To localize stores or not, that is the question for retailers

Discussion
Photo: Rough Trade
Dec 06, 2019
Nikki Baird

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current blog article by Aptos.

A recent Aptos forum featured a guided walking tour of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood to explore retailers that have mastered experiential retailing.

The location that stood out to me was Rough Trade, a U.S. incarnation of an iconic British punk music store. Yes, that means racks of vinyl and disaffected staff who take fierce pride in ignoring tour groups. Fair enough.

It also means a music venue in back with a bar, café, bookstore and two “branded” rotating concepts.

Rough Trade could have chosen to distill the essence of NY punk with its Brooklyn store when it arrived in 2013. Instead, it chose to remain true to its founding principles, specifically the London angle.

In contrast, Concrete + Water, a retailer of apparel, accessories and homewares, was founded by two Williamsburg residents looking to celebrate their neighborhood. Their focus is a bridge between Manhattan sensibilities and Brooklyn vibe.

To localize stores or not, that is the question for retailers
Photo: Concrete + Water

One of the founders expressed skepticism that the Manhattan/Brooklyn blend would translate in other markets because some of the magic the store brings to the community comes from sourcing unique products made by locals. An in-the-field intimacy is required to understand which concepts (and local artisans and designers) will strike the right chord with locals — which means acknowledging what makes each location unique.

Rough Trade or Concrete + Water — which is the path to relevancy in local markets?

Every retailer has to think globally — their Instagram pages alone can ensure them global reach and followers, even with only one store. Starting with store number two, however, retailers must figure out if they are going to be Rough Trade and stick to their core brand promise no matter where they go or, if possibly like Concrete + Water, they are going to bring a formula for neighborhood intimacy to every neighborhood where they open a store.

Retailers like Urban Outfitters and Vans, both with stores in Williamsburg, are already taking their core brand promises across markets and looking to localize it without muddying the waters of their message, but it’s not a given they can do so in a way that resonates.

There’s no right answer here. Which is part of what makes it so interesting. 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: When should a retailer hold true to their brand vs. adapting to the local market? Do you think some localization is always required? If so, how much?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Shoppers will support an active member of the community. Without the personal connection, they will shop online."
"There are many ways of interpreting “localization.” It doesn’t have to mean locally-sourced products. But it does mean deeply understanding where you’re opening your stores..."
"By not focusing on transaction, by being more than a store, by becoming a “third place” for people, these local stores are creating transaction!"

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24 Comments on "To localize stores or not, that is the question for retailers"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

This is a question retailers should be constantly assessing – are we relevant? Ultimately, I think the answer is that staying true to the brand vs. adapting to the local market is not an either/or proposition. The “brand” must ultimately drive the narrative, but localization can be used to enhance the brand – it shouldn’t overpower the brand. Localization may not always be required, but I think it should almost always be considered. That said, this will vary by brand and category.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

Retailers need to incorporate some degree of localization in order to adapt and serve the community that their unique locations serve. It isn’t about being a homogenous brand or adapting to a local market — it’s about being a hybrid of both. While this approach creates more challenges for the supply chain, it also creates a sense of belonging. That store — your brand — becomes a more credible, proactive member of the community and not simply a convenient “visitor.” Shoppers will support an active member of the community. Without the personal connection, they will shop online.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I think a retailer has to do both. Staying true-to-brand makes the experience authentic, but there has to be some local flavor sprinkled in as well.

Right now in most malls a chain is a chain is a chain – you could be in San Diego or Cleveland and the stores are mostly the same. There might be some added local flavor, but not much. Look at STORY. Its NYC flagship was a cool concept, at Macy’s it’s just product on shelves. The magic that made STORY unique is missing.

We have a new brand of retailer emerging who is quickly evolving, spending more time on the in-store experience to ensure customers receive their brand as intended, and not just visiting another place to buy “stuff.” It’s a fine line but it can be done.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

If the brand story is about localization then they should be true to their story. Every brand has their own unique store and today, more than ever, this is a point of differentiation. On the other hand, introducing local goods is never a bad thing when done right. It helps the neighborhood embrace the brand even more. These are just several of the points every retailer needs to be thinking about these days. For my 2 cents.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Retailers should always stay true to their brand — always. You don’t have to jeopardize the integrity of the brand promise to localize. It’s December. Should a branch store in Boston be a cookie-cutter replication of a store in Miami? Not in my opinion. Category emphasis and color management are just two areas where a national chain can recognize at least regional differences. Getting truly local/neighborhood focus right is an even bigger challenge best tackled after achieving some level of mastery at the regional level.

Carol Spieckerman
BrainTrust

I appreciate Nikki’s comment that there is no “right” way. Rough Trade could probably get away with attempting to marry London edge with snippets from the local scene. However, it can also stay “pure” to the London sensibility without going through the hassle of localization! Concrete + Water would have a hard time standing out without its highly-localized premise. Retailers and brands vacillate between seeing localization as an opportunity or adding unnecessary complexity.

Laura Davis-Taylor
BrainTrust
Laura Davis-Taylor
Chief Strategy Officer, InReality
3 months 21 days ago
I was delighted to be part of the forum that Nikki refers to, as we hosted the walking tour and were on Nikki’s panel — and we found these local retailers equally fascinating. We did a deep dive in the second article link above, the common thread being that many of these local owners had minimal legacy retail experience. They didn’t build their stores to sell stuff–they built them to amplify a “noble purpose” that was rooted in a passion. The passions varied, and the store’s product, people and experience was activated to embody them. This translated into amazingly authentic, compelling stores that both locals and visitors love — but we heard stories of big brands that came into the area and failed quickly because the community wouldn’t tolerate their mainstream approach. So back to Nikki’s question, we saw huge value in finding ways to fit in authentically to the local market, even if in small ways. By doing so, retailers can find a connective tissue to the community that sails beyond being a traditional… Read more »
Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

You guys did an amazing job designing and executing this fascinating look at experiential retail brought to life, Laura! Thanks for all you did. The volume and variety of comments here speak to the high level of interest in the topic – and in the Williamsburg neighborhood. Can’t wait to dig deeper with you during our webinar next week!

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

Yes and no. Look at what the folks from Fixer Upper have accomplished with their Magnolia brand. It is local and national at the same time. They remain true to their brand while also creating a destination in Waco which was a place very few people wanted to visit before. Their look/brand seems to work in many diverse areas of the country.

We had dinner with friends in one of the four restaurants that have opened inside of the brand new Nordstrom’s women’s store in NYC. The experience was unique, but the layout and the merchandise was also very unique. My point here is that what works in NYC may not work in Peoria. In fact, what works in NYC may not even work in Yonkers or White Plains or New Jersey. Politics are local and so is retail. Amaro has become very popular in NY. Try finding it in some liquor stores just outside of the metro area and the answer will be, “what’s that?”

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

You can’t be everything everyone. The magic of branding is that it speaks to the heart of a particular group. There is no convincing an Apple lover to move to Dell. Localization can in itself be a brand as in the case of L.L.Bean with its emphasis on outdoor living and Vineyard Vines with its preppy chic. Many retailers lose their soul by trying to appeal to everyone.

Localization can be aspirational as well. Lilly Pulitzer is an example. People from anywhere strive for the Palm Beach aura.

We can all cite many examples where companies go public or sell to a corporate entity and they swap their brand for short-term, wide appeal profit.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Merchandise mix is a large part of what makes a brand relevant — nothing speaks to what a retailer stands for like the product it offers. So localization is an essential tool for making this happen, especially with the rapid growth of data science as a decision-making guide. “True to the brand” vs. “localization” is a false choice, because the two go hand-in-hand.

Andrew Blatherwick
BrainTrust

The pertinent statement here is “there is no right answer and that is what makes retail so exciting.” Either of these concepts can work provided they are done well and are relevant to the local market. That does not mean they have to trade only in local products but they must make themselves relevant to the local market by understanding their customers and delivering the products they want. To become a global brand you need to be true to your brand while still making the offering relevant. If you go down the local products route you need to find the statement that creates the brand value.

There are no right answers but there are some guides that successful retailers need to follow, with online retailing offering such a wide choice, making a statement and creating a difference at all locations is all important.

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

So well said Andrew, you summed this up perfectly!

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

I’ve always believed that “Glocal” is the best approach.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Chain stores are an extension of the mom and pop store done well. Mom and pops always customize their assortments to the local community. So should chains. Today’s available technology makes it easier (not easy) to customize assortments to local needs and climates. The better chain retailers hone the local merchandising skills, the better each store will perform.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

One advantage that allows local retailers to thrive is their ability to do local well. They not only cater to the local community, they are often involved with the local community. It’s not just about merchandise that caters to the area, it’s being a part of the community and giving back. Larger regional or national brands have other advantages, but the ones that can find a way to deliver on a local experience will have an advantage. Is it always required? No. Is it better to have than not? Yes.

Michael Terpkosh
BrainTrust

Over the last several decades local retailers have remained successful because they have been able to provide a great variety of products that are on trend and local to their markets/neighborhoods. This formula has allowed these retailer to compete with national “cookie cutter” retailers. As other RetailWire BrainTrust members have stated — large box, national retailers provide variety, but it is very much the same store to store, mall to mall, city to city. Local entrepreneurial retailers cater to the customers and provide a unique shopping experience for their communities and for anyone visiting that want local shopping opportunities. Large chain retailers need to blend a national assortment with more local offerings to remain relevant or we will see more of these retailers go down the path of Sears and J.C. Penney.

Scott Norris
Guest

I don’t know about their Florida/California merchandise mixes, but the Macy’s here in Minneapolis as well as in Chicago have pretty much the same mix as they would in NYC. But shoppers in Chicago don’t want to look like they’re from New York, and folks here in the Twin Cities think the Chicago style is absurd. When Macy’s abandoned the Marshall Field’s and Dayton’s buyers, they abandoned any pretense of localization in these markets. And that’s why they don’t have the loyalty that Field’s or Dayton’s had.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

Of course, it depends — the answer could be a little, or a lot, of both. It truly does depend on what a retailer’s brand identity represents to its customers. If that identity can be preserved with a local flare then that should be embraced because it will add to the uniqueness and intrigue it brings to the customer relationship. It’s all about eliciting an emotional response and localization is just as powerful as personalization.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Well, define local. I would venture to say that Rough Trade, by the very nature of having employees from New York, has already localized. To me, that’s what “local” means: staff. Not pictures of the neighborhood on the walls or some semblance of the local architecture (usually code anyway), it’s all about the people.

A New York punk in a New York store (any), makes that a local store. Just ask them.

Heidi Sax
BrainTrust

Retailers need to be very careful about where they open stores. 2019’s retail bankruptcies alone are evidence of this. Barney’s on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, for example? Bound for disaster. Both of the retailers mentioned above, however, are perfect fits for Williamsburg. Disaffected staff?! Nothing says Williamsburg more. Rough Trade saw an overlap in demographic and capitalized on that.

There are many ways of interpreting “localization.” It doesn’t have to mean locally-sourced products. But it does mean deeply understanding where you’re opening your stores, who shops in those stores, what they think of your brand or brands like yours, and whether and how your assortment resonates with them. It means knowing what kind of store manager that location requires. What kind of music to play in that store. Staying true to your original brand is always vital for differentiation. But it’s a pull not a push, and you can’t force something that doesn’t resonate (or that’s not sufficiently unique).

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

The brand identity has to be clear and consistent. If the brand and customer mission means a very narrow range of products, then there probably isn’t that much room to localize the assortment — but for most retailers there is choice within the overall brand statement to assort and present to the tastes and needs of each market’s requirements. In the end the mission is to make it easy for the customer to say “yes” and buy.

Cate Trotter
BrainTrust
Is it really either or? Are we saying you can’t stay true to your brand and adapt to the local market? Rough Trade’s store could still have the same overall look and feel of the brand but make sure it also promotes local links, e.g. displays of music from artists from that area, local acts performing in the space and so on. I think every retailer should be looking on what tweaks they can make to make each store a little more individual while still remaining part of the brand. When they’re away from home why would customers want to visit a cookie cutter of the space on their local high street? Whether it’s location-based exclusives, localised displays, differences in design (eg local artists doing murals), different services or something else, visiting the brand should feel cohesive, but never exactly the same. Even big retailers can do this in basic ways as Primark shows with its localised signage which highlights features of the local area. Of course big retailers also have a chance to do… Read more »
James Ray
Guest

It’s never been more true, successful retailers must thing globally and act locally. In IT, think about scale, but deliver the solution optimized for for each one!

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Shoppers will support an active member of the community. Without the personal connection, they will shop online."
"There are many ways of interpreting “localization.” It doesn’t have to mean locally-sourced products. But it does mean deeply understanding where you’re opening your stores..."
"By not focusing on transaction, by being more than a store, by becoming a “third place” for people, these local stores are creating transaction!"

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