Dumb and dumber retail ideas

Retail is an ideas business. Ultimately what we sell,particularly in this post-consumer era, is a notion, aconcept, and a promise of fulfillment.

If we get it right, we turn something that shoppers don’tnecessarily need into an absolute must-have. That’s thetrue magic of the merchant.

Wizards like Apple’s Steve Jobs and J. Crew’s MickeyDrexler mastered the art of building customer buzz aroundan item like bees around a hive.

There’s no surer indicatorof retail success than a queue, as I am often reminded byretail trend-tracker Howard Saunders of Echochamber.

But for every stroke of retail genius, there is equally aproposition that is just plain… well, dumb.One example is a retail concept that I saw at WestfieldTopanga in Los Angeles last month.

Called CupcakeStiletto, it’s promoted as the “world’s first shoecakery”.The founder’s “sweet idea” was to marry two irresistibleitems.

“Why can’t a girl buy two of her favorite things – cupcakesand shoes – from one place at the same time?” asks itsoriginator. Good question.

The answer is because it’s nota very smart proposition. (Or perhaps I’m just not savvyenough to get it – ladies, rip me to shreds.)But retail ideas don’t come much dumber than therestaurant, More Than Toilet, that I came across inTianzifang in Shanghai.

This is an eating establishmentbuilt around toilet humour that’s part of a chain out ofTaiwan.Diners sit on toilet seats, urinals deck the walls, and thecushions are poo-shaped.

A sign outside proclaims: “MoreThan Toilet – Delicious & Happy”.No matter what you think of McDonald’s food, I don’t thinkthe Golden Arches has much to worry about.

As an aside, the toilet notion is not necessarily an absolutestinker.

One of the best coffees in London right now is tobe found at a café, Attendant, in an old underground WC.

But it’s carried off with a style and panache that is sadlylacking from More Than Toilet.

Great retail has at its heart a clever concept and a compelling customer value proposition.


Dumbretail has what its owner thinks is a smart idea but the customer doesn’t value it at all.Perhaps the lesson here is to sense-check your brainwaves before rushing them to market.

I justdon’t think the world is ready for a “shoecakery” or a toilet-themed restaurant. Do you?

* When he’s not on the road visiting stores, Jon Bird is CEO of specialist retail marketing agency, IdeaWorks(www.ideaworks.com.au), and chairman of Inside Retail’s publisher, Octomedia.Email: [email protected] Blog: www.newretailblog.com Twitter: @thetweetail
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