Dan Angelo 2015-09-10 11:12:17
A NEW FEATURE OF XTREME 2015 PROVIDED CAMPUS RETAIL ADMINISTRATORS THE OPPORTUNITY TO SEE HOW RISK-TAKING AND CHANGE SHOULD BE PART OF THEIR STORES’ CULTURE. Xtreme, which gives collegiate retailers a firsthand look at how mainstream retailers operate, has made stops in Seattle, San Diego, Boston, Toronto, and points in between. But for its 10th anniversary, the program returned to New York City and added a twist. The conference still featured a shopping tour, with stops at Union Square, the NYU Bookstore, and the SoHo retail district of Manhattan. This time, however, the conference also included a second track, designed for college store executives and administrators, to discuss possible operational changes and the culture necessary to support such moves. “The conference made me think of all the concepts we see and how they apply to our business,” says Steve Alb, CCR, director, The Book Store at Western, Western University, London, ON, Canada. “We’re all unique and we all have slightly different operations, so this is really about the ideas we can bring back that can be individualized for our own stores. I think those things are important for how we can make a better operation.” The executives prepared for the shopping tour with a pair of Saturday-morning education sessions that looked at risk-taking and identifying the stakeholder relationships necessary to make any change work. They returned on Sunday morning to compare notes before being reunited with the retail participants to map out steps to accomplish change in their stores. “We’re in an industry that is not risk-oriented,” observes Michael A. Levin, associate professor, Otterbein University, Westerville, OH, who facilitated the executive-track sessions. “We work for universities and colleges that do not want to take risk, do not want to take chances, and, in fact, want to do the very opposite.” BRAND MANAGEMENT The retail tour led to discussion among the executive participants about what they liked and disliked about the stores visited, and what those operations were doing to push their unique brands. “The store I had never been in before but I really, really liked was Uniqlo,” says Doug Mason, director, University Store, Brigham Young University-Idaho, Rexburg. “I liked it because everything was in place, everything was very nice, and the prices were readily available. I was impressed by all the merchandise for the price.” “You recognize that brand when you walk in,” adds Loreen Maxfield, director, The UIC Bookstore, University of Illinois, Chicago. “The staff was in their kimonos and very friendly. I think that’s something we don’t do very well in college stores. We’re not good at approaching customers. Our focus is not on engaging our customers and finding out what their needs are and helping them fill those needs.” Promoting the store brand and customer expectations associated with the brand was a prominent topic throughout the conference. Examples of brand management came through in most stores, sometimes perhaps not as intended. “Everything about John Varvatos was ultra-snooty,” Rich Steele, senior director of auxiliary services, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, says of the men’s high end fashion store. “The staff was snooty, the attitude was snooty, and the prices were snooty. Everything about the brand was snooty—but they did a good job of it. “I also thought the Under Armour store branded itself really well,” he adds. “You walked in and felt like you were in a totally unique place. It kind of felt like Rainforest Café, where you’re hit in the face with this huge brand imagery as you walk in the door.” Technology is a key element of the branding experience at Rebecca Minkoff, the women’s clothing and accessory designer, which is known for the touchscreen mirrors at the front of the shop and in the dressing rooms that help shoppers choose and accessorize merchandise. That approach may not be for everyone. Maxfield, for instance, says she felt the brand “was almost lost in the technology. The staff was wonderful, but the experience was the technology and the technology wasn’t necessarily adding to the experience. Sometimes, I think the technology becomes ‘the thing’ rather than ‘the thing’ being supported by the technology.” However, the high tech at Rebecca Minkoff is utilized for more than just making it easier to fill a dressing room. While making selections, the screen also asks shoppers to provide their cellphone number so sales associates can deliver a beverage or bring merchandise to a fitting room. Shoppers aren’t reluctant to hand over their personal information. “I watched people surrender their phone numbers to get a glass of champagne. That was impressive,” Levin says. “For a 90-cent bottle of water, I got your phone number.” ENGAGEMENT TAKES MANY FORMS The technology in play at Fresh, a cosmetic retailer in Union Square, is decidedly lower tech. The store provides shoppers with cards to write about their experience at Fresh, which are then attached to a wall near a front window that thousands of pedestrians pass by daily. Customers are also encouraged to use the store hashtag and share a photo of their card on their favorite social media sites. “We’ve done some small construction projects where we exposed some old walls before putting up something to cover them, and our students think it is the coolest thing in the world to sign it,” notes Jason Brown, general manager, Utah State University Campus Store, Logan. “Within a week, we usually have 10,000 names written on the wall, so here’s a way we can liven up our social media and create attachment to our social media and inside the store. “My thought would be to make it event-based, so when we have a football game coming up we could have these little cards that everyone can sign or do something fun with,” he adds. “It’s just another way to create a destination in the store.” Engagement of another sort, in the form of security personnel, was prominent in nearly every store, but it was not always friendly and inviting. A 6-foot-7 bruiser looming at the entrance of the NikeLab location, a new concept that shares store profits with the community, left a sour impression on the executives. By contrast, security people at the Apple Store were indistinguishable from the sales staff, which created a more trusting atmosphere for customers. “It wasn’t just that Nike store,” Brown says. “I swear, six blocks over, there was that same guy in a black suit and white shirt. I don’t know how many stores I went into that had that same guy standing in front.” Research shows that the best way to foster customer engagement and loyalty is by creating and maintaining a strong brand, but that requires innovation and risk. “The retail tour is always enlightening because you see what brands are doing that really highlights what their core business purposes are,” Steele says. “As leaders within a retail environment on our college campuses, we have to think more broadly about the core purpose of our universities and how we connect that brand identity with what we’re doing in the store.” Dan Angelo is assistant editor in the Publications Department at NACS.
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