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Concepts to boost retail marketing

Glenda LeGendre copyToday’s retail marketplace is changing dramatically and exponentially. The growth in online ordering is causing malls and even big-box stores to fall to the wayside. Small businesses are equally challenged. What’s a business to do to compete in the digitally growing age? Here are a few newer, creative and inspiring concepts to consider.

Recently, I visited Abbott Kinney (Boulevard), a thriving mile-long strip of small retail merchants located in an older section of Los Angeles, not far from Venice Beach. This lively area offers fashion, food, art and surprises along its stretch. The locale has a hipster vibe, but it goes beyond that — a little bit like Hampden in Baltimore but absent the residential mix and with the addition of some interesting international business interests. Since California is often a bellwether of the nation, the Abbott Kinney approach can play in the Maryland marketplace.

What is different about the L.A. shopping area is that it is marketed and has become a “concept store” center. Customers are drawn in by vibrant displays of merchandise. But most merchants have only storefront space and “take orders” for shipment via the Internet. Less space, less inventory, less costs. But the buyers still get to see and feel the actual merchandise.

Some stores have added creative approaches to merchandising. Toms Shoes, for example, designed its “social entrepreneur” sales space to sell not just shoes but also specialty coffee. Shoppers meet and relax in a designated space within the store.

Shinola Detroit, a distinctive seller of Detroit-manufactured watches, bicycles, and leather goods, has a secluded area for select prospects to view branded videos, sip wine and chill while learning about the products. The retail area is comparatively small.

There are numerous other examples – such as a store dedicated to the sale of kimonos — but gallery spaces and non-chain restaurants complete the draw and elevate the experience. A nearby hotel advertises effectively by offering one of the most interesting ideas in a storefront. For a small fee, you can “live like a rock star” in a photo shoot. The scene is staged as a comically debauched event in a penthouse-like hotel room (faked). You dress up to fit the part within the room for some souvenir photos. Again, this is part of an experience that bridges traditional shopping, dining, lodging and entertainment.

‘Shop and notice’

As an additional branding idea, several store window designs encourage visitors to take selfies in front of their display for sharing the store’s identity indirectly via Instagram or other social media posts. “Iconic” wall murals for additional “shop and notice” photo ops are visible throughout the boulevard.

The Abbott Kinney merchants have created a strong trade association and sophisticated marketing arm. They share a web presence — www.abbotkinneyblvd.com — with changing business spotlights and directories, host community events, and offer innovative First Friday promotions. Locals bookmark or regularly follow the website news so they are engaged in the activities, and they bring their friends and visitors.

Always customer-centric, there are plenty of inexpensive parking options. Even in that arena Abbott Kinney shows creative thinking — there’s “leap frog valet parking” — you park at one end of the mile-long area and have your car delivered to the other end. There is bike sharing, metered spot availability, etc.

Finally, leaving the described LA concept area ideas, there’s a good retail marketing website  —fitsmallbusiness.com — that offers successful strategies for retail marketers to add digital and other elements to their marketing toolbox. Businesses can stay top-of-mind with customers by participating in social media traditions, like #MotivationalMonday messaging, by selling merchandise through multiple platforms (not just Amazon), by using cross-promotional strategies with other merchants, or by introducing customer loyalty programs.

There may not be any exact benchmarks for your creative retail (or other) marketing, but seeing what others do can be inspirational.

Glenda LeGendre is the principal of Strategic Marketing & Communications and can be reached at glegendre@comcast.net.