Authenticity, change big focus points for retail start-up entrepreneurs

| by Judy Mottl
Authenticity, change big focus points for retail start-up entrepreneurs

Photo courtesy of NRF.

While the founders of Beauty Pie, Soaper Duper, &pizza, STORY and the Museum of Ice Cream all came into retail entrepreneurship via different channels, they all share at least one belief: retail is all about a seamless, frictionless experience that allows the shopper to search, browse, buy and return via the desktop, the laptop, the tablet and the smartphone, all without a hiccup.

The entrepreneurs, panelists on the "Rock star entrepreneurs and the next generation of retail" session at the NRF Big Show in early January at the Javits Conference Center in New York City, also agreed the consumer experience must be authentic — and that means interacting with customers.

While it may appear to be a museum for children, the Museum of Ice Cream was built for adults, noted founder Manish Vora, and interacting with adult consumers is a key focus for the brand's four locations.

"We get people to open up and converse with us, and so the experience must be authentic," said Vora, noting he and company employees are sometimes eating ice cream three times a day to ensure the experience is what it should be for customers.

And while eating ice cream three times a day doesn't sound like a hard task, attaining authenticity is not as easy as it sounds when you're changing up your retail experience and redefining your business and brand on a constant basis.

Every 90 days, &pizza "changes our definition and our brand is constantly evolving," explained co-founder, CEO and creative director Michael Lastoria, who launched his concept in July 2012 in Washington, D.C.

The '&' aspect of his brand, he said, stands for celebrating unity, diversity and "creating real world connections." There are now &pizza locations in Maryland, New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Every one of the &pizza shops boasts a very different look and experience as they're designed to reflect the community and neighborhood, Lastoria explained.

On its home page, the brand describes &pizza as "an anti-establishment establishment built on the renown of its creative pies and craft beverages, localized shop design, and the strength, unity and vibe of its living-wage-paid, ampersand-tattooed tribe."

Its motto is short and to the point — work hard, live fast, order quick, take the culture — &pizza — to go.

"We believe in technology and that it's about dynamically communicating with our guests," Lastoria said.

At online beauty product retailers Beauty Pie and Soaper Duper, founder Marcia Kilgore (who started the well known beauty brand Bliss way back in 1996) said the retail customer experience today is about "connecting the dots to experiences," with transparency playing a critical role.

The transparency her latest brand is all about has to do with price as Kilgore believes high-end cosmetics don't have to have a high-end price.

"We are luxury beauty at factory prices," she explained.

At STORY, a 2,000-square-foot retail location in Manhattan founded in 2011, the quest, according to CEO Rachel Shechtman, is exactly what its name implies: telling a story to customers. STORY's home page states its philosophy in simple terms: We're the store that has the point of view of a magazine, changes like a gallery, and sells things like a store.

That means every four to eight weeks, STORY completely reinvents itself — from the design to the merchandise — with the goal of bringing to light a new theme, trend or issue.

"Our goal is to bring delight into the retail environment," said Shechtman.

Topics: Consumer Behavior, CRM, Customer Experience, Customer Service, Marketing, Merchandising, Omnichannel / Multichannel, Online Retailing, Retail - General, Shopper Marketing, Specialty Stores

Companies: STORY

Judy Mottl

Judy Mottl is an experienced editor, reporter and blogger who has worked for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews. She’s written everything from breaking news to in-depth trends. She loves a great pitch so email here, follow on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

wwwView Judy Mottl's profile on LinkedIn

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