Sunday, October 4, 2009

can't have it all...

images above from the movie "shop around the corner" & the remake "you've got mail"

One of the things that I totally geek out over is retail spaces. It could be any kind of retail--hardware store, pie shop (YES please!), clothing store, restaurant supply, or even book store, you get the idea. I could go on and on.

image above from the movie "you've got mail"

Yesterday I was at one of my favorite stores to say good bye to some of the people that work there. The business started out as a small independent then became an incredible catalogue and eventually grew into a national retailer that specialized in a certain type of furniture and accessories. It wasn't always the best place to get "a deal" but it was the best place to get something that would last, unique and excellent service. Out of respect to the people that work there and what they are going through right now, there is no need to mention this place by name. I've been visiting them for years and even when I couldn't afford to buy anything, I would go into one of their stores for inspiration.

image above from the movie "you've got mail"

This particular location in L.A. was the one I frequented most. The sales staff was always unbelievably friendly, kind, knowledgeable and really cared about what they were selling. Yes, at the end of the day a business in there to make a profit, balance the books and keep stock holders happy (if they have them), but when you forget how all that happens and that they key to everything you are trying to accomplish is your customer, you've lost your way.

This company was bought by a larger one about five years ago and the plan was to make them a more "everyday, affordable brand." Well, that's a great idea on paper. Challenge was that their core customer, the ones that grew up with them and could afford to shop there or even aspired to shop there because of the unique goods and services, were not going to feel special anymore. The potential new customers they were going after and eventually did were not treated to the personal, individual and unique service and product this company had built it's reputation on. The well meaning individuals making those "expansion" decisions felt that their brand name would be enough for the customer to be OK with the new direction. Unfortunately, everyone, from the original high end customer to the new budget conscious consumer, got a watered down version of the original.

Now, I am certainly not against affordable design or style. Heck, it's my mantra! But, one of the sales people at this establishment said to me yesterday when I asked her what she thought went wrong with the company, "You can't have all the customers." Genius. It's true. She went onto say that she and her co-workers felt that their original customer was being ignored instead of being built upon. The sales team was the "front line" in understanding who the customer was and what they did and did not want. No amount of market research or focus groups was going to give the company anything more than what they already had. She went on to tell me that in the last five years since they had been bought, a day did not pass that their customers felt like they were being ignored with the new "agenda" to diversify the business.

She also said that she felt another VERY big retailer, that is one of the rulers of the retail kingdom (no names needed) was "doing it right." I was a little shocked to hear her say that since this place isn't her retail "cup of tea" in terms of style, but her words once again were wise, "They know their customer so well! Every time they open a new store or introduce a new product it's in keeping with their already established base. The just want to grow that base not find a new one." She couldn't be more spot on.

I will miss shopping, being inspired and seeing my retail friends. You were unique.

Onto a retailer that seems to know their customer and I for one am thrilled about that.

Even if I'm not looking to purchase anything, when a store knows who they are but even more importantly really understand their customer and does everything they can to address them, THAT is a "geek out" moment for me.

Room & Board is one of those stores. From the way the spaces are designed to the merchandise they sell to the customer they are selling to--it all just makes sense. They get their audience. There are many others that do it really well too. From national retailers to small, independent stores. The reason I am picking out Room & Board is that there is a new one opening tomorrow (OCT 5) in L.A.! There's one in Orange County, Ca. but it's more than a bit out of the way from where I'm at.

The other cool thing, the new L.A. Room & Board is located in the historic Helm's Bakery Building in Los Angeles. It's one of my favorite L.A. buildings AND a location already filled with other great home goods retailers (as well as places to eat). Sadly, Helm's Bakery no longer exists but their huge and beautiful building does and if you're ever in L.A. or even live in L.A. this is a must visit. H.D. Buttercup is also located in the building (another awesome place to get lost in the world of home stuff) and they have a brief historic display of Helm's Bakery along with one of the original Helm's Bakery delivery vehicles in their store. Cool stuff.

Check it out if you happen to be in the area or visit your local favorite retailer and be grateful their still around. Heck, purchase something from them if you can.



Feeding Birds Boutique said...

Great story! It's sad when good businesses are forced to close! I was extremely upset when Domino Magazine shut down. I especially like the end of your story when you said people should start being grateful for local retailers! We own an Echo Park boutique that we opened in February (not the best time to open) and you'd be surprised how many people come in telling us how happy they are that we are here, how reasonable our prices are, how important it is to shop local (and green) and how much they like our products but they don't buy anything. Small/ specialty businesses cant survive on praise alone especially when people keep the stores to themselves and don't tell friends about them. Thanks for sharing some stores that you like. We'll be checking them out.

Trey said...

LOVE this post! Could not have been better said and the pictures are fantastic. Can't wait to visit the new R&B. I love the old Helm's Bakery building. Have you had hot dogs from the cart/van Let's Be Frank? Delish!
You are a rock star.

MK said...

Wonderful and sad story. I love the pictures from You've Got Mail! I LOVE that movie. Watch it all the time. Angelo, you are my hero, inspiration and design go to source. This entry is one of the many reasons that proves why. Hope you're enjoying your weekend.

Kat said...

What a perfect cautionary tale for retailers everywhere. If you lose sight of your customer base, you've lost the war. We are blessed to have some small retail shops here that know their customers wants and needs and do their best to fulfill them. We try to shop them as much as possible, and always recommend them to out of town visitors. Have a great week Angelo! Kathy

Kelly @ Much To Do With Nothing said...

Angelo, I hate that. I hope it's not the store you posted about in your very early blog days. The one with the crane bird picture I almost called to have sent to me! And all of the unique, cool stuff! It wasn't, was it?
Also, I remember the Helms Bakery truck. It would drive down our street in Huntington Beach (back in the 60's Ha!) and stop for everyone to buy bread and doughnuts. Like the ice cream truck. I remember they would pull out the drawer/shelf and there would be all of the wonderful doughnuts. We would pick one and say "put it on my mom's bill, bye". I wonder what that bill was at the end of the month. LOL.
Hope you're feeling better these days.

Anonymous said...

One recent New Year's Eve, I celebrated with two girlfriends by getting Chinese takeout and watching "Shop Around the Corner," and its remakes "In the Good Old Summertime," and "You've Got Mail" back to back to back. That's the kind of geek I am. That's the kind of geek my friends are. And that's how we ROLL! :)


Carin said...

Outstanding entry.

somewhereinthyme said...

Recently closed my local floral shop due to the economy. I would always rather choose local than a big box shop but our American mind set needs to change. I don't want to support big corporate when I can shop and support neighbors in my community. I also love seeing different retail spaces and the "Shop Around the Corner" is one of my faves!

Janie said...

I am huge fan of your blog. When do you have time? Seriously now. I couldn't agree more about everything you said. I feel that stores lose their way when they lose sight of their customer and reach beyond them in way that ignores the core. I hate to say it, but HGTV is doing the same thing. I have curtailed my viewing so much. I hope you don't take offense to that. I do LOVE your shows. Hope you're feeling better!

Laura said...

I just want to say I totally agree with Feeding Birds Boutique. Tempting to say sometimes: "I am glad you empathize...blah blah glad...BUY SOMETHING."

Just case in point, I have designated a portion of my charitable giving to ....not churches, not non RETAIL SHOPS this year. No, I don't buy for myself. I give what I buy away, but I do buy, even if it's only a small item in each place. I won't miss the five or ten bucks each time, but over the year, small purchases might keep my favorite (bakery, winery, vintage clothing store..)shop on the corner from going under.

And that makes me happy at Christmas or any other time of year.

Outside The Lines said...

What a great post!


Wow! Such a fantastic work of blogmanship! The photos from "You've Got Mail", one of my favorites, just seem to speak of the current status when we hear of magazines, retail establishments, etc. "closing shop". On the bright side, new ones emerge in the hope of making a mark, especially reclaiming old or forlorn spaces. Voids shall be filled once more! I'll be visiting your very fabulous blog again! ~ Angela

deb.kennedy said...

Angelo, this is a great post. My blog is all about retail space & visual design, and I'd love to link to this post so that my retail readers can benefit from what you have shared here.... is that OK with you? Heaven knows independent merchants can use all the help they can get right now!

-Debi Ward Kennedy

angelo said...

Hi Debi-

Yes, please feel free to.
I couldn't agree with you more!

The independents need all the help they can get right now and always. They provide original ideas, vision and personal service that fits their customer's needs. I am a huge believer in that independent spirit. It has served us in the past and will help to reshape our Country in a new and stronger way.

My hope is that we not only support our communities and local businesses at this challenging time and encouraging words but also with what we can afford to pay for. We are at a time of great opportunity to reshape our lives and our Country. It really does start where we live. I hope you continue to push forward creatively and independently!

All the Best,

I ♥ NY said...

what a wonderful post! i always loved the book shop from you've got mail too...

Samantha said...

I just love this post. So well said and I couldn't agree more! I try and support places that have excellent customer service, great merchandise and a sense of pride in what they do but not boasting and coming on too strong. We're lucky to live in a town that has more than one place like that to shop at.

Thank you Angelo for being so real.

Teri said...

Really great post. I'm sorry that the store is closing. That just sucks. I love the sentiment of "you can't have all the customers." I wish more businesses understood what that really meant and acted accordingly.

LCJ said...

I really enjoyed this post. It's interesting to me to see how many businesses have lost their way in the pursuit of a bigger "audience." Greed is definitely a motivator but I think the need to appeal to a younger and younger audience actually does more harm than good for certain businesses. I see that in that happening in the entertainment world (the one I work in) all the time and it's definitely a part of retail as well. I am that "younger demo" and even I and my friends think it's hilarious to watch companies, and entertainment entities look as desperate as they do to appeal to a "hipper, younger, fresh" audience. The bottom line, we don't care about the age of who's selling it, performing it, or making it. We care about what the "IT" is. End of story.

I'm a fan of yours and have been for a while now for that very reason. Your "IT" is real and it matters to you-it matters to us.

leah - moxiethrift on etsy said...

my heart goes out to the people in that business. their passion, their life, was watered down and dulled by big business. =(

Room & Board. mmm. me likes. me likes a lot.

Samantha said...

Big fan of Room & Board. Sofas especially seem to be a good deal.

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