Go Forth! Mercurylab in London (Part Five) | Fruit & Veg at the Borough Market

September 10 2014

On a recent visit to the Borough Market, the food market for the ultimate foodies in London, I happened to notice this cute truck attached to a bicycle for wholesale and retailer Turnips. They have one of the first and most beautifully merchandised stalls you see when entering the market, and I’ve been admiring their offerings over the past few years. I was struck by the historic, almost Elizabethan quality of the type and the logo on their truck, and of course by the low-fi delivery aspect of things.


via

It turns out that Turnips is not named for a veg, rather for a football (soccer) team, and it neatly cleaved with the owner’s business interests. Turnips began as high-end wholesalers to the top-end chefs in London at a moment when food quality and interest in special ingredients and sourcing was on the rise. They write a great deal about the advent of supermarkets and their impact on the demise of the market stallholders before the resurrection of the Borough Market, and how it coincided with the high quality and standards of their wholesale business. The also had the great good luck to affiliate with Jamie Oliver, and you all know a bit about him and how ubiquitous (and important) he is these days.

The tone and look of their site also has the quality of a well-told yarn, one that is unfurled by the fire on a cold night. These days. they are focused on provenance and quality for both wholesale and retail, sourcing from British farmers, with forays into Europe to find the best of the best. This cute truck is used for deliveries, likely in the East End where people are obsessed with food, as they seem to be throughout London. Anyway, they deliver throughout London, so all I need to do now is make the time to have a dinner party before I head back to Brooklyn!

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Go Forth! Mercurylab in London (Part Two) | They (and we) Love to Eat

July 29 2014

Farmer's Market Marketing

Whether based in Brooklyn or London, good farmer’s markets not only bring a sense of the native culture and some delicious foods, but also offer great marketing opportunities for the vendors.


Broadway Market, Hackney (Left, Popino, based in Hampstead, and their homemade savory tarts and pies; right, artisan cheeses from all over the UK)

The markets provide a great atmosphere and the chance to sell not only your product, but your brand. These small business owners and artisans foodmakers often build their brands at markets, gaining a following that allows them to begin to wholesale or maybe even open their own shop. These days, in the artisan sector, a successful food brand will always bring together a combination of market sales, wholesale and retail. The sellers at the market level are in a unique position to get feedback about their products straight from the horse's mouth (so to speak). Sellers can interact with customers, create a relationship, and put a face to the food. It's all very organic (mind the pun). The UK has been forward- thinking in providing provenance for local foods, and the local food movement has taken hold and flourished here for many years, far in advance of the US.

There is an incredible interest in locally sourced food. Cooks and consumers want the Real Deal. Organic. Healthy. Ethical. Local. Lucky for market stalls, eating and ethics all get rolled up into one concern that points to more sales and exposure.


Heavenly Andina, where we set at the kitchen counter and coveted everything coming out of the kitchen

Adina, an amazing Peruvian spot we went to a few nights ago in Shoreditch, is one of many restaurants to feature fresh, local, GMO-free ingredients. They call out their sourcing right on the menu. Even the beverages are based on “Peruvian Super Fruits,” and the fries are not potatoes, but are actually healthy root vegetables typical of traditional Peruvian cuisine. Anyway, it was all delicious, and everyone in the busy kitchen wanted to share their enthusiasm for the food. YUM!

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Gentrification on the Fulton Mall, Continued

December 11 2013

As change has come to the Fulton Mall in Brooklyn, I had been thinking that the retail environment on the Mall was going to be a mirror shopping experience to 86th Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. It turns out that while there are many of the same retailers, the stores that are opening on the Mall are positioned as “Outlet Stores” rather than being presented as primary retail shops. For starters, there is the American Eagle Outlet and the Gap Factory Store. Sephora, who had been touted as a high-end retail chain that would anchor the Mall, bring in higher-end traffic, and act as a magnet for Brooklyn moms who want to try on their lipstick but have no time to go to Manhattan to shop, ended up opening in a historic building with double frontage on Court Street that is a few minute walk from the Mall. They are disassociated from the Mall experience.

It’s interesting to see that although there is a tremendous amount of real estate development adjoining the mall, the well-heeled people who will be buying and renting coops and renting glossy office space will still not be well-served by this new shopping experience. There is a disconnect. The stores are here, but not even the full middle-class version, so there is the sense of trying to straddle two worlds, and being committed to neither. The Mall is currently serving the same public as before – the city office workers and small business people that still throng the streets, either avoiding or engaging with the guys hawking cell phone covers and six gold teeth for $139.

It may that it is too soon to tell where the Mall is going, but it is clear that a commitment needs to be made to higher-level chains, good food, cafes, and a few little boutiques and shops like those that anchor 5th Avenue in Park Slope. It’s a brand moment at the Mall. I’m interested to see how it plays out.

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Aerie, American Eagle, and the Building of a Retail Brand

October 01 2013

How many of you know about or shop at Aerie, a growing intimates brand established by American Eagle? Their demographic is for girls aged fifteen–twenty-five. Since the line was launched in 2006, it has only gained in popularity. However, right now, they are functioning more like a sub-brand, rather than as the sister- brand they want to be.


via ae.com/blog

The majority of Aerie’s current departments are situated inside larger American Eagle stores, but there is a definite difference in vibe between the two. Aerie is set up to function more of a store within a store, much like you would find DKNY or Ralph Lauren at Bloomingdales. Aerie has their own female sales staff. The atmosphere is brighter, lighter, and almost ethereal, while American Eagle is darker and more masculine – more about an All-American, casual, worn vibe. American Eagle’s merchandise, advertising, store design and marketing communicate a broad sense of vintage authenticity, even though the brand was born in 1977. On the other hand, Aerie projects a voice that is new and youthful. The brand is not rooted in Dad’s old memorabilia. Aerie’s wants to make girls feel pretty inside and out. They are the “girl-next-door” of intimates, and they aspire to be in every girl’s closet.

Aerie has definitely benefitted from being under American Eagle’s roof and brand umbrella. Being situated both physically and digitally in the American Eagle retail experience has helped bring them traffic and brand awareness. However, they have cultivated a different kind of aesthetic, both in their products and retail presence, one that differentiates from their parent brand. They have the potential to be a big competitor in intimates, but to do so, they need to continue to expand beyond such a close consumer alliance with American Eagle and add more stand-alone stores. If not, they will be forever overshadowed—a sub-brand, not a sister brand. It is definitely time for them to move out of their parent’s house.

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No Change at the Cash Register: Confusion at JC Penny

September 21 2013

jcpenny

Makeovers come in all forms. A little touch up paint, a vase on the corner table, or in some extreme cases a complete, top-to-bottom transformation. It’s an internal process that manifests externally, whether we are dealing with our personal lives or our professional and business lives. Our hope is that we’ll make a room stand out or look more like “us,” or that we can turn around a failing business. The latter is what former JC Penny CEO, Ron Johnson, was going for.

When Johnson came into the position of CEO he determined that JC Penny was having an aesthetic and experiential problem at the retail level, and that it had caused sales to drop dramatically. Apparently, he didn’t feel that the core problem was the rough economy, or that their wide range of competitors had better products or prices. If you followed his short-lived plan of attack then you already know it didn’t go as planned. Sales continued to fall—twenty-five percent to be exact.

Johnson also decided that the JC Pricing strategy needed a makeover. Instead of putting out merchandise at full price and then marking it down later, he thought it would be better to start at a cut-rate price. The brands that JC Penny sells weren’t too happy with the news that their merchandise was being sold at discount, as it devalued their brands and put pressure on them to lower their prices overall. Johnson’s strategy was flawed, since historically, the JC Penny customer is more willing to buy when they think they are getting a deal. These days in particular, bargain hunting is in most people’s blood. If there is no scent of a sale, shoppers are more likely to move on.

Finally, after two years of ineffective strategizing, Johnson was relieved from his CEO duties. The company is now faced with bouncing back from a hole that just seems to be getting deeper. JC Penny needs a visionary CEO who is able to develop a new strategy and positioning that will build confidence and consistency, and that will bring customers back to the brand. Consistency and sustainability are the name of the game in good brand management, even when implementing a shift from existing positioning. Brands evolve over time, or sometimes go through a major reinvention, which is fine. But radically switching gears every few years will drive customers away. Brand confusion doesn’t work on any level.

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Virgin and the Demise of the Megastores: A Cautionary Tale

February 27 2013

With guest blogger, Cedric Littman, The Cheese Advisor

The Virgin Megastore in Paris has closed.  There has been bad publicity, and the unions have said that there are "too many unanswered questions." One union said,  "We are in a fighting mood. We're not going to go quietly.”

This looks pretty bad for Virgin, a company that presents itself as customer friendly, even customer centric. Virgin’s brand and notoriety has been partly built upon the adventurous exploits of its founder, Richard Branson, who attempted an Atlantic crossing on a balloon and is booking flights to the moon. The Virgin Megastores were the retail face of a brand that was considered to be visionary in its day.

          Image via Reuters

The Virgin store in Paris was bought from the Virgin Group ten years ago, although it was imperceptible to the consumer. Why did Virgin allow its name to be used by another company over which it seems to have no control? Even worse, the company they sold it to later sold it to yet another company, so that the retail operations were further and further away from the core brand, and not under the Virgin brand umbrella and management.   

The Virgin group also sold its retail operations in the UK, the US and Ireland, and all of the outlets have closed with at least one of the parent companies going into liquidation. At its height, the French store, on the Champs Elysees, must have been a substantial asset as it was on one of the world’s most famous thoroughfares. But now one of the most visible Virgin stores, as well as the whole chain, have closed with a loss of 1,000 jobs. How did Virgin make such a mistake?  Surely they saw the demise of traditional music retailing on the horizon, otherwise why would they have sold their retail operations? The real question is why they allowed the new owners access to the Virgin name, logo, store design, and brand equity.

This cautionary tale makes it clear that brands equity should be protected by a little, or a lot, of forethought. Even those of us with smaller brands need to take control and take charge of our brand. We may not face the same problems as the Virgin Group and we may never sell part of our operation, but good brand management is key no matter whether you are a solopreneur, a small business, a non-profit or anyone who puts a product or service or offering into the marketplace. As Beth often says in her talks, perception is all. There is the fact of your brand (where you really are in the marketplace right now) and then there is where your audiences think you are. Although they are a thriving company, the closing of the Virgin Megastores (albiet by a third party) would leave their audiences with the perception that the company is out of step with their needs, and that the business itself is in trouble.

The message: Protect your brand equity. Learn how to do it from an expert, and then don’t forget to continue to pay close attention to your brand as time goes on. After all, you have too much to lose. 

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Anthropologie: A Faux Heritage Brand Hits the High Street

February 12 2013

 

          Anthropologie Regent Street's living plant wall, Image via www.businessoffashion.com


Major lifestyle and clothing retail chain Anthropologie, with over 147 stores in the U.S., and six in Canada, operates only two stores outside of North America—both in London. That’s a far cry from parent company Urban Outfitters, which racks up an impressive twenty-five UK locations, plus sixteen others throughout Western Europe. Catering to the universal teenaged fast-fashion set, Urban Outfitters has been able to easily make a name for itself within the European market. Anthropologie’s two London locations are fairly new, and are definitely an experiment for the brand.  So why the “pessimistic economic predictions” on the opening of the London locations from Vogue.co.uk?

A love of heritage brands is ingrained in British sensibility—from the royal family to Liberty of London, which has maintained its position as England's premier department storesince 1875. Liberty is still selected each year by the readers of Time Out London as the top shopping destination in the UK. So as a faux-heritage brand, one wonders in what way Anthropologie will be able to find a place in a country with actual heritage. In the U.S, vintage is a longstanding trend, as shoppers and merchants either connect to our real shared past or fabricated an idealized sense of what it means to be an American. Hence the success of Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, two brands that have constructed billion dollar businesses around the beauty and romance of what America never has been, but aspires to be. 

So why bring a faux-heritage mall brand like Anthopologie to Britain? First off, their girlish, embellished, romantic clothes and lifestyle items do fit in well with how British woman dress, and live. A friend there recently told me that his mom and her friends are starting to flock to Anthropologie. These women "get" the brand. They want pretty, and decorative.  On a certain level, it's also an investment brand, as this part of Americana does not come cheap. Antrhopologie is coming up against British high street brands with a more contemporary sensibility, so there may be a place for them in the market.

 

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On Diamond Watch

January 17 2013

Marilyn Monroe could not have imagined it when she starred in How to Marry a Millionaire, or in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. She didn't ever know that a company named Swatch existed, coming to prominence in the 70s with disposable fashion poppy plastic watches. She certainly wouldn't have thought that one day Swatch would add the company she invited to "TALK TO ME!" in "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" to their stable of companies.

Yesterday, it was announced that Harry Winston, the renowned Fifth Avenue jeweler known for their fabulous and fabulously expensive diamonds, had been purchased by Swatch for the tidy sum of $750M. That could definitely buy some ice! I learned that Harry Winston was the first jeweler to lend beautiful baubles for a walk down the red carpet at the Oscars in 1943. And interestingly enough, that they also own Omega watches. Harry Winston is apparently going to focus on diamond mining rather than retail sales, and so was open to being purchased.

Now, I totally understand why Harry Winston might want to get out of the retail business, and focus on mining and supplying high quality diamonds to other jewelers and wholesalers. No doubt it makes sense from a bottom line perspective, as they already have a tremendous amount of brand equity after years of adorning celebrities and socialites. To me, the interesting part of the story is that the choice they made was to sell to Swatch, a company that is looking to expand into the high end of the market (or way high end). It's almost as if they abandoned the brand by selling to a buyer with no real credentials in the uber luxury market.

Established brands sell for many reasons and to wildly different suitors. Family businesses in the third generation are frequently uninterested in carrying on the family business, or want to expand beyond what is possible with their existing capital. That is what happened with Kiehls, when they sold to L'Oreal for an estimated $100 million. They simply couldn't build out the brand, or service the customer in the way they were known for, or move squarely into the global economy and 21st Century without an influx of cash, and so decided to sell.  I don't know if they had to sell, or chose to sell their venerable brand. And I don't know generationally about Harry Winston, but I am a bit curious about this particular suitor winning their hand. What would Marilyn say? 

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Macy's and the Capsule Collections

April 18 2012

Macys' is making some upscale and perhaps curious choices in their selection of limited collection designers for their Impulse shops. First up was Karl Lagerfeld, then CFDA winner doo.ri, and now Alberta Ferretti. I would say that in these designers are connected in that they are all upscale, kind of dressy, refined, and polished. I was very curious about the Lagerfeld collection and hightailed it over to Macy's very soon after its release into stores only to find that hundreds of pieces remained on the racks at the Herald Square store. Hmmm. So I queried the sales staff at length, who said that the collection did not sell well at all. They said that neither the design nor fabrication worked. When I went back some weeks later the collection was in serious markdown.

Why no ka-ching ka-ching? And why these designers? What is the decision behind the choice to associate the egalitarian Macy's brand with designers who are upscale (that we understand) and slightly unknown by main street USA (doo.ri and Ferretti)? Limited edition capsule collections are meant to reinforce a store's prestige, help the retailer gain traction with new audiences (consumers who might not normally connect with Macy's, for example), and to create a sense of urgency in the buying experience, so that it drives any curious and/or interested traffic to the brick and mortar stores and to the website. 

Then there is Macy's association with the new Fashion Star show. Ack! The fashion on the show is awful, but it's a great PR move, and is definitely driving sales. According to Women’s Wear Daily, the three retailers associated with the store are really pleased with sales as the items from the show are selling out. So here we are again in the realm of high/low, which any readers of my blog know is one of my major interests. What's working better for Macy's? Lagerfeld (advertised and promoted traditionally) or Miss No-Name Designer (with millions of viewers and panelists like Jessica Simpson and Nicole Ritchie)? I would LOVE to see those sales numbers!

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