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4 Important Takeaways from the Independent Retailers Symposium

On Tuesday evening, Arianna and I attended the Permanent Style x Plaza Uomo x Stendström’s (whew) event, part of which was the independent retailers symposium led by Simon Crompton of Permanent Style. On the panel were Mark Cho (The Armoury), Mats Klingberg (Trunk Clothiers), Anda Rowland (Anderson & Sheppard), Ethan Newton (Bryceland’s), Patrick Lof, aka @Leaves (Skoaktiebolaget), and George Wang (Brio). Despite the fact that most people in the room couldn’t tell what was going on thanks to the party that was going on behind us (there were drinks, after all), I stood close enough to the front that I could hear fairly well.

You’ll note that, in addition to being some well-known names, all of these are brick and mortar stores. Their goods and online presences vary, but they are similar in that they all have a strong viewpoint and a devoted following.

  1. Brick and mortar is an advantage, rather than an outdated idea.
    1. Anda told us that a store can only be as valuable as its salespeople feel, and that the relationship between consumer and salesperson, and the knowledge a salesperson has of the product, is where things go very right or very wrong.
    2. Mark Cho compared what independent menswear retailers do to what boutique hotels do. He said that, really, they both operate within the hospitality industry.
    3. Ethan Newton told us that his store is an extension of himself, and an extension of the people that work within it.
  2. The internet works in tandem brick and mortar
    1. The refrain, repeated across almost all the retailers present, was that an internet store was good for in-person business, and that in-person visits were good for internet visits. Many shared stories of customers walking into the store to browse the merchandise, and completing the purchase online, or vice-versa. Mark Cho called this omni-channel approach to retail a positive thing, and the question is not whether it should exist, but how to best leverage it.
    2. Anda, at Anderson & Sheppard, said that they’ve seen particular utility in e-commerce as a way for established customers to buy multiples of an item they own and like – many men still want 5 of the same thing, perhaps in different colors.
  3. There is a give and take between store and client
    1. Stores are generally unsuccessful if they attempt to hard to push a vision that a client isn’t responding to (i.e. buying).
    2. Stores can easily lose their way if they respond only to what clients know they want to buy. There needs to be vision at the head of the retailer.
  4. Stores are brands unto themselves
    1. A good store, like a good brand, has personality – caring staff, knowledge of their product, and a story to tell. This is how retailers develop long-term, loyal clientele.

All in all, it was an interesting talk, albeit brief. It’s a pity it was so loud in the venue, as I would have liked the chance to ask a few more questions. What was most obvious about the group gathered was the passion devoted to both menswear and to retail, which made it seem equally obvious that the best prediction for the future of independent retailers is: “bright.”

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Jasper Lipton

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  1. Good summary Jasper and all excellent comments about B&M retail. I was especially impressed by Mark’s comment comparing independent retailers to boutique hotels. Just as (successful) boutique hotels offer a unique, personal experience so do great retailers. And, as so many chain retailers offer a homogenized range of apparel and style there is opportunity when offering an edited style and perspective.

    • Thanks, Gus. Yes, it was quite a good connection I thought. Adna went on to say that she doesn’t understand how a salesperson can expect to think the goods are important and make the consumer feel important if they don’t feel important to the store. It was a sentiment echoed most strongly by Ethan, who was quite obviously as devoted to his staff as to his boutique. I’m sure we can all point to unpleasant retail salesperson experiences, even when shopping at “high end” boutiques.

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