The streets are dull and boring.
Being a retail nerd can be a tough existence. You don’t have a whole lot of people to talk to about it in a supremely passionate way. That was certainly not the case when we sat down with the co-founder and CEO of Showfields, Tal Nathanel, for a chat about a brand that is making waves in the retail sector.
City Row is a craftily designed rowing machine that is even suitable for tight spaces like New York City apartments. Although they have already created a strong brand and a good following, they wanted to look to physical retail to expand their customer base. They ran towards the challenge that a lot of digitally native brands face, which is how to enter physical retail in their own unique way.
“We want to make opening a store as easy as opening a website.” This is Tal’s bold ambition with Showfields in New York City. Not only is this a bold ambition, but it is one in which their execution should be applauded. However, it’s the reason behind why they are doing it that I find fascinating. “Instagram is curated and beautiful, but the streets are dull and boring,” says Tal. “Tel Aviv, New York, Sydney, Milan…they all look the same and don’t have the things me and my friends are buying,” he continues, explaining that he was noticing that there was zero magic in retail. I was intrigued to know how customers were reacting to it and what trends in customer behavior is leading to this new form of physical retailing. Tal says that today’s customer is more informed than ever before and is looking for authenticity. Therefore, having a clear voice is more important than ever before.
Retail is dead. Long live Retail!
I get asked a lot about the upcoming death of retail, which is grossly incorrect, but I do enjoy hearing from other people in the industry about their opinions. It’s safe to say that the CEO of a brand-new retail experience over four stories of prime retail real estate in New York has got his money on the industry doing well in the future. However, the way he describes it is fascinating: “the only thing we should be asking ourselves is what is next?” He continues, “if anything, retail is dead, but long live retail! Obviously, the main thing is the migration of the categories [of physical and digital] to become one.” This prediction is not new with terribly cliché terms like “omnichannel” being bandied around without ever truly forming a definition that involved customers. Channel-less is picking up steam, but really, all of these are just us highlighting that we’ve been behind. Our customers’ world (and yours as well, I’m guessing) is a blend of physical and digital that doesn’t really have barriers. They have roles in our life depending on our mission and situation. Showfields is taking advantage of that by allowing products to function and transact using the creative, effective, and simple digital tools whilst doing the things that digital can’t do outstandingly well in their showroom space. Which is, as we discussed in the first two episodes of Off the Shelf, all about storytelling.
Make a splash.
I’m sorry to keep going with the water puns for City Row, but I can’t help myself. As I sit in the window of Showfields in my jacket, pocket square, and black leather shoes on a rowing machine that uses water to not only provide resistance but to produce an incredibly relaxing background noise, I realize that I have become part of the story that this brand is sharing. I am staring out the window at the people walking by who are looking at me with curiosity. Until some weird Australian guy in a suit sat on this rowing machine, the story was only half complete. They know that the true story of their product comes to life when people are using it, so they entice you into it by placing it in a well-designed space that calls to you to just sit on the machine and give it a go. Within seconds, you’re rowing as if you were in a workout and you realize how simple the product itself is. Before long, you are seeing the space for your phone or tablet so that you can gamify and record your performance or get some motivation with an onscreen instructor screaming at you. For me, retail has always been about discovery, and this is a truly wonderful example of that. With a thoughtful crafted merchandising execution, I now know the full story of the brand, and am picturing it in my life. It’s something you can’t do with just an end cap, no matter how well designed the graphic prints are.
Along with this change in the role of stores and merchandising will come a required change in skills and thinking as well. As with any telling of a story, it must be contextual. Who is the audience, and what do they care about? It needs to be a balanced telling of a broader brand story but in a way that includes local contextualization. This is what I call consistent inconsistency. We want to have a constant brand message, but with minor adjustments to the execution based on local context to ensure that the strength of the connection you are building with customers is constantly high.
As we learned in episode one, creating a memorable and sharable store experience that has customers leaving with a product whose story they know well and want to talk about is vital in this new reframed version of retail. The art of storytelling of your brand story and purpose is vital. People need to feel good about giving you their money. However, as we learned in episode two, getting people there requires the boldness to step out of the safe zone and find your voice. In the wise words of Haviv, head of brands at Showfields, “ultimately it’s the visual merchandising that is the story telling [for your brand].” Tal, however, left me feeling more confident in expressing the importance of reframing the retail challenge. Retail isn’t dead, it is changing. Those with the strength to think about merchandising differently, to build connections with customers that are interesting, emotional, and engaging, are those that will thrive in this new world.
As Tal said, “When the right product meets the right customer, magic happens.” After these three conversations, I think I’d adjust it slightly to “when the right customer is introduced to the right product through a curated storytelling, magic happens”.
See you in series two.