July 19, 2021
Business of Fashion
Optimising the Store as a Community Hub
WS Development’s president Samantha David and Clot’s co-founder and creative director Edison Chen discuss using retail stores as community spaces with BoF’s Sheena Butler-Young as part of BoF’s Professional Summit: What’s a Store For? Here, we share the key insights.
As consumers return in increasing numbers to physical stores post the easing of lockdown regulations, retailers need to entice their customers back in-store in a manner that complements rather than competes with digital consumer touch points.
Last week during BoF’s Professional Summit: What’s a Store For? presented in partnership with WS Development, BoF senior correspondent Sheena Butler-Young spoke with Samantha David, president of WS Development — one of the largest private mixed use developers, with retail properties across the US — and Edison Chen, co-founder and creative director of Clot. Below, BoF identifies the key insights from that conversation, including surveying local populations and the critical importance of localised store recruitment strategies.
Indeed, encouraging a sense of community is emerging as an increasingly essential part of successful physical retail strategies. Whether evidenced through representative store design with visual storytelling that reflects the neighbourhood in which the store sits to encourage local engagement, or events that foster loyalty among consumers for whom social activities are an important differentiating factor.
Prioritise the Place Over Purchase
SD: We try to create places [where] people want to spend time. It’s a bit unorthodox, but at the heart of that pursuit is avoiding the sales process altogether. When we think about building a place where people want to be, we find that it makes a lot more sense to think about […] where somebody wants to spend their time and not where they necessarily want to spend their dollars.
To just get [your customer base] to go and sit on the lawn, read a book, or have a coffee in a courtyard, I think you create much deeper bonds and deeper loyalty. The people I know wake up every morning and they think, what am I going to do today, not necessarily what am I going to buy today. So, we want to respond to that need.
We actually launched in the Seaport in Boston a collection of tiny [stores] called The Current. […] Some are 200 square feet, some are 400 square feet, and it forces creativity, if you don’t take any inch of your space for granted. It’s the most efficient, this little bento box of perfection. […] I think it is so magical when you walk into these little jewel box experiences, and [there is] usually one person in there — it forces connection.
EC: If someone walks into our store, it’s important for them, even without a purchase, to feel inspired or included in the community that we’re trying to build. I think that snowballs every time we have an event, or they come to the store. […] The indirectness of trying to educate and open their eyes is one of the things that we value very much when we think about a retail location or retail experience.
[We ask] what do local people want to see or what do they fall for? And that leads to a discussion [about] the way that the interior is designed, like in LA, it’s a heavy art gallery vibe, and in Shanghai, it’s like an old traditional Chinese pagoda village. In [terms of] sneaker display, because of the sneaker culture there, we were one of the first places to have a high Nike account and we wanted to display that and show other facets of our clothing making, so […] it looks like a sauna room. […] That would never be in our American store but in our Shanghai store, it works.
Not only is it to the architecture, it’s also to the local community. So I definitely think that the curation of each store, each branch, is heavily reliant on local culture and local needs.
Learn about the Local Communities and Cultures
SD: I certainly know I don’t want to walk into a store or a mall and have them all feel the same. I want it to feel like the community I’m in and especially like the community that is them.
[In] different neighbourhoods, in different communities, each one is completely distinct, and whenever we buy a property — and we have many around the [United States] — the first thing we do is just listen. Just sit and listen to anyone who will talk to us, get as many people in a room and on the phone and say, “What do you love about this place?’ What do you hate about this place? What do you need? What do you not need?” Just have a very deep and patient period of fact finding.
EC: I lived in Los Angeles for about seven years before we opened our store so I had [done] deep research on local vibes and needs and wants and what was lacking from the community. Even within China, from city to city, the culture is very different, and [it’s about] trying to really accommodate and accentuate what the locals are feeling or what they’re going through or what is trending.
So, enabling I think not only the local team to be more vocal is really trying to find a crew or a team of people, or as Virgil [Abloh, Off-White founder and Louis Vuitton Men’s artistic director,] says “a tribe of people,” then it really isn’t their job — it’s something that they live, that they love. […] Retail nowadays isn’t just about a sale, especially as more people shop online and [a] store is just an area for people to understand what you as a company are representing, and getting into the locality of it is very important. Finding the right mix of people and energy is important.
Foster a Company Culture for Employee and Consumer Loyalty
EC: The type of person that we want to work with is someone that isn’t jaded and someone that is willing to admit that they can still learn every day. That’s what we’re urging [and] looking for. [A] new spark, new idea or something that we haven’t experienced. It gives us different perspectives and being able to be open and to listen to their perspective is invaluable because they all live within this same standard. I think that that’s an important part of the culture.
Around 40 to 60 percent of our headquarters staff have been with us for about 20 years. […] I can’t go and interview every single person everywhere but having people that understand the nature and the culture of what it is that we represent and what it is that we are as a family, makes it a lot easier for us to be able to send out the troops and have them navigate and search for these people.
SD: I think that our tribe is what distinguishes our places and similarly, with a great retailer, you walk in and you meet a person who’s passionate about that place, you feel it. They can’t fake that […] But to find the team that’s on the ground and going to be there till midnight at an event or up at three in the morning, Instagramming with somebody to [encourage] that person to [attend an event] you’re hosting, I think is the difference between really being local and just pretending to be.
At our company, if we can’t find somebody to do a job […] we just pitch in until we can find that superstar player, instead of settling. I think that the best people are the people who are passionate about our business and really excited about it and you can’t teach that.