I recently had a series of conversations with my father about how to build a retail store today. He had spent more than 50 years in the home improvement sector of the retail industry, so why would he need a refresher course?
Because so much has changed. How one builds a store today is vastly different, and the new rules of retail[/entity] are clearly giving an advantage to small merchants that are starting with a digital footprint.
Which was a bit shocking to my dad, who worked his entire career for large chains.
My father was a sales representative for vendors, securing retail placement and creating long-term relationships. He liked to say he was a dinosaur, that his job was hardly necessary now what with the internet, online auctions for shelf space and so much going direct to the consumer.
Dinosaur or not, he knew the business and how retail operated. He had worked for and helped grow one of the largest home improvement chain’s. In later years he spent a lot of time in Seattle, repping brands to the growing retail powerhouse headquartered there.
(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
He was a dinosaur, but his attitude and curiosity wasn’t stuck in the past.
He was amazed by how simple it is to build a retail store today, in digital terms
There are a few universal truths in retail: Sell good products that people want, merchandise them attractively and offer good customer service.
But retail today is more about technology than theater, process not products. And when it comes to constructing a store, the digital blocks are more important in many ways than the physical bricks.
It used to be that retailers would select a physical location and set about building from scratch or converting an existing facility to their needs. They added store fixtures, back-room organizational aids, point of sale systems, lighting, energy management and parking facilities.
These were physical assets, hardwired into the space and difficult to change or update once installed.
The merchandise assortment was then selected and displayed, and marketing programs developed to reach shoppers and drive sales.
Everything had to be in place before opening to the public and ringing up the first sale.
Today, retailers are building digital stores brick by digital brick. The result is a lower cost of entry and far greater flexibility to change and expand as their needs progress.
A brand or merchant can contract with a third party e-commerce platform to create a website capable of selling products. If there’s a brick-and-mortar component to the business, they can opt to access inventory at stores and the distribution center, manage shipping options and track shipments.
Each step can be unique to that brand and represents something of a digital add-on to the basic package of displaying merchandise and product information to online shoppers.
Essentially, a retailer can in many cases flip a switch and “turn-on” a new feature when the time is right.
Want to pull in product reviews? Consider it done. Create custom content? Done. Allow customers to share on social media? Done. Pull in curated social media posts that tag your brand? There’s a switch to flip for that too.
Retailers can digitally add these blocks when ready. The programs are scaleable and changes or upgrades are pushed out from the cloud, there’s no need to host software and conduct costly upgrades every few years.
If a feature isn’t offered, the provider will find a way to develop one. Or it will partner with or acquire another company to supply that service.
This many be a bit oversimplified, but these types of platforms are giving new brands an edge over large traditional retailers, the very ones that invested in proprietary software and maintain the platforms with an in-house team.
Concepts that begin in the digital sphere have an advantage today over the legacy retailers. In fact, the vast majority of growth today is coming from smaller mom and pop type shops, according to MasterCard.
Because starting out and building a retail store today is much different proposition than back in my dad’s day. Not so much easier, just different.
The part that impressed my father the most, was the speed and ease with which some of these features could be activated. Because having worked within retail bureaucracies for half a century, he knew how hard it was to champion change through to implementation.
My father passed away last month after a long illness. But he made client calls until the bitter end, checking names and numbers off his ever present yellow legal pad. He was calling to say goodbye, he told me, but in truth he was still selling, still closing. Setting up his accounts to carry on after he was gone.
He was a dinosaur in this new world, but he would have liked to help build a retail brand with these tools. I think he would have enjoyed it very much. Just as the new breed of merchants seem to be enjoying themselves these days.