The Shape of Brick and Mortar to Come?

I like to characterize a sudden good idea as getting whacked on the side of the head by a two by four.  Today, I got whacked by a lily.  My wife’s birthday is tomorrow and I walked into a convenient florist to order some flowers.  Except what I walked into was a little café.  Quite nice really, with people sitting on casual, older comfortable furniture eating, reading, drinking coffee.

For just a couple of seconds, I was a bit put off, thinking calling the place a flower shop was some kind of clever marketing I wasn’t cool enough to understand.  But the flower shop was in the same space, but towards the back.  I cannot believe I didn’t take a picture.

While the flowers were being arranged, I chatted with the people who worked there.  It seems that the whole space was once a flower shop.  The half where the café is now was filled with various gifty, somehow flower related things, whatever those are.

As the economy evolved, the former owner of the flower shop found, as it was described to me, that “People just weren’t shopping in stores for those kinds of gifts anymore.”  She additional described how half of their flower orders were now coming by phone or online.  The obvious result is that they just didn’t need the space.

Soon there was a new owner who may or not be the person who owns the café, but this person or these two people determined to share this space.  The flower shop cut its space and, one assumes, it’s rent in half and probably reduced some other overhead expenses.  It’s still got a few potted plants and related gifts, but they don’t take up much space.  It downsized its space and expense without downsizing its florist business.

Meanwhile, this combination of the café and flower shop works.  The two businesses in the same space complement each other and just kind of flow together.  There’s a commonality of ambiance and feeling.  It’s an intriguing surprise when you walk in and figure it out.  Do they bring each other business?  Don’t know.

Let’s be clear this is not like a skate shop next to a skate park.  Obviously, people who buy flowers also eat, but there’s no market niche connection here.  This is just two disparate businesses sharing a space and I guess it’s working.  It doesn’t matter what the two businesses are.  It matters that they can comfortably share a space and an ambiance.  They are not competitors and, if they were, I don’t know if it would work.

When businesses are competitors, we put walls around them (these result in what is known as a “store”) and each does its best to try and look different from the other.  We spend a fortune on that with, these days anyway, uncertain results, since they end up looking so much the same anyway.

The restaurant and the flower shop are kind of two stores, but kind of not.  They are definitely two businesses.  They provide each other with a distinctive look and feel they would not have if each was by itself surrounded by four walls in the traditional way.  They’d even have the ability, I guess, to maybe put in an extra table if the restaurant was hosting a big group or maybe giving the flower shop a little extra room during its busy time of year.  Whenever that is.

There’s some fluidity to this arrangement I like as well as some marketing distinctiveness precisely because the two businesses are not related.

You can see why I feel my head whacked by that lily.  This arrangement makes financial sense.  It makes differentiation sense.  It addresses the need to manage expenses tightly and to deal with the impact of online.

Should Arbor open some kind of stall in a big Starbucks (Bob- I’m not sure I’m kidding, though I haven’t worked through why Starbucks would be interested)? Should a half dozen brands get together and open a single big store with their branded products comingled based on function?  It would certainly be convenient for the customer.  The systems can handle that now.  Boy, would that piss off retailers.  Well, retailers are becoming brands and brands retailers (have become?), so maybe it’s just the next step.

Wow.  What started as an “Isn’t that interesting” when I walked out of the flower shop/restaurant is threatening to become a full-on rant. Still, everybody is trying to control expenses, we’re moving towards needing less space in brick and mortar, and in a slow growth market where consumers have complete information and extensive choices, we need to give them an experience.

Maybe I got the germ of an idea here.

9 replies
  1. Kel
    Kel says:

    Check out Bird Rock Surf Shop in La Jolla & Liquid Dreams in Ogunquit Maine as just two Surf Shops who have done this a few years ago. I think it is awesome. I am sure that these bring them business. Gives surfers a reason to come to the store more often.

  2. says:

    It’s a Shop in a Shop only much more fun and interesting for the guests. I create mixed use beach club communities that try to pull this pff on a bit larger scale by combining retail, leasure, entertainment, residential and nature based recreation that all support each other.

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Hi Vince,
      I am coming around to thinking that there’s more right than wrong ways to do it. I’m okay with the shop in a shop analogy, but I think there’s more to it than that. Continuity in ambiance, convenience for the consumer, and a little surprise are the factors (so far) I think are important.

      Thanks for the comment,

  3. Scott Marsh
    Scott Marsh says:

    Jeff, another great reminder to pursue market differentiation, but also do it differently.

    A favorite retail space of mine is Schoolhouse Electric in Portland, OR.

    They create and remanufacture period inspired lighting. But instead of having a retail space of looking at the ceiling they break it up in five more ways. Creating and remanufacturing furniture and home/work accessories and dotting the story with interesting gift items that compliment the displays (and lower price points to capture dollars per shopper).

    They then have a section of the store with individual study desks to study, work and get away in. And in the front corner adds a flower shop and a shared space with an equally hip coffee shop – separate from the less social study area.

    Just as you point out In your example, despite the diversity in this shop, these ideas all work together to drive business to their namesake lighting in an ever changing floor plan that feels new on each visit, bringing in new customers, and bringing back existing customers.

    Doing the same things as competitors, in the same way, is no recipe for differentiation. Take inspiration everywhere to be unique and don’t just chuck a coffee shop/juice bar in your retail space because it works for someone else.

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Hi Scott,
      Definitely going to go see that the next time I’m in Portland. I think your last point is the most important. As more people do this, they will start to mimic each other because they will see what’s “working” for the other guy. But there goes the surprise and differentiation and we’re right back where we were or, mostly, are. I think we’ll probably find that certain combinations work with others- or at least are perceived to be lower risk. But as soon as there’s tendency to flock in the same direction, the value will decline. Stay creative and open to crazy ideas!


  4. John
    John says:

    Surfer Mag and Rip Curl are Opening a joint venture Resturant, Bar and surf shop in Jacksonville in early 2017. Interesting to see how it pans out.

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Hi John,
      Yes it will. As I said in the article, I think a certain continuity in ambiance combined with a factor of surprise are two of the things that make it work. Including a restaurant/bar seems a rather obvious thing to do. I’m curious as to what other combinations (probably riskier) will occur.

  5. bruce
    bruce says:

    Ski and snowboard shops both are so primitive when it comes to retail it blows my mind. Where else would you be asked to spend so much in such a shitty place? There are some good ones out there, but most are a shit-show with product in cardboard boxes, or wrappers, trash cans with scratch and dent demos, and endless racks of discounted price point junk.

    What I want to know is, how can an independent shop in the classic model even get financing to do it in a better way? All the big companies can offer the little guy credit terms, returns, etc. but they are the same ones undercutting the viability of his biz by selling to everybody and anybody they can shovel product into.

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Oh hell Bruce,
      I wish you wouldn’t ask such a good but uncomfortable question. I have a short, uncomfortable, answer for you. I don’t think the shitty places will last long. In fact, most of them are gone. Having said that, there are always exceptions based on location and who your customers are. As far as financing for a typical, smaller, independent shop, it’s going to be friends and family, credit cards, personal guarantees (if you have any assets) or a second mortgage. Bluntly, any financing source is going to ask, “You’re selling the same products that everybody can buy cheaper everywhere else. How can you succeed?” The only possible answer is around your location and connection with the community, service (and I’m no longer as sure about that one as I once was), and your willingness and ability to identify and carry and support new, unknown brands, though I’m not sure financing sources would see that as a positive.

      I’ll just add that a shop has to make itself important to key brands.

      Sorry that isn’t as positive and uplifting as I truly wish I could make it.


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