The Changing Retail Landscape

January 22 2015


These days, it’s tough to be a small retailer. As I’ve been out and about in neighborhoods that range from Park Slope, Brooklyn to Soho, NYC, I’m noticing so many empty storefronts where local retailers used to be. At the same time, many off-price, national retailers are successfully setting up shop. Nordstrom Rack, T.J. Maxx and Neiman Marcus Last Call have all opened on the Brooklyn Mall, and they are packed with customers. People are shopping away online, despite the risks of their information being hacked as it was at Target. So consumers are consuming, but infrequently with the independent shops.


It’s a trend, for sure. Small retailers with a strong brand and distinctive wares can still make it, but the economies of scale for larger retailers are hard to beat. There still exists a strong interest in the handmade, artisanal and unique – hence the success of Etsy, and Blake Lively’s new website venture Preserve, which showcases a curated group of USA-based artisans whose offerings span a variety of disciplines. Local food shops prosper as the trend towards food provenance and the public’s interest in protecting the environment continues to expand.


I’m sad to see a kind of depressed quality on what used to be shopping streets like 7th Avenue in Brooklyn. What’s the solution? It lies with price, originality, and vision, as well as paying attention to the holes in the marketplace so that you can provide products that consumers cannot find elsewhere on the local level. And as always with retail, it’s about being personal and forming relationships, one of the cornerstones of brand strategy and brand building.

What's Old in New Again: Cool Old Folks

January 14 2015

Here’s a trend I’ve been noticing for some time now, certainly in the UK marketplace. There is a new focus on projects that are inspired by stylish and accomplished older folks. I first noticed it when Tim Walker published “The Granny Alphabet” in 2013. Beginning with the letter A, the text by Kit Hesketh-Harvey establishes the book’s intentions: “A is for alphabet, (ABC), and aged ancestors (Awfully like me.) Twenty-six letters, that’s twenty-six Grannies.” Walker describes the book as both a photographic love letter to the elderly as well as part documentation of a dying breed of little old ladies, with all proceeds going to the charity The Friends of the Elderly. It’s incredibly adorable.


From Tim Walker's The Granny Alphabet

Interestingly enough, I do notice when I’m in the UK that older people are not scorned, shut away, or buffed down with Botox the way can be here in our youth-obsessed culture in the US. Right now, Todd Selby has shot The Bright Old Things for Selfridge’s, the upscale and enduring retailer based on Oxford Street in London. The campaign is dedicated to gifted artists, artisans and designers who have embraced new professions and disciplines in their senior years. They range from a topiarist (who even knew that existed?) to a punk hero to a Vlogger to a painter. Selfridge’s has also installed an in-store and online boutique where you can buy these talented oldsters’ work .


Selfridges

I can remember my cousin’s incredibly cool grandma Gert. She was a total original, very effervescent and funny, who frequently entertained in diamonds and a peignoir, while lavishly serving champagne and chocolates. She had a dedicated suitor and was a gifted storyteller and magical, creative presence in everyone’s life. One day, I’m hoping to be a Bright Old Thing myself, and love that I have creative inspiration to build on in my own family. Who's your Bright Old Thing?

Print Portfolios as Objects of Desire

January 08 2015

A perennial topic of conversation amongst photographers, photo agents and buyers swirls around print books. Everyone wonders if the print portfolio is dead, in a deep slumber, or if it somehow still vital. I’m a big fan of print books – when built around a photographer’s brand and vision, they are seductive and immersive, a place where the viewer can enter and experience your brand in a tangible and tactile way.

These days, many more portfolios are perfect bound, highly designed and sophisticated presentations, and present more like photo art books. This trend in fabrication and presentation places the photo portfolio front and center as a book to explore, appreciate, and return to again and again – much like a great photo art book from a published artist.


Gabriella Imperatori-Penn's perfect bound brand book marries her structural still life photographs and fine art images

This is not news to many of you, yet it was interesting to have my point-of-view confirmed by the recent article in The Business of Fashion, the highly influential London-based fashion blog. The headline of their article is “In Age of Online Inspiration, Fashion Creatives Still Love Beautiful Books.” The article is about coffee table books, and talks about the inspiration and references that Art and Creative Directors find in visually based photo books, whether they are contemporary, retro, or historical. Many Creatives travel with book collections, and many are avid photo, fashion, and art book collectors, using their collections for inspiration and creative juice.


Sarah Silver's portfolio incorporated distinctive design elements in conjunction with her glorious photographs

A great, well designed, thought through print portfolio elevates your brand to the context of a printed photo book, as an object of desire to be explored, and remembered, and to be inspired by. While the days of having eight copies of your portfolio are over, fabricating two or three copies of your “object of desire portfolio” can help to clinch the deal with your highly visual, selective target market.

Artists and agents -- think about this and take it on as you go forth with your branding, design, and marketing activities in 2015.