Much has been written about what the retail landscape will look like post-recession. More specifically, how are retailers going to get shoppers back inside their doors? But I think there are glimpses of that future already on view before our eyes.
For starters, there’s Forever 21’s new Times Square flagship that’s been bustling with activity since it opened. The fact that it’s one of the largest stores devoted to a single brand and that it opened during these times makes it all the more impressive.
Or take J. Crew, where retail veteran Mickey Drexler has been leading a brand turnaround since taking the helm in 2003. While J. Crew’s numbers are strong – sales in 2009 were $1.57 billion, exceeding pre-recession levels – they don’t tell the whole story. Five years after introducing a line of wedding attire through its catalog, the retailer recently opened its first bridal store. The initiative began after a telephone operator for J. Crew’s catalog business told Drexler that women were buying simple sundresses for wedding attire. What a great example of how listening to customers leads to fresh ideas – and sales.
Another retailer on the path of reinvention is Esprit. The ’80s sartorial star recently launched a new brand statement in New York, complete with stylish clothes and a contemporary setting that’s sure to appeal to all those who loved this brand back in the day, as well as the up-and-coming generation. (For more on this store, click here.)
All this innovation isn’t just coming from the apparel sector, either. Restoration Hardware is making waves in the home goods market, where ceo Gary Friedman has evolved the brand from retro knick-knacks to one-of-a-kind artisan products sourced from around the globe.
"We’ve pursued a path that’s put us at odds with the prevailing industry wisdom,” says Friedman in the company catalog. “Like [Henry David] Thoreau, we’re traveling down our own road, in pursuit of a limitless vision not restricted by what we may be looking at, but instead by what we see.”
I like that idea of looking beyond what’s been staring us in the face, especially these last several months – tentative sales numbers, shaky consumer confidence, vacant storefronts – and carving out a new, fresh path. The pioneering spirit demonstrated by these brands should inspire us all and help put us on track to writing the next chapter in retail’s evolution. Just open your eyes.