When Retail is ‘On Brand’

I was having lunch recently in Manhattan at a well-known eatery called P.J. Clarke’s. I believe there are 3 locations in New York, and they call themselves a “saloon”. And a saloon it was. The walls were festooned with old photos in authentic old frames. The tin ceiling overhead sported numerous antique wooden fans. The tables were covered in a well-chosen gingham-patterned tablecloth. The mirrors and tiles – all spoke ‘saloon’ style, along with the cutlery and plates. And of course, the food itself, big portions of hearty manly food with a premium flare. Delivered by staff who have that charmingly brusque (friendly but firm) style of a saloon owner – or what we would imagine him to be.

In other words, there was not a square inch of that place that was not carefully chosen to deliver on the brand experience.

Nearby, in the same complex (Brookfield Place, at the World Financial Center), there’s an area called Le District, which is a quintessentially Parisian experience. Like a little bubble of pure French-ness, complete with a boulangerie, boucherie, patisserie, chocolatier, bistro – everything one would expect on a perfect Parisian block. Again, every square inch was on brand, nothing left to chance. Nothing could be transposed into another brand, you were entirely in their world. And the effect is that one is transported to another place, while being a short cab ride from one’s office. Absolutely delightful.

Compare this to many retail chains in your local mall or main street, such as the unfortunately bland Mulberry store on Bloor Street in Toronto. Mulberry is possibly the most insanely desirable purveyor of women’s bags and purses in the U.K. Their windows and displays, their advertising, and of course their amazing bags – are sensational.

And then there’s the store on Bloor Street. Shelves with bags, windows with bags, no concept or sensation, with a complete reliance on the product, which, quite frankly, has not yet begun to acquire the fandom it enjoys in Europe. You could paste another brand name on that store and no one would know the difference. The result:  Low foot traffic and ‘low energy’ on the best of days.

Today, we want brands that deliver a complete experience, that welcome us into a beautifully constructed world, where everything has been considered. No blank spaces, no anomalies, no gaping holes or missed opportunities. And most of all, nothing that’s ‘generic’. These fully realized worlds inspire us, stimulate heightened positive emotions – and make us come back for more.

– W.