New York – Across the country are showrooms large and small, public and private, national and local, that belie prognostications pronouncing the end of brick-and-mortar retail.
No doubt online-only selling is a grave and serious threat to storefront sales, but savvy merchants have managed to tap into consumers’ curiosity, social instincts and love of entertainment to create traffic-driving destinations.
Here, in no particular order, is a sampling of those retailers, which bring something new or novel to the table. Most are familiar names, a few are not; one is outside the industry, and another had a promising vision that went unfulfilled.
The list is hardly all-inclusive, and we’re sure you’ll disagree with at least a few of our choices. Let us know why, and who you would have added (click on the email envelope icon above). We’d love to hear from you.
For those in Connecticut and the New York metro area, we need say no more. For the unlucky rest of America, how best to describe?
The New York Times aptly called it “the Disneyland of dairy stores,” among which it was deemed the world’s largest by Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Essentially an oversized premium grocery, the four-store chain prides itself on a narrow assortment of farm-fresh milk, locally-grown produce, and made-on-premise baked goods and prepared foods.
Shoppers wend their way through the barn-like buildings along a single winding power aisle, passing animatronic farm animals and glass partitions for viewing food prep.
Sampling is plentiful, the corn-muffin tops are to die for, and each location bears the company’s customer-is-always-right pledge, which is etched on three-ton granite rocks up front for added emphasis.
There’s much to be said for the no-frills environment, especially when the prices are compelling, the merchandise is premium, the staff is pleasant, and the narrow but wide assortment is well thought out.
Costco’s rapid product rotation also provides an element of surprise and occasional wonder (“Wow, I didn’t know they had kayaks!”), which contributes to the “treasure hunt” shopping experience.
Top that off with a jumbo hot dog and bottomless soda cup for a buck-fifty and we’ll gladly fork over our annual $55 membership fee.
Talk about retail destinations. The Abt family’s single mega-showroom outside Chicago has been a local favorite for decades, and not just for its vast selection and competitive prices.
The sales floor is something of an amusement park, with a Las Vegas-like atrium and enough attractions like a 7,500-gallon salt-water aquarium, indoor windmill, giant-bubble machine, interactive butterfly generator and fresh-baked cookie kitchen (left) to keep kids busy while parents shop.
Add to that a customer-friendly vibe that’s an extension of the Abts’ own zeitgeist and you have a winning retail recipe that appears to be recession proof.
Yes, we know, a $50 billion public enterprise is hardly rebellious, but when was the last time you shopped a Best Buy store?
Taking a page from the Japanese retail model of leasing space to vendors, Best Buy has created branded zones across the sales floor, and is adding enticing end-caps, displays and demos (including VR) to help draw you in.
Apart from the cool guitar walls, the stores had grown staid in recent years, and by turning them into toy stores for adults, chairman/CEO Hubert Joly has made the showrooms fun to shop again.
There’s much to be said for a small, nimble management team, especially when they’re brothers. The Pidgeons, Daniel and David, were able to turn their chain on the closest thing to a dime earlier this decade after the economic foundation that was TV began to crumble.
Listening to their customers, they added premium appliances, furniture and flooring to the CE matrix and assumed a lifestyle approach to the business that’s reflected in their remodeled North Dallas flagship store.
The showroom, with its sophisticated, fully-appointed in- and outdoor vignettes, is a paean to technology, aesthetics, creature comforts and the senses, and excels at showing shoppers what’s possible.
Sears … and Kmart, no less? Yes, the company is losing cash and market share by the bucket load, but please reserve judgement (and shareholders their investments) until recently-installed CE chief Ryan Ciovacco scales his new Connected Solutions shops.
The IoT boutiques feature live displays of over a hundred connected devices and promise to help evolve the company from a product- to a services-centric model that better leverages its historic strengths in majaps, exercise equipment, and installation and repair.
Ryan’s appliance counterpart, Arun Arora, has meanwhile assembled a high-tech team that’s poring over half a century of in-home service history in order to reduce service calls to a science and raise their first-time fix rate to near perfect.
File this with Circuit City’s “The City” stores, a noble and visionary pilot format that simply came too late in the game.
The public face of RadioShack’s last-ditch turnaround attempt before bankruptcy was an ambitious showroom remodel that made the stores brighter, the layout more open, and the displays more engaging through the use of interactive touchscreens and a Bluetooth speaker array that could plays songs off your smartphone (left).
But like the small-format Circuit stores before it, the revamp, tragically, was a day late and dollar short. (Make that a decade late and $750 million short.)
There’s been buzz aplenty around this six-year-old, super-premium kitchen, bath and appliance chain as it wends its way across the country, and we’re here to tell you that it’s all justified.
Jeff Sears & Co. have created a luxury oasis within a handful of upscale shopping malls where baristas greet you with coffee, full-time chefs prepare meals in fully-functional kitchen vignettes, and encouraging aphorisms adorn the walls.
More striking are the displays, which take product demos to a whole new level. Need to buy a toilet? You can try out the top models in the rest room. Need a shower head? Here’s 20 working models (left), and you can A-B compare their spray patterns using this tablet. Want to feel them on your back? That can be arranged too.
They’ve been analyzed to death but we’d be remiss to not include them.
We particularly like the surfeit of friendly sales staff – no need to hunt an associate down – and how the stores encourage visitors to play with their toys.
The format, right down to the Genius Bar, has been borrowed by others (Sony, Microsoft), but without those sleek, minimalist white and silver devices to back them up, Apple’s formula, with its industry-leading sales-per-square-foot metric, simply can’t be replicated.
Nebraska Furniture Mart
While multichannel retailers talk of the “endless aisle,” NFM embodies it on the physical sales floor, where the selection of CE and appliances is unsurpassed.
The sheer size of its coliseum-like megastores is breath-taking, although the plethora of fully-appointed department vignettes and the first-rate customer service help give them human scale.
A premium furniture and bedding destination long before those categories came into industry vogue, the cavernous showrooms provide a one-stop-shop experience for everything home, and promise, as stated boldly within each of its four locales, “to excite, entertain and exceed customer expectations on a daily basis.”
And isn’t that what good retailing is really all about?