sunday to the Red Cross disaster relief.  They were the first company I noticed to take this action, although I am guessing this is a more widespread effort at this point.

giltcity nyc

Additionally, I received a slew of emails revealing how the hurricane affected orders placed online, impacted various companies warehouses, corporate HQ and employees, and expressing the companies’ concern and well-wishes. This information was helpful in some cases where I had placed orders, but also felt routine/standard after a while.  These included communication from J.Crew/Madewell, Tory Burch, ASOS.com, Rent The Runway, Soap.com, ideeli, Botkier, Learnvest, Uncommon Goods, Amex, Chase, Bank of America, and I’m sure others that I neglected to mention here.

Shopping trends/observations from SoHo

I spent a good part of Monday afternoon wandering around SoHo with my mom who was visiting from out of town. We popped in and out of stores, a rarity for me, as I nearly exclusively shop online (as I’ve mentioned before). Although it was a fun afternoon, I couldn’t stop thinking how much I prefer the online experience!  A few notable observations/trends from the day’s shopping trip though, that I wouldn’t have been exposed to if we hadn’t ventured physically to stores:

Retailers using iphones – I only noticed this at one retailer (C.Wonder) but that may be because my mom and I didn’t transact at many of the stores we visited. At C. Wonder though, I was impressed by the device they used to process our transaction. They used iphones encased in some type of device that made it possible for them to scan barcodes and check-out shoppers at any place on the sales floor, not requiring the associates to stay behind the cash-wrap. It was more complex than a Square device, but seemed similar in functionality. The Apple store uses a similar technique but I haven’t seen this as widespread quite yet.I only imagine this will become extremely prevalent in the future.

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Option to email receipt – Similarly, it seems to be a more common option to have your receipt emailed to you instead of printed. We experienced this at Bloomingdale’s, and I’ve also had this offered previously at Banana Republic. For retailers, this gives them another way of obtaining your email address and linking your transaction to it, and for consumers, an easy way to keep and maintain records of what you purchased, facilitating easier returns. I do find it a questionable practice if the retailers don’t make it explicitly clear that your email will also be added to their mailing list.

Streaming fashion shows – Tibi, Chanel, and Mackage all had large monitor displays incorporated into their stores streaming their latest runway shows. This gave a feeling of excitement and lured shoppers into feeling like the items they were touching on the racks were more “legitimate”, providing inspiration and a feeling of exclusivity. Also the fashion shows themselves cost so much to produce, it’s sensibleto repurpose the content and turn it into a store display. This tactic is most easily used by designer brands, but seems that more middle-market retailers could create their own “fashion shows” and play the content in stores or on their sites, potentially generating similar or even greater levels of excitement for their shoppers.  I’ve seen Banana Republic do this in the past (airing their fashion show in-stores) – there may be opportunity for other retailers like LOFT, White House Black Market, Anthropologie to take a similar approach.  It seems like their consumers may get excited about this idea of seeing the clothing on some type of runway models, even if it isn’t an actual show from Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. 

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“Coming soon” signage -Walking down Mercer street, on one block alone there were multiple “X store – opening soon!” signs covering the windows of soon-to-be-non-vacant spaces. Both Joie and Equipment are opening physical stores, and the signage got me excited about these pending arrivals. I also noticed this week in Time Warner Center (Columbus Circle) similar signs for H&M and a new location for C.Wonder. This signage seems effective in terms of attracting attention and building anticipation among people who will likely become the most frequent shoppers, people who work or live in the area and repeatedly walk by. It also gives a feeling of “in-the-know” as these shoppers can claim that they knew the scoop on what was soon to be landing in the neighborhood. All in all, I think the signage is a wise (and likely cost-effective) move as a way to use the space that has been leased to promote the existence before the stores are physically ready to open.  This isn’t a new development (stores/restaurants have done this for years, even within malls), but seems that the signage itself has become more creative, large (filling entire windows) and bold.

Music in stores: more influential than you think

I popped into a few stores in my neighborhood last week and noticed something I don’t always note as prominently — the sounds.  Perhaps because I was shopping alone this stood out to me more than usual, but above all else (including the service, visual displays, and promotions) I was struck by the music playing, and the overall mood it cast as I shopped.

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In the matter of 45 minutes total, I made quick stops into four stores:

Stop 1: LOFT.  I had to return some shoes I purchased online that were slightly too big so this was more of a quick errand than anything.  But the music playing in the store was upbeat, fun, summery and actually led me to stick around and do a loop through the store and even try on a few things before I left.  It wasn’t necessarily musical artists I readily identified, but the overall tone/feeling/vibe instilled was a happy one. Kept me captive for a bit longer.

Stop 2: Banana Republic.  Similarly, I went in the store to return a shirt I bought last week. While standing in line for the register, I found myself tapping my feet to the rhythm, which was similar to LOFT in tempo and feeling.  No particular song stuck with me, just an overall summery and happy tone that gave me a positive feeling about the store environment.

Stop 3: New neighborhood boutique – Ruby and Jenna.  It was my first time setting foot in the store since it just opened within the past two weeks, and I thought it was quite cute.  This boutique chain has a few locations throughout Long Island, Manhattan, Connecticut and New Jersey that I had heard of, so I was excited to see what it was all about. The product itself was a bit young/revealing “going out” clothing that didn’t necessarily appeal to me, but I did appreciate the happy feeling, feminine accents, and small boutique environment.  And, of course, I mentally noted that Katy Perry “Firework” was blaring as I made my round through the store. Again, peppy and fun music to compliment the environment.  The music influenced my overall perception – and I’ll probably make this a regular stop on my rotation with the hopes of finding some unique pieces from time to time, perhaps accessories more so than clothing.

Step 4: Another neighborhood boutique – Tango. Although I think Tango has the most sophisticated merchandise/best designer selection in the neighborhood, I couldn’t get into the shopping mood, (this often happens here).  In today’s case, I put my finger on why – I determined that largely was due to the lack of music.  When I first set foot in the store, I could hardly hear anything coming from the speakers and it actually felt a bit eerie.  Major letdown from my previous 3 stops.  Instead, I just smelled a weird odor!  Funny how needing some type of stimulation, one of my senses seemed to compensate for another!  The lack of energy in the store led this to be a very quick stop and a general uninspired feeling.

In my prior neighborhood shopping experiences, I didn’t note the music as vividly as I did on this past shopping outing, but will be curious to return to these establishments in the future and see if my most recent perceptions hold over time.

Madewell builds intrigue and local spin as they head across the USA

Madewell (a brand/store/concept owned by J.Crew) is taking efforts to connect with users all over the nation in what I consider an innovative approach.

Yesterday, I received the below email — detailed enough I felt it was relevant, but cryptic enough to make me curious and click.  After all, everyone loves a party and the idea that the details of where/when weren’t revealed definitely built anticipation:

Madewell-Email

Clicking through took me to their Facebook page that showed me a Madewell airstream trailer that’s making a cross-country trip across the US.  I wasn’t yet a fan of Madewell, but this convinced me to “Like” them.  After all, I wanted to know more!

Madewell-Roadtrip

Madwell-Airstream

Today, from one of my email addresses (associated with New York), I got the below email with the subject line “Hey NYC, get styled this Thursday”.  It highlights an event at the 5th avenue store.   I’m also signed up for their list with a San Francisco zip code.  I received a very similar looking email, but instead of emphasizing an in-person event, it highlights how to participate virtually via Facebook.

Madewell-NYC-and-national

Seen above: The left email was targeted to New York with the subject line “Hey NYC, get styled this Thursday” .

The right was for users not in one of the specified geographies with the subject line “It’s our first ever styling party…and you’re invited”.

When you click through either email, it takes you to their Facebook page with an overall visual of the campaign. 

Madewell-fb

If you then click to see their Events tab, you’ll see that they are hosting similar events in ~20 markets nationwide this Thursday night, with a few hundred people attending each event.  Their Soho store has 2,000+ RSVPs and 5th Avenue has 800+ so far.

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In general, I’m skeptical when it comes to events as to what the pay-off or return on investment is.  But, I do think events can help generate loyalty from a targeted audience.  I was impressed that Madewell seems to have found a way to take this concept beyond a single store, and have multiple events in their stores the same evening, along with a way for their shoppers that aren’t in the specified geographies to participate.  I don’t know how well it will pay off financially in the immediate term, nor from my research does it seem that this generated a large quantitative volume of new “likes” or tweets, but it did lead me to have more positive associations with the brand that will likely last over time, which I think should be the purpose of events in general.  (I should note that I’m not attending the event myself but still have these feelings).  It’s also a FUN concept!

Overall, this campaign did a great job of teasing the readers with enough info to make you want to know more, and generates an excited emotion that they’re inviting shoppers to be part of something “insider-ish” as they make their way across the USA.  Kudos to Madewell!

2 reasons online-only brands go offline

I read two pieces of news last week about brands began online who are now opening physical stores.  Piperlime announced they are opening their first physical store in New York City this fall, and I received an email from Athleta that they’re opening a store (I think their ~15th) in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey.
I started contemplating when and why online retailers choose to open a brick and mortar presence, and I came up with 2 main hypotheses.

They open these stores to either:

1) gain exposure/marketing/buzz to build the brand (typically in high-volume/high-expense major metropolitan areas)

2) reach target customers in unsaturated markets where there is strong immediate revenue opportunity and the ability to build a loyal following*

In terms of last week’s news, I believe that Piperlime is a solid example of reason #1 and Athleta’s expansion an example of #2.  Let’s examine each:

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Piperlime’s 2011 Pop-up store (Image via NY Spender)

Piperlime – opening a physical store in NYC is about bringing the online experience to life, PR exposure, and branding.  Overall, it’s more of a “show” move with long-term benefits than an immediate revenue play.  The real estate costs for a NYC store are likely exorbitant, but they probably selected this market because of access to influencers and to increase their coolness/top-of-mind factor among fashion’s editorial community.  I’m guessing they hope that the press and coverage they will get out of it will trickle to other markets, building the awareness of Piperlime for online shoppers nationwide.  Seems that a pop-up shop could accomplish much of this though, so they must believe this endeavor will have the  ability to continually drive buzz and do so profitably.  (Piperlime did create a pop-up store timed with Fashion Week last year; seems that was a test-run).

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Athleta new store announcement

As for Athleta – they probably are identifying markets where opportunity exists to be the first mover, establish customer relationships and build loyalty.  For their store locations, they’ve opted for less urban, more suburban markets — places where lululemon hasn’t yet taken over, or may be out of range price-wise for consumers.  It’s important to select locations that will be excited about a fitness-focused store (cities were health is a priority) but where shoppers may not yet be obsessed with/have access to lulu (the leader).  Opening a physical store is more likely focused on immediate sales in these markets.  Athleta has probably learned who their avid online shoppers are and selected markets accordingly that could be profitable both from the get-go and in the long-term.

The fact that both Piperlime and Atheta are owned by Gap Inc does provide advantages for each them when opening a physical store. They can likely leverage the corporate expertise in all of the related store operations – leasing, hiring and training employees, procuring the necessary technology to process payments, tacking on to warehouse/delivery routes of nearby Gap Inc stores, and more.  This knowledge and infrastructure is a huge luxury that any online brand considering opening a brick and mortar wouldn’t necessarily have.

For instance, I’m not sure that Warby Parker, ASOS, Zappos, or Bonobos are itching to open their own stores given all the overhead compared to operating solely online.  If they did, I’d be curious which approach they’d take.  There have apparently been rumors that Amazon and Net-a-porter have considered physical stores, but I haven’t heard a peep recently – also curious how that pans out.

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*Note: A third reason is to simply have a presence in/near their corporate HQ (ie. Zappos corporate store, Threadless Chicago store near their HQ, Chrome Bags store in SF).

Special thanks to my brother (who also has forged a career in retail), for being my sounding board on this post.