It’s not too early to begin holiday planning

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on August 24, 2017. Holidays are a wonderful time in Alexandria. The area is especially beautiful and festive from Halloween through Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years and George Washington’s birthday. We have the prototypic neighborhoods and shopping streets that… Read more »

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This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on August 24, 2017.

Holidays are a wonderful time in Alexandria. The area is especially beautiful and festive from Halloween through Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years and George Washington’s birthday. We have the prototypic neighborhoods and shopping streets that lend themselves to a holiday backdrop and spirit.

It’s never too early to start planning for the season. It’s Alexandria’s time to shine, and a critical time for retail revenue. Our colleagues at Visit Alexandria held a Holiday Planning Summit recently that incorporated a cross section of business, city government and economic development representatives. The theme of the summit was to continue building on Alexandria’s distinctive assets, attractions and charm – but also to take it up a notch for the approaching season.

Alexandria shopping districts face even stiffer competition this year from a broader variety of shopping options, and each of them are putting substantial efforts toward attracting their own shoppers and diners. Some of them are our f

Holiday Shopping in Alexandria

Photo Credit: James Cullum, courtesy ACVA

amiliar competitors but there are new venues for Alexandria to vie with. Washington D.C.’s The Wharf opens soon, billing itself as “the most exciting neighborhood in the history of the nation’s capital” and “a true waterfront destination.”

Many of our competitors have their own business improvement districts that plan, fund and oversee cohesive approaches to holiday décor, promotion and events. That coordinated approach often fashions a sophisticated holiday atmosphere and creates an appealing buzz for shoppers and diners.

Even without a central coordinator, Alexandria businesses and organizations are undertaking to work collaboratively to encourage individual merchants and business groups to up Alexandria’s holiday game with lighting, holiday designs, promotions and events. Holiday efforts are so much more spectacular when they are coordinated.

Alexandria has several things going for it. One of those is authenticity. Ours are the genuine charming neighborhoods and sidewalks where many generations have shopped and dined. Another of our strengths is our concentration of small businesses. Even while large retail chains downsize, there’s a growing appeal to shopping with small and unique, independent merchants.

There’s another trend toward experiential retail, and several of Alexandria’s merchants are regarded as destinations for their marketing and shopper experience. Hopefully, others will attain that status by refining their products or services, improving customer interaction, and upping their merchandising and marketing.

Alexandria Small Business Development Center provides specialized retail resources including store visits by retail, merchandising or food service experts; and educational programs on a variety of timely topics such as retail hiring, retail trends, and advertising on social media platforms. This fall we’ve engaged a window display and merchandising expert to guide merchants in developing their holiday decorating, lighting and merchandising strategies.

It takes extra effort to get into the spirit of the holidays in the dog days of summer, but the success of our long holiday season is worth it. As was said by that great philosopher, Roger Staubach, “It takes a lot of unspectacular preparation to have spectacular results in both business and football.”

Happy Holidays.

The post It’s not too early to begin holiday planning appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Retail Doom & Gloom: Crisis or Opportunity?

Mid Year State of the Market: Maurisa Potts, in a mid year “state of the market” presentation sponsored by the Alexandria SBDC featured a headline stating, “Soft economy hitting big retailers hard.” There are, I might add, some small ones not doing too well either. Potts went on to note that online shopping is not the only reason for this, siting over built retail real estate, escalating rents, and shifts in consumer spending from goods to services. Whatever the reasons, there are few retailers not feeling the current uncertainty. This, according to Potts, begs the questions what is it, crisis or opportunity?

Clearly Unclear: I like this mindset. It presuppose important changes in the business model by which most retailers operate. Savvy retailers need little schooling on this topic, and outside of a reference list here, my interest is about how a physical store might be impacted. According to Potts the action takes place in three areas. The first two, customer focused retail and the resultant deep market analytics are technology driven. The third is the technology. Clearly the lines between the physical and digital store are becoming unclear. A retailer must decide which options to embrace:

mobile apps/enhanced mobile apps/personal concierge
smart navigation
mobile checkout
on demand customer service.
virtual fitting rooms
flexible fulfillment options
enhanced product information
community connections
target walk by shoppers
holographic product displays
delivery service
drones

Augmented Retail: Each of these items taken individually involves some type of electronic technology which must be both accommodated and invisible, a subject covered in previous posts so not detailed again here. Together, though, they define what is referred to as augmented retail, a situation with substance and influence on how a physical store will look. Rachel Shechtman, the founder of Story, a cutting edge store in Manhattan, described the design concept as a physical magazine. This is so telling. Store planners and designers have probably not seen such a revolutionary design idea since the emergence of big box retail. In the marketing world I would compare the trend to the early days of Martha Stewart Omnimedia which eventually consolidated her various publishing and media outlets into a single brand. It seems to have come full circle as omnimedia has finally found expression in bricks n mortar.

Design by Collaboration: Pick up a copy of your favorite magazine and flip it open to the index page. What do you see? I see an implied program for a store design, an outline of ways to engage the customer, often a recipe for co-creation where the customer participates in the outcome of his/her shopping trip. What combination of media, mobile apps, interactive displays, technology, and hard store design options a retailer chooses to bring into his/her store is a collaborative decision best made between the store designer, the retailer, the marketing team, and the all important technology consultants. When these things work together a really successful store can be the outcome.

The Positive Case for Bricks N Mortar: Barbara Thau, writing for Forbes, lists, “Five Signs That Stores (Not E-Commerce) Are the Future of Retail.” Worried retailers might do themselves a favor by considering the following:

“All But One Of The Top Ten U.S. Retailers Are Physical Chains

Stores Are More Profitable Than E-Commerce

Amazon Purchased Whole Foods

Millennials And Generation Z Prefer Real-Life Stores

Online Retailers Are Being Eaten By Legacy Retailers

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

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Bring your toughest design problems!

will be showcasing many projects and explaining our services at the BL Business Expo on Friday June 2nd. Please Join us.

The BL Business Expo Event, in its 13 year, showcases the products and services of over 100 Northern Virginia exhibitors and sponsors. Please contact Gaddis Architect, at [email protected], 9730701-8800, for a complimentary entry voucher. Please stop by our booth to see our projects showcased and learn about how we can help solve many tough design problems and create high performing spaces. We look forward to meeting you there.

AGENDA

8:00 am : Doors open for Guests.

(The Exhibit Hall is open NON-STOP until the end – Seminars will take place in a separate Room)
8:15 am – 9:15 am:
Making LinkedIn work for Your BusinessSeminar
Jennifer Dalton, LinkedIn Specialist
9:30 am – 10:00 am:
Opening Ceremony
National Anthem, welcome address,Sponsors recognition, with Emcee:
-Angel Livas, Media Specialist
10:15 am – 11:45 am:
Protecting Your Business, An IT perspective Seminar
-Fred Haggerty, IT Specialist
12: 00 pm – 12:30 pm:
Everything that You Ever Needed To Open A Business,
But Were Afraid To Ask
Seminar
Gerald Geddes, CPA
12:45pm – 1:30 pm:
Break the Rules & Make more SalesSeminar
Nema Semnani, Sandler Training
1:45 pm – 2:00 pm:
Door Prizes & Farewell Remarks
(We have some serious door prize for you. You would want to be there to take them home.)
Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

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Wire Management is a Design Issue

The cash wrap in the photo above is in a medium high end fashion boutique in a trendy “New Urban” style shopping center with other similar competitors up and down the center. I noted the problem during a site visit I made to meet with the shop owner who was, at the time, planning a second store. Two years later, motivated by recent discussions in these “Insights” about the importance of integrating technology into a store design, I returned and took this photo. Needless to say, the problem was never addressed, neither did I ever work with this retailer.

I see mismanaged wires a lot, often in places that should, and do, know better. I listen to marketers go on about the importance of creating a shopping experience; of integrating technology into the store design; of carefully selecting technologies based on actual individual data driven market research, all the time wondering by what trickery retailers like those in the photos are able to make out that these much touted market strategies are somehow not germane to their particular retail environments. Further, I can only guess at the impact on sales – at least the place in the photo is still open – and I actually worry about the tripping hazards just waiting to happen. There is really no accounting for this when a solution is easily accomplished and not expensive.

Lest I be accused of “dis without fix,” I offer a solution here. First we are not talking store remodel or even new equipment. All that is required is some planning. Consider this cash wrap, a version of which was originally designed for a project, and which has since morphed into one of my “go to” opportunities to offer design variations on a functional theme. It is 5′ wide by 2′ deep by 3′ high at the work surface and 3’6″ high at the top of the display case. Close examination of the equipment housed in the unit will show that virtually every device housed in the badly wired cash wrap in first photo is accommodated in a compact cabinet. No wires show. The only connections are, as in the subject image above, power and data supplied by a floor outlet below the cabinet. Also, if necessary this fixture can be supplied with “knock outs” for power/data access from either side and it is on casters for mobility.

Clearly this is not a cheap piece of furniture, probably costing upwards of $1000 to build from scratch, yet when considered in terms of value added to the retail environment, it is not a lot to spend. Certainly, in terms of public safety and reduced liability it is a downright bargain. Neither is it necessary to build one of these from scratch. The rustic bench being used for the cash wrap above could easily and cheaply be remodeled by addition of an equally rustic back panel. We do this type of thing all the time.

Something else a retailer might want to consider when planning a store is that wireless technologies and newer devices are drastically reducing the amount of space needed. These are part of more than just cash wraps too. It is really important for a retailer to examine their options and choose their system(s) early. I cannot over emphasize the advantage of selecting and working with a qualified technology consultant who can help with system selection and provide a designer with device specifications including related sizes to be used in store planning and fixture design.

One more point worth noting, I see this problem show up in many showroom and public environments, not just retail stores. Because these are places where the public meets a business or organization they can, and do, impact a brand and may affect sales. I often work in these types of environments and likewise advise a client to carefully manage the wires.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Spinning Your Wheels on Marketing?

The following blog was written by Heidi O’Leska, Vintage Juice Brand marketing, who presented a workshop on this subject for the Alexandria SBDC last week. More than likely, it’s not the marketing, it’s the message.  I often hear from clients, we spend tons of money on direct mail (or print advertising or social media) and… Read more »

The post Spinning Your Wheels on Marketing? appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

The following blog was written by Heidi O’Leska, Vintage Juice Brand marketing, who presented a workshop on this subject for the Alexandria SBDC last week.

More than likely, it’s not the marketing, it’s the message. 

I often hear from clients, we spend tons of money on direct mail (or print advertising or social media) and results are less than 1% ROI. No bueno.

So, what’s the answer? 

  • What’s your Why? People don’t buy what you do, but instead, why you do it. They want to be inspired, appeal to their gut feeling/intuition.
  • Pinpoint what your business does differently and better than competition (based on your why).
  • Define what audience is eager for that offering, and within that audience, which is the most profitable
  • Create messaging around that offering that is bold, creative – a true stop them in their tracks and make them think, want to learn more
  • Research and develop a marketing plan to deliver that message or series of messages to your most profitable target audience using the communication tools they are most likely to use.

Differentiators – Best Quality, Best Service, Lowest Prices are NOT differentiators, most people say that, most customers don’t believe it until they experience your product or service, don’t waste time saying it, especially in the 8-10 seconds you have to first catch their attention. What’s the true differentiator? The intersection between what competitors are NOT saying and the true, genuine WHY you started your business. I facilitate messaging workshops with business owners and executives that includes taking an objective look at what competitors are saying and compare that to the true WHY of the organization, as well as its weaknesses. The methodology always results in a differentiator resonates – as well as creative ideas to communicate it.

Most Profitable Target Audience Your business cannot be all things to all people, unless you have a boatload of money to spend (throw away). The most successful businesses start with one very specific target audience and offering. Reaching 10,000 high-income residents within 1-2 miles of your business with a message that appeals to their lifestyle has resulted in 30% response rates vs. a generic message to the entire population with less than 1% return. Even if 1% of a larger population nets the same number of individuals reached as the 30% of 10,000 (3,000) a generic message to all falls flat, resulting in:

  • Lower sales per person
  • One-time customers, never to return
  • Often, bad online reviews. Why? They don’t understand your WHY, they aren’t your audience

As part of our methodology we conduct focus groups and one-on-one interviews with our clients’ various audiences. With data in hand, we narrow down the most profitable audiences and develop personas for each, as the go-to for all new marketing initiatives.

Bold Messaging  – Don’t wimp out. And, don’t try to develop it yourself. Shameless plug, but, creative agencies are objective and well, creative!

Targeted Marketing – With your most profitable target audience in mind…

  • Millennials? – Facebook and even your website is a thing of the past to Millennials, concentrate on Instagram and getting great Yelp and Google reviews. Don’t even consider print advertising.
  • Baby Boomers? – Facebook, Facebook, Facebook – the MOST targeted advertising available. Print in a local magazine that is well respected by residents, with your BOLD message, remember, don’t wimp out.
  • Generation X or Y – A combination of the above, dependent on your product and what is available in your region.

Interested in a 30 minute, complimentary assessment of your brand? Call me (Heidi O’Leska, President, Marketing Strategist, Vintage Juice Brand Marketing), (703) 922-2442.

Branding & Marketing Agency based in Alexandria VA.

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The 11 Basic Rules of Window & Interior Merchandising

Several days ago, visual merchandising expert DP Miller presented a workshop at the Alexandria SBDC on the 11 Basic Rules of Window & Interior Merchandising.  The speaker stressed that you must know the rules, and the reasons behind them, before you can “break” them.  This is the first of a three-part series on this subject… Read more »

The post The 11 Basic Rules of Window & Interior Merchandising appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Several days ago, visual merchandising expert DP Miller presented a workshop at the Alexandria SBDC on the 11 Basic Rules of Window & Interior Merchandising.  The speaker stressed that you must know the rules, and the reasons behind them, before you can “break” them.  This is the first of a three-part series on this subject – upcoming sessions will occur in April and May and will go into more detail of the practical steps to be taken to have impressive displays.  More information about these sessions and registration will be listed on our events page.  A brief summary of the rules follows:

Rules 1 – 3 – The Relationship Rules

  • Rule 1 – Approachability: Avoiding the Wall
  • Rule 2 – Psychological Perspective: Removing Virtual Obstacles
  • Rule 3 – Shopability: Making it Easy

Rules 4 – 11 – Practical Merchandising

  • Rule 4 – Dynamic Presentation: The Waterfall Effect
  • Rule 5 – The Golden Pyramid: Giving and Playing with Height
  • Rule 6 – Repetition: Of Color, Shape, or Item
  • Rule 7 – Graphic Use of Color: To Pop, Contrast, or Playing with Shade
  • Rule 8 – Negative Space: Finding Rest in the Void
  • Rule 9 – An Odd Rule, or the Rule of Odds: Couples can be Boring
  • Rule 10 – The Golden Rule to Understanding Visual Weight:
    • Short to Long
    • Light to Dark
    • Left to Right
  • Rule 11 – One Less Line: Avoiding Visual Noise

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Marketing Trends for 2017

Recently, the Alexandria SBDC presented their annual Marketing Trends Workshop, featuring Maurisa Potts of Spotted MP (Marketing + Public Relations).  Among the trends that were highlighted for the upcoming year are the following: Interactive Content – Get people participating in your business even before they are a customer. Interactive content includes activities such as polls,… Read more »

The post Marketing Trends for 2017 appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Recently, the Alexandria SBDC presented their annual Marketing Trends Workshop, featuring Maurisa Potts of Spotted MP (Marketing + Public Relations).  Among the trends that were highlighted for the upcoming year are the following:

  • Interactive Content – Get people participating in your business even before they are a customer. Interactive content includes activities such as polls, surveys, infographics, brackets, and contests.
  • Visual Content – Over 90% of marketers believe that visual content is essential for 2017. Content can be in the form of video, infographics, photos, chats, GIFs or Memes.  It is important to establish a content strategy and budget for crafting visual content.hand-1148981_1920
  • Influencer Marketing – Who are the thought leaders in your industry who establish credibility through social and traditional media outlets? Remember that a brand is no longer what we tell the customer it is – it’s what customers tell each other it is. Who is blogging in your industry? Who has the FaceBook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram followers and what are they saying about your business?
  • Embrace Mobile Video – It is here to stay! Make sure that the content you put out is mobile-enabled, and capture the metrics by views, reach, and reactions.
  • Live Broadcasting will continue to push boundaries with FaceBook Live, Periscope, and Instagram stories. Be strategic on when to use live broadcasting, use a face, and keep it short and meaningful.
  • Virtual and Augmented Reality – Businesses are testing how to use virtual and augmented reality to drive business results. How can you use these to create a differentiated, personalized customer experience?
  • Keep it short! – Content that is short in length, such as video clips, can appeal to internet surfers’ limited (8 second) attention span. Check out Snapchat, Vine or Instagram stories. Remember to keep it simple and use images.
  • Personalized Marketing – Consider leveraging data analysis and digital technology to deliver individualized messages and product offerings to current or prospective customers.
  • Direct Marketing – Remember that this is still an important tool, used in over 50% of marketing campaigns and still growing. It is important for your direct marketing materials to include pictures and to be targeted to your ideal buyer.
  • Test and Measure! – Above all else, pay attention to what works and doesn’t work for your business and your market. Set up metrics goals for marketing initiatives and track your conversions.

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Seamless integration of technology is part and parcel of 2017 market trends

Playing with an interactive light display.

Marketing Trends for 2017 – There is always a flurry of activity from marketing and PR firms at this time of year. The event put on by the Alexandria Small Business Development Center is always well attended, and this year is no different. Maurisa Potts, Fouder & CEO of Spotted MP, talking about 2017 market trends, discussed the increasing importance of interactive and visual content; digital as in media being the unstated but nevertheless operative word. Commenting in Forbes on similar trends, AJ Agrawal listed seventeen trends for 2017, twelve of which were likewise to do with digital content. The impact of technology has of course been growing every year, leading me to wonder if/when it will finally peak. Not, it would appear, anytime soon as almost all of the topics in Pott’s presentation, i.e., Interactive Content, Visual Content, Influencer Marketing, Virtual Reality, Mobile Video, Live Broadcasts, Short Form Content, Mobile First, Personalization, and Native Content, presumed digital content.

Shopping in Walmart

Data Driven Marketing – That said, it may be that the saturation point is approaching, as Potts also talked about the necessity for “Data Driven Marketing” and Lee Peterson of WD Partners talking about digital integration in VMSD Forecast for 2017 pointed out that when surveyed, for 3 years in a row the digital device most wanted by customers was BOPIS, the ability to buy online and pick up in the store. If, it would seem, last year’s omnichannel marketing was about integrating the message into the larger stream, then this year is about flushing out the individual retailers best path to success. A bike shop owner might, in 2016, have been compelled to have a presence in every possible outlet, i.e, blogs, competitions, associations, civic events, publications, website, e-commerce, indeed anything having to do with bikes or bicycling. In 2017 this bike shop owner might look closely at the data accumulated from past marketing activities and then focus on what has worked, even if the answer is unexpected. For example Kathleen Jordan writing for VMSD tells us, ” Retailers must develop new ways to reach their audience and find new sources to expand their consumer base… it must be recognized that online is not always the answer.” Did you notice she called them an audience rather than customers or shoppers.

Microsoft Surface at Hard Rock Cafe, Hollywood

Integrated Shopping Experience – Considering that almost 92 percent of all retail sales are still being transacted in physical environments and further that many online retailers end up with physical stores, I am lead to inquire, what does all this say to those of us involved with the bricks and mortar part of retail, presuming of course that it is not going away? Clearly, creating a shopping experience is still important. Eric Feigenbaum subtitled his article in VMSD, “…Retail’s divining rod no longer moves at p-o-s, but rather at p-o-e – point of experience.”

Prioritize – From my perspective, after many years working in retail design, the answer must be about priorities. The seamless integration of technology is part and parcel of the all important shopping experience and it can only be accomplished by assimilating a clients carefully worked out digital marketing plan into a store design by partnering with the technical experts. The devices of digital marketing are, after all, physical elements and as such work better when addressed in “pre” as apposed to post design.

Virtual Book at “Librovision”

If there is any doubt that this is an often neglected fact, just look around at piles of wire shoved under cabinets, dangling from display cases, hap hazardously placed equipment closets, and my personal favorite, the back side of monitors at POS stations. Certainly newer wireless technologies are available but there are always performance issues to consider, many requiring additional equipment in other areas. Most clients have enough understanding of Building mechanical systems like HVAC and plumbing to expect and allow for their accommodation, but somehow the lexicon of electronic equipment has remained a mystery, not a little, I should add, because it is in a constant state of flux. Ryan Ruud, founder and CEO of Lake One, writing for “Smart Insights” identifies Random Acts Of Technology (RAT) as marketing flops resulting from the application of technology without strategy. I would argue that this applies, as well, to the physical store design whenever non integrated electronics are treated as project add ons – and okay, I liked the buzzword too!

Bring in an Expert – Finally, I would advise any retailer aiming in 2017 for “…effective in-store digital retail experiences” to introduce a suitable technology consultant into the schematic stage of a project and then keep him or her involved up through and even after store opening. Sometimes independent and small retailers assume that these services are beyond their reach. On the contrary, I have found that most electronic designers are also providers and as such their services are often included when they supply and install equipment. It is money well spent, almost – but not quite – as good as that spent on the Architect.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.