Two guys walk into a bar.
One of them decides it’d make a great retail clothing shop.
Back in 1825, a New Yorker thought the land would make a great place for his townhome. Some years later, another fella came along and made it into the Tribeca Tavern.
By the same impressive feat of logic, why wouldn’t someone turn an old bar into a clothing shop?
And that’s exactly what J.Crew did – in collaboration with designers Partners & Spade – at 235 West Broadway, in New York City. The menswear-only store was a first for them. When it comes to the apparel market, women are the dominating demographic, and the number of stores solely devoted to menswear is a small and diminishing number.
How could they make a boutique store for men? How could J.Crew make their mark?
The answer came by selling something most stores don’t: the experience of shopping.
Sure, you can pick up the trendiest duds fresh off the pages of the GQ seasonal spread here. What else do they have? How about a couple new vinyl records to spin on the turntable? They’ve got ‘em. A nice, leather-bound, out-of-print, or first-edition book to proudly display on your shelf? They’ve got that, too (What seems like inadvertently and haphazardly-placed books actually comprises the in-house STRAND bookstore). And what was that? You’ve got more money to than you know what do with? Why not lighten your wallet by scooping-up a couple vintage Rolex or Omega wristwatches? They’re right alongside the vintage tie bar collection.
Shy of a bucket of wings and a leather recliner, it’s got about anything and everything the well-dressed American male could ask for. The merchandise – demonstrably – they’ve got.
The merchandise doesn’t make this store, however. Here, it isn’t about what you can buy, it’s about how you buy it.
Don’t walk in looking for the familiar modular shelving units and hanging racks. You won’t find them. Neck ties are draped over the brass rail of the original bar. Cardigan sweaters hang off the lip of the townhome fireplace’s stone mantel. Their only “conventional” display of clothing (perhaps tongue-in-cheek) is the use of an antique armoire to display button-down shirts.
Removing the racks is part of the atmospheric approach J.Crew has taken to demolish a presentational, “look-but-don’t-touch” approach to shopping. Want to try on a hat? Grab one off the old-school hat rack. Those neat-looking suitcases they’ve got stacked-up to display the suede boots? They’re for sale, too.
“For display purposes only” isn’t something you’ll hear often, here. This approach to visual display is a bonus for the store as well, using one piece of merchandise to sell another piece. When one item sells, it makes room for another, leaving an enormous potential for flexible, creative visual merchandising. If they made quick enough of a rotation with their items, you might even begin to wonder if you could ever visit the same store, twice. You may have to wander around a smidge to find where the jeans are, and well, you may even stumble across something else you like.
I’ll admit, it’s a smart approach.
Think about it: a picture-perfect pile of neatly-folded sweaters doesn’t make a customer feel compelled to buy them. If anything, he’ll feel badly about mussing-up the merchandise and won’t even want to touch them. But if you drape that sweater over an old coat rack, alongside some vintage hats? Chances are – even if only to satisfy curiosity – he’ll pick it up, move a few things around, and probably find something he likes enough to try on. If you have to always look past one item to see another, or brush one to pick another up, you’re becoming acquainted with twice as much of their catalog than a normal shopper would be.
From the moment you spot the red and blue, neon “Liquor Store” signage from down the street, you’ve become part of the experience. Come closer and take a peek through the vintage storefront windows. Heck, step inside, tread those worn old plank floorboards, and see it for yourself. This company has managed to turn something as commonplace as shopping for clothes into a memorable, exciting experience. After all, who gets excited about “Errands?”
I know the next time I’m in New York City, I’ll be making a stop there.
What can we learn from the minds behind the J.Crew Men’s Shop?
1.) Would you like ties with that? A customer looking at a rack of shirts is only going to be looking at – and consequently, for – shirts. If there are multiple offerings (even complimentary to the featured item) the customer is potentially up-selling himself, considering complementary and supplemental options to the primary one.
2.) Know the dress code. You wouldn’t wear a tuxedo on a first date. Neither should you make your storefront look like the line queue for an amusement park ride. If you’re moving a business into an older, historical district, utilize the strengths of the existing architecture and history inherent. It not only is an easy way to make nice with your new neighbors, but moreover, how to show pride in becoming a member of the surrounding community.
3.) Touch, don’t look. A hands-on approach to merchandise makes the customer more comfortable handling, trying on, and ultimately, buying something. How is someone going to know how soft and comfortable that cashmere sweater is without first picking it up? Closing the physical proximity between customer and merchandise creates an instant, personal relationship between them. Stores aren’t in the business of displaying things; they’re in the business of selling things.
Other lessons to be learned? No, you can’t still belly up to the bar and expect a barkeep to pour you out a shot, and yes, if you pick up a pool cue off the wall, you probably will get in a fight…though it’ll be with the police officer escorting you off of the premises.
You do either of those, you’re left to your own devices. Stick to the aforementioned advice, and your business will be as smart as your fashion sense.
Want to read more on the subject? Check out last week’s post on historic and local architecture!
What do you think of J.Crew’s store style? Do you agree that a hands-on experience creates a stronger relationship between customers and merchandise?