Toy-maker Mattel has opened a six-story House of Barbie in Shanghai, reports NPR, complete with a stage to present fashion shows for kids. Last month, according to the New York Times, Sak’s opened a new Kiton menswear shop selling “off-the-rack” suits at $7,000 a crack. Surely there must be people in the world who have weathered the present downturn’s wallop to the breadbasket. But, I wouldn’t bet the farm on such extravagant retail outlets any time soon.
These days, everyone is focused on survival. Retailers need to ask themselves: How do you merchandise and present stores that answer the call to survival? Sensible, but not fatalistic. Cool, fun, and accessible . . . and not depressingly dire.
We’re in the thick of a revolution, and a revolution is a good time to ask self-examining questions and observations. Here are some timely ones for retailers and manufacturers alike:
• What greener, simpler products could be just right for today’s more cautious consumer?
• If you sell shoes, bikes, and appliances; should you create or contract with a repair service?
• If you are overburdened with retail square footage, have you considered entering radically new markets like mini-cars and electronic bikes?
• People may not want to stitch together their own suits and jeans, but more of them are expressing an interest in home sewing, especially if a store’s fabric-supply department is ready to help with craft tips.
• Home canning and freezing provisions have become rarities for many supermarket retailers. The appeal can be enticing, especially if coupled with abundant local produce and suggestions on preparing it.
Survival is the most basic human instinct. People who have not been prepared to weather survival challenges will find them scary and stressful. We need to take the mystery out of survival and offer solutions for living that are smart, fun, and inspirational. Just like such programs as Outward Bound teach people to master risks and insecurities, the new “survival stores” will do the same.