One of the cool things about retail is that it's always changing. I'm old enough that I remember when Wal-Mart was a "new thing", and the advent of big box stores seemed to change everything. Like the dinosaurs, big box stores ruled the planet and ate anything in their way. But also like the dinosaurs, their era seems to be coming to an end.
Wal-Mart is still a dominant force and the largest retailer in the world, but lately the big box model has been showing its age. The much-hyped "retail apocalypse" is largely an apocalypse for big box chain stores - Toys R Us, Sears, and other aging chains struggling with slowing sales and mountains of debt.
In the meantime, online retail continues to grow, led by Amazon. Consumers can sit at home and choose from an array of millions of products, competitively priced and shipped for free to arrive on their doorstep within the next 24-48 hours.
But online shopping will never be able to deliver certain types of experiences. It isn't a social experience, and often it's hard to find what you're looking for, unless you know what you're looking for. And of course online you can't touch the merchandise (or smell it, for that matter).
Suffice it to say there will always be a place for "bricks and mortar" retail, and manufacturers will want to place their physical goods in front of potential customers.
Some elements of the internet and sharing economy are coming together to create new models of retail, enabling manufacturers to get their goods to shelf as easily and quickly as opening an online store.
Withme is a company that operates stores in 30 high-traffic locations in major U.S. cities. They offer brands the opportunity to retail their products in custom "stores" of various sizes (from space on a shelf, up to 3000 square feet).
Similarly, Bulletin, based in Brooklyn, offers brands the opportunity to "share the costs of a real-life store." They have two stores in New York City, and claim that they can have product on their shelves within five days of on-boarding a new brand.
Both of these companies offer brands the ability to sell online, as well as on shelf, and to track their sales real-time.
Another retail model is exemplified by the partnership between b8ta, a retailer of high-end technology gadgets, and Lowe's. According to a Lowe's press release, b8ta will open mini-stores with Lowe's called "Smart Home Powered by b8ta": "The store-within-a-store offers an innovative shopping solution for customers interested in smart home devices. Each destination features a curated selection of top-rated smart home products and offers consumers onsite support from specially trained experts known as "b8ta testers."
In theory, b8ta gains from this partnership because they can reach additional customers without having to invest in building new stores, and Lowe's gains by creating an exciting, unexpected in-store experience for its customers.
Here at F.C. Dadson, we build custom retail environments for all kinds of retailers. There will always be a future for innovative bricks and mortar retailers, and our job is to help find a solution that works for the retailer (or spa, restaurant, or clinic).
Feel free to check out and download some of our free resources regarding retail buildouts and custom fixtures. And please contact us if you're interested in a complimentary consultation.