Seeing Red

There are many explanations, religious, historic and cultural, on why the colour red is used (along with green, gold, silver and white) as one of the key colours for Christmas. Certainly, red was the most widely used colour for Christmas 2012 in almost every window and instore display in New York this year.

From the use of single colour monotone schemes, to those with a bold tone-on-tone execution with traditional scarlet, ruby and berry shades, to vibrant vermillion and crimson, retailers in every product category had picked up on the trend.

As a colour, it has more associations and connotations than any other shade, with numerous studies suggesting that humans react more powerfully when they see red. Its values are universal and understood by people of all ages, cultures and nationalities. It evokes impulsive behaviours where confidence, daring, passion and risk are commonly observed. Cars are perceived to go faster, food to be more appetising, and things generally younger, happier and more alive.

Over the years, much has been written about the colour red. Some gory, much romantic, others scientific and lots anecdotal and personal. Poems, songs, letters and prose have all recorded our affection for red. It is the colour that endures and, just like the weather, it seems everyone has something to say about this most seasonal of colours. Quite simply, red is a ‘one size fits all’ shade. It works when and where others don’t.

For these, and a multitude of other reasons, it’s not surprising that red is the colour of choice instore for Christmas. Every retailer wants to make the highest sales and most profitable results from the huge surge in numbers and the opportunities that the season brings. Why risk a quirky or unconventional Christmas shade when red is a universal and popular favourite? Therefore, it’s only sensible that brands would want to place their most certain bet, and to de-risk to reap their rewards at this crucial time.

Retailers refer to Christmas and its ever earlier run up as the ‘golden quarter’, but this year even more than ever, I think it is all about red. Red in the creative promotional activities before, and red in the discounting activities afterwards, where left over goodies and seasonal clearance events will start in earnest depending on how things perform in the vital hours before the big day itself.

Without doubt, Christmas is synonymous with red. Birth, joy and love are embedded into its DNA – all part of the very essence of the festive period. What would choosing to celebrate the season with any other colour be like? Not Christmas.

Visit our Facebook page to see a selection of images featuring red displays in New York this year.

December – The Land of Nod Toy Shop, New York

One of my final trips of the year is always to visit New York. It’s always great to return and especially at one of the busiest times, when stores are full of people and decked out in their finest.

I’m choosing a pop up shop as the final store in my visual review of 2012. In recent years, pop ups have become a new addition to the ever changing mix of stores on our streets, so it seems only fitting to showcase one of the nicest, seasonally relevant examples.

The Land of Nod, children’s furnishing and toy store, is an offshoot of the massive Crate & Barrel Home chain. It opened this innovative pop up store at 136 Prince Street in the popular SoHo area of New York at the end of October, for only a couple of months, and is set to close at the end of December.

Stocking its own brand ranges of colourful handmade toys, books and learning, creative play and kids’ Christmas decor products, this is a special ‘one off’ Land of Nod Toy Shop – perfect for the festive season.

It was set up in the former Victorinox (Swiss Army knives) store, which recently moved to 114 Wooster Street. Like many pop ups, the retail environment is quirky and low cost and a make-do-and-mend execution.

All former fittings (except lighting) have been stripped out. Fresh paint, decoration and VM treatment has been imaginatively used to create an engaging store interior. Simply using voile, timber, twigs and felt, the shop has been transformed into a enchanting magical garden, complete with the sky, moon and stars. The look has something of an Anthropologie clothing store, where show-stopping creative displays are used to great effect. I’m told the transformation cost little more than $2,000 to implement – low cost indeed!

What I love about this store is how a mega brand like Crate & Barrel has been so imaginative and shrewd with this venture. Be in no doubt, this is a test marketing exercise and one that has MADE money for the company too. For a brand this big, to be thinking and acting ‘so small’ it suggests something very positive about the business culture and practices that are alive in the company overall.

When used effectively, pop up shops can be used to deliver so much more than just the latest product launch. As seen here, they can be deployed to collect important information about the future prospects of a retail concept, local demographics, sales and other vital marketing data.

By opening now, they have given New Yorkers and many international visitors a taste of the brand and its product range. At the same time, they will have learnt important lessons about the potential and future viability for a full line, permanent store in the area. I understand that this may now happen within the next two years.

In my opinion, Crate & Barrel has skilfully ticked all the boxes with this charming and authentic outlet. Innovation is the driver of success for businesses big and small. Here, the company shows that with imagination, a little money and bucket loads of business savvy, it’s possible to be successful in both the short and long term.

Catch it if you can – closes December 27th.

March – Joe Fresh, New York

I love Joe Fresh!

Since arriving onto the retail scene in 2006, Joe Fresh has quickly established itself as a fashion brand. Originally conceived as a private label clothing offer by Loblaw supermarkets of Canada, the brand now operates from a mixture of supermarket and city locations in Canada and the USA. It has recently been announced the brand will embark on a massive opening programme of 700 new outlets within JC penny stores during 2013.

Joe Fresh has a clean and sharp image, with fashion-led products and as a value fashion brand, together with very low prices. Instore, the brand uses simple but effective retail design, bold and impactful VM and large format POS imagery to make dramatic range statements and create ‘wow factor’. On the street, Joe Fresh takes HUGE advertising billboards on major city routes in places where the stores are located, to create an even bigger buzz instore.

For me, it’s interesting to see how Joe Fresh has taken the North American market by surprise and become so ‘cool’, so quickly.  The brand has taken business and market share away from the established casual clothing retailers almost without being noticed. By comparison, many existing stores look doudy, tired and unloved.

This international brand’s flagship store, at 110 5th Avenue in New York City, opened on March 30 and is the biggest yet. Instore, several floors of women’s, men’s, kids’ and accessories collections are displayed with the brand’s distinctive VM and brand delivery style. It demonstrates the power of great store presentation to make inexpensive products both easy and more attractive to buy.

With a huge and advanced publicity operation in place, this store opening made the news in NYC. Customer response was massive on opening day, with lines forming to enter this ‘clothes store’!

It is, quite simply, a great thing to have a store like this in one of the world’s most expensive cities!

Here, it’s possible to buy several good quality-clothing items for the price of just one from other multiple brand stores. Whether for a ‘must have’ impulse fashion buy, or simply to get a great fitting, basic white T-shirt – Joe Fresh ticks all the boxes. For me, it is more cool than Gap, has better standards than Old Navy, and is cheaper than the likes of Abercrombie & Fitch, Banana Republic and Hollister combined. It’s little wonder that the brand has taken off so quickly and become so popular with customers!

Members of my own team had the opportunity to collaborate with people from Joe Fresh when we worked on opening the ‘Mix’ fashion brand in Coles Supermarkets, Australia. Here, we were excited to meet Joe Mimram himself, the founder of Joe Fresh. It was interesting to see how he shared our passion for delivering the highest delivery standards of VM within a grocery store environment. ‘Mix’ was conceived by Joe Fresh, developed with Coles and opened with our support.

Joe Fresh shows how a supermarket ‘own label’ can also become a credible high street brand, and in so doing set new standards and expectations for customers about price, product quality and customer experience, which have the potential to affect the rest of the market as a whole.

Retail Focus: Is there truth in retail altruism?

I’ve been thinking a lot about altruism in retail this week. These thoughts were inspired by Treasure and Bond, the New York charity concept store of Nordstrom, which I visited when working near to Soho this month.

This is a small store in comparison to Nordstrom’s other stores, which sells men’s and women’s fashion brands, accessories and homewares. The philanthropic bit is that it donates all profit after cost to deserving local charities, making shopping there a feel good activity for Manhattan’s high-end consumers.

I am all for retailers giving something back, but what’s the motivation here? To be a new entrant in New York, retailers need to generate good will and quickly. Nordstrom is choosing to do good things for people and so it will attract the right kind of customers at the time when it’s also looking to launch a full Nordstrom department store in New York.

There is nothing wrong with this, it’s called corporate social responsibility (CSR). It’s about retailers making people see that they make the effort to help those in need, as well as making profits. There have always been charity stores – but the likes of Treasure and Bond are showing the maturity of this philosophy, weaving in community with beautiful brands and being seen as good citizens into the bargain.

So what’s the current motivation for good CSR? In the US and the UK retailers are finding themselves under pressure and looking for that illusive growth. We are seeing that established retailers are realigning their values as well as making pricing more desirable for customers. In times of austerity, overly ostentatious displays of wealth are not the done thing, with subtle points of understanding (price primarily) and a not small dose of compassion being more on trend in the current climate.

More and more people are addressing the altruism and thrift philosophy. You may remember my column on Birdcage, the make do and mend, trade in and thrift focused fashion store in Skipton? At the other end of the market, Pret is giving away the sandwiches it doesn’t sell to the homeless. Like with Treasure and Bond, indulgence at Pret is making way for charity.

Stores that continue to survive on our high streets are having to work harder just to stand still, and there are a whole group of people falling out of this environment as a result. They are on benefits, or struggling with the costs of fuel, food, bills etc. The seismic shift in the charity sector is no accident and retailers have had to follow suit by appearing cheaper whilst trying to look better, in terms of altruism as well as in store to stay competitive.

If brands like Nordstrom are to do altruism well though, shouldn’t they have a Treasure and Bond in every large city whey they have, or plan to have, a department store? This is not to be critical though, as every pound (or dollar) to charity is helping someone and it could be that Nordstrom intends to roll them out everywhere.

You don’t have to look far for this full-blown commitment to philanthropy in the UK. M&S’s commitment to the environment and its people, Plan A, is evident throughout every facet of its offer. And, at the other end of the CSR scale, Pret demonstrates total commitment by running its left over sandwiches scheme from ‘every’ store. Consistency is key in retail – even in CSR.

And, whilst major grocery and hardware retailers are berated for taking over towns and ‘destroying’ the butcher, baker and candlestick makers’ trades, their charitable acts are filling the gap to some extent that austerity cuts to councils have left. Let’s face it – the bill for the new scout hut roof is far more likely to be picked up by Waitrose these days, and Wilkos is certainly playing a huge role in the care of the elderly in the community, with its support for Age UK.

I suppose the jury is always going to be out on the real drivers for retailers’ CSR, but I have a challenge for the big players, which will enable them to really show their commitment. Given that small independents are most at threat by big retailers’ presence, some of their altruism funds should be ploughed back into the town centre schemes to support the independents.

As has always been stated, small shops are the lifeblood of any local community and its prosperity, and it would be a true test of commitment to give funds back to a community scheme that would help bolster big retailers’ competition. By giving a kick start to the small retailers, the big players would really be seen as good neighbours, after all charity begins at home!

Read the original article on the Retail Focus website here.