museums&MORE Winter 2012
MASTERing Retail

By Ken Nisch
Chairman, JGA

Today the most typical formula for a self-help book-be it for personal, business or solving the world’s problems-involves “steps.” These steps help us organize, prioritize and provide a bit of a personal checklist to measure how we’re doing, and help us determine whether we’re staying on track or being faithful to the mission.

In many ways, successful retail is similar to personal reinvention, but is a bit more complicated; as the “personality” of retail involves the customer, the merchant and elements such as staff, product and marketing of veritable “symbols.” Depending on which of the following attributes are most aligned with your mission, the first step is to establish the two or three to focus on to achieve renewal and reinvention of your retail concept.

We believe that there are six major attributes: Magnitude, Authority, Stimulation, Temptation, Ease and Revelation. Three of these are more emotional, three more rational; yet the best retail stores find a mix and a balance of both. Using only the rational attributes, while easier to measure and execute, can make for a well organized, but “soulless” retail experience.

All emotional attributes, while fun or intriguing, often put the customer in a walk-out frame of mind that reminds them that they should come back again and perhaps bring a friend. But unfortunately, it can more likely have them walking out empty-handed, as they had so much fun on the “ride” that they forgot to “engage and buy” as part of the process.

For identifying the percentage of this balance, it’s this mix of the rational and the emotional. Being rational is best when the retail concept benefits most from being more “dramatic,” or if it’s focused on needs, replenishment and shopping efficiency. Yet another concept may benefit from finding its emotional roots, if indeed its customer is looking for more adventure, romance and entertainment.

In finding this balance, a plan can be built, resources allocated, and execution driven and judged against objective criteria. Identify your best resources, as I’m sure each shop has its organizer, and as well, the creative free spirit within its personality. Defining the distinction and understanding the right place for each to be exercised makes for a happier and more productive staff.

So it begins with a plan, finding a balance and allocating resources to begin your own steps to MASTERing Retail!

Consumers value meaningful choices. These are choices that expand the category’s perception – whether defined by price, style, sensory attributes; good, better and best; or function, feature and benefit choices. Talk to consumers today and they will tell you they see too much redundancy in price points, quality and even features that rarely vary in a sea of product and concept sameness. Hundreds of magnets, T-shirts or ties at 99 cents, $19.99 or 29.99 offer paralysis, not choice.

In fact, consumers are so starved for choices that excitement can be generated by KitchenAid producing pink mixers in a world full of chrome, black and white. Given real choices, consumers easily gravitate upstream; they know better and naturally aspire to it. Why? Because meaningful and perceivable choices excite consumers who can sense the magnitude of what is being offered.

Consumers want the sense that retailers have a plan. They need assurance that you know your business – that your concept is bold and that you believe in it. At Costco you assume they offer the lowest price; they have a mastery of value. At Whole Foods their product is fresh, environmentally friendly and good for you. And at Tiffany’s, the guarantee is good taste. In their own way, each of these retailers has a deliberate sense of authority. Once authority is developed, you can distinguish your store from the crowd, communicating a clear sense of how your business works and why it is different, resulting in a sense of trust and confidence in you as a retail partner.

We often hear how there are 400 TV channels, but nothing to watch. While we are all time starved and pressured, retail must be a place of stimulation and excitement for consumers. For many of us who never venture far from home or work, retail operates as a vicarious window to the world, presenting everything from what the celebrities are wearing to how they decorate their homes.

Handcrafted products stimulate the uncreative. Think “exotic stones;” whether they appeal to children in an “All-you-can-pack pouch;” or “Five opals, amber and turquoise” for the fashion-focused. If it’s done right, retail is the ultimate place to experience all of life’s little pleasures, diversions and rewards. World-class retailers stimulate customers to discover what they want – be it a stunning broche, a scented candle on the side of the bathtub or a greeting card with the perfect message.

The difference between stimulation and temptation is a bit like describing the differences between savory and sweet. Taken alone, each can be a pleasant flavor, but they are much better when enjoyed together. Stimulation without temptation can be a bit too light and temporary; temptation without stimulation can be a bit too dangerous and demanding. Retailers must offer an experience worth lingering over, but not one so demanding that it makes customers think twice about their choices – essentially, a good meal AND a great dessert.

How can you create your own “Temptation Island,” full of alluring ideas? It might involve strategies as simple as offering samples, or as complicated as developing themes and storytelling experiences to engage the customer head-on. Either way, offer fully formed images that entice the consumer to take the first step.

Another important feature of retailing involves imparting a sense of ease, making your customers feel at home in your store. Creating ease can be as simple as presenting an attitude that suggests that customers are welcome to linger and immerse themselves in the shopping experience, leaving their stress behind. Providing convenience creates a sense of ease. But this kind of convenience is not necessarily a function of location or physical access. Ease of convenience comes through frankness of thought or attitude. Streamline the message you want to convey, so the customer can’t fail to understand your mission and statement.

As a marketing effect, revelation is like peeling back the layers of an onion. Exceptional retailers are more interesting the more you get to know them. They refresh, excite and intrigue you on every visit and provide adventure every step of the way. Revelation can be contained in a product, or it can come from a collection of ideas and products that appeal to all the senses. It can come from exceptional matches, like making a conservative jacket out of unique material. Such efforts can be subtle or extravagant. Either way, revelation rarely exists in a no-touch environment. Rather, it is created when the store’s staff makes the customer say, “What will they think of next?”

Are you mastering the retail opportunities?

Kenneth Nisch is chairman of JGA, Inc., a retail design and brand strategy firm in Southfield, Michigan. In working with clients, Nisch applies his knowledge and entrepreneurial insight into consumer markets to create concept and prototype development, brand image positioning and architectural direction. For more information, email or visit

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