Hundred-Year Retailer Closes its Doors – What are the Lessons?

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This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

When I first heard that Ingledew’s was closing its doors after 100 years in business my first reaction was, Humph – oh well, there goes another one.

After all, the media has been filled with the news of retailer bankruptcies rising and rising for the past few years. One of the most popular recent TED talks is of Dan Bell, who filmed the urban decay of dead shopping malls. Apparently, nobody goes to the mall anymore or malls have been totally over built, again the message is the same: retail is dying.

RETAIL IS ALIVE AND WELL… thank you very much!

Here in Vancouver where I live, and quite literally across the street from where our offices are, there’s a mall called Brentwood Mall. Brentwood Mall is going through a multimillion-dollar revitalization. The parking lots, which are massive and common in most malls, are being replaced with residential towers. There is a new train station that opened a few years ago right across the street, and the entire neighborhood is being rebuilt. In the center of this all is a mall!

The same is going on 15 miles away at another mall called Oak Ridge. And another 15 miles away in another direction is Designer Outlets, the high-end outlet mall close to the airport and linked with the subway station. Last year a massive shopping center with a Cabela’s opened up across the river.

WHY DO PEOPLE SHOP?

Just this weekend my wife and two daughters, along with their aunts, all jumped in their cars and drove 30 miles to get together with all the sisters and spend the day shopping for new summer clothes.

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Retail’s future is not in its utility, but in the experience. People have not lost their desire for an experience, entertainment, or the bonding with friends and family. What people are looking for is proximity, a vibrant atmosphere, a connection with people, experiences that add value to their lives. Seems to me that Ingledew’s failed to offer all of these things.

6 STEPS THAT COULD HAVE SAVED INGLEDEW’S

1. Move away from the common lines sold at Nordstrom’s, the Bay, etc., and move towards premium brands at lower volume and higher prices.

2. Calculate the cost of the promotional discounting going on, 30% off, 50% off, 70% off these traditional products as mentioned above. The savings from the discounting can be pushed into a larger marketing budget.

3. Move more money towards female influencers and fashion forward influencers on social media.

4. Utilize more events, more giveaways, more prizes. Think more towards experiential rewards.

5. Customers are active on social media, so look for creative ways to place your product inside their lives. Think about tickets to a show and a customer snapping herself on a date with her new heels at a concert or show, or even a vacation incentive with her new sandals on a beach.

6. Don’t forget about your staff: training on the new products, involving them in social media, involving them in how your product is used. Leverage your staff to also be your brand ambassadors.

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YOU’RE NOT DEAD… THINK EXPERIENCE VS PRODUCT!

Life is not over for retailers but I fear, in the short term, it is going to be a lot tougher. But retail is not dead; it’s just changing. Think about how you can be more deeply involved in the experience with your product and your consumers. Your involvement in their lives is not over at the cash register, it’s just beginning – but you’ve got to bring some imagination to your marketing.

This is a 100-year-old company selling shoes and I, as a resident of the city, arguably their target market, had never heard of them. I buy shoes – I have a lot of shoes. And yet I had never heard of this company.

Only after hearing about their bankruptcy did I go and look at their website, and you know what I found? Really nice shoes. Those were my exact comments to my wife: “These are really nice shoes.”

When you’re in retail, your only job is to move product. In most cases, you don’t make the product, so you don’t have to worry about sourcing materials, manufacturing – maybe a little distribution if you have a warehouse, but really it’s just about pushing product.

And pushing product out the door is all about sales and marketing. Given the pressures on both of these fronts, the singular solution is creativity.

A LITTLE HUMILITY GOES A LONG WAY

I’m sorry, but thinking outside the box, coming up with innovative ways to market and sell… well that’s your only job. No, of course not everything’s going to work, but that’s part of the gig. You must not only be smart enough, but also a little humble. Good retail marketers know they must stay on top of technology and trends; but they have to experiment. You should try new things.

I talk to retailers every day and it’s the most common trait that I have found: this general unwillingness to be creative. You find your comfort zone, you have a good month, a good quarter, maybe even a good year, and that’s it. Maybe you think you have found the holy grail of marketing and retail because you’ve stitched together a few back to back periods with sales and profit growth.

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WHERE’S THE INNOVATION?

70% of our customers are retailers, so I have a vested interest in trying to get a message out to anybody who’s in retail that will listen. Open your eyes, open your ears, and let ideas flow. Try things, experiment – not everything is going to work, but that’s okay. Your job is to push product, and your job is to market and sell it, and you’ve got to continually find new, innovative, and creative ways to do it.

I don’t believe retail is dead; I believe retailers will succeed. So let fresh ideas through, and try some things that you may not have thought of – your very survival depends on it.

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