Get Smart, Be Different, and Try New Things

With stores going out of business right and left, it’s great to see one that isn’t: Anthropologie

As a matter of fact, it's growing!

If you want to make it, you have to be different than your competitors. Being different can mean offering different things or by targeting a specific audience, finding out their likes and dislikes and catering to them. Unfortunately, many small businesses don’t roll that way. They decide on a product because they like it, go into their parent’s business or buy an existing business and suddenly they’re in business! Being in business is different than staying in business though. 

Which brings me back to Anthropologie. It was founded in 1992 by a small group of people with a love for making things that inspire the imagination.  Quite clearly, these intrepid entrepreneurs have traveled the world and broken new ground with their catalog and Web designs. If you can believe it, they also refer to their customers as "soulmates!" Target, meanwhile, refers to their customers as “guests,” which is what a number of other stores have been doing of late. But soulmate? That's entirely different. It  implies a level of intimacy that I think is a little too "out there” for many businesses. It doesn’t matter what we think though, because it works for them.   

Anthropologie caters to the upscale customer and is located in Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Atlanta's Buckhead as well as New York City. It’s obvious when you take a tour of the store it’s for the customer who doesn’t want to wear the same stuff as anyone else, or who has a home like everyone else. The stuff is always changing and focuses on the 30-40+ demographic that has money and taste.

According to Wade McDevitt, a rep for the chain, the store's customers "want to own something in their home that no one else would have and that would be a conversation piece. They're aware of style and buy what's perceived as the latest fashion." 

The store's buyers travel the world looking for unique, one-of-a kind stuff. Products range from a $7.00 bar of luxury soap to a luxurious Breton armoire for $12,000! 

Okay, so what does it mean to us? First, it’s hopeful! It’s great to see a retailer moving forward, staying in business and knowing who they are.
Start brainstorming, there are no right or wrong rules. Bad times bring strange bedfellows, I think that was my mom’s line but she was right. One never knows what pairs will work and they used to say the truth was stranger than fiction. 

Don’t try to be all things to all people; there just aren’t enough people to go around. You’re better off downsizing and making money than trying to stay in business until the customers start running away along with the cash.
Start learning about social networking. What isn't getting done online? The post office is delivering less mail so they've decided to not deliver on Saturday. Makes sense — more and more people pay bills online these days and are tired of paying for stamps, which increase in price every other day. The signs are there folks: technology is taking over. 

Choose your niche, read the market research, do some of your own research or pay someone to do it. But just do it. Not knowing your customer at this point will get you out of business plenty fast. 

Do what your niche customer wants you to do. I have done research for so many firms, designed studies that make sense (at least the company tells me it’s what they want to know), dug up incredible information that's generated a lot of excitement, only to have the client go back to their old ways!

If your niche customer says "it’s what I want"—do it! Nothing is more valuable than talking to your customer and staying close. If you don’t, someone else will! 

Over the holidays, 7-Eleven and J.C. Penney Co. cross-promoted in various cities across the county as part of a new test aiming to increase sales. Penney stores distributed fliers for free 12-ounce cups of coffee at 7-Eleven. Meanwhile, 7-Eleven checkout counters displayed tear pads with Penney coupons good for $10 off purchases of $50 or more. 

Did it work? Sure it did. Start thinking, who would like your coupons? You won’t know until you try it.

“This nasty crisis is just bringing out the creativity of the survivors," said Candace Corlett, President of WSL Strategic Retail.


Staying in Business: Dec. 10, 2008, discussion moderated by John Corrigan, Deputy Business Editor, Los Angeles Times.

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