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Retail Storefront - The New Billboard

By Jeffrey D. Roseman

As brands reach out to consumers through retail storefronts, is there a place for promotional products in the "window dressing?"

When thinking about the term "retail shop," you usually conjure up an image of the grocery store, pharmacy or candy shop in your neighborhood when you were growing up. I'll bet you can even remember the name of the proprietor and the color apron or cardigan sweater he wore. It may have even been embroidered with the shop's name.

Brands are now learning what retailers knew then - that storefronts are a venue to draw consumers into the cult. The difference is scale. Think of a retail location as a giant promotional branding opportunity. The windows, the signage, the products showcased inside are all advertising vehicles that can carry and reinforce a brand name, sometimes even in the form of promotional merchandise.

Simply put, a retail location on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan or any other high-profile street in any city in the country is a very successful way for a company or product to promote recognition. Depending on the city, a well-placed retail store on a highly visible street will be seen by thousands, and in some cases millions, of people, as opposed to an ad in a weekly fashion magazine or newspaper. Think of a retail store as the equivalent of a billboard, except it's an interactive billboard that actually makes money.

Marry this storefront billboard with imprinted promotions and you've got a one-two punch. A storefront window could be dressed with something as simple as repetitive rows of colorfully logoed shopping bags or gilded for the holidays with branded ornaments on a tree.

The "billboard" effect can begin even before a storefront is complete. In fact, the construction sheds a coming retailer puts up while building are treated just like billboards, and viewed by consumers with anticipation. Some of the more creative sheds such as Louis Vuitton or Hugo Boss were spectacular works of art.

Open With Fanfare
Want to get your clients' brands noticed? Take a page from those who've opened flagship retail stores in New York. Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin, hot-air ballooned into the middle of Broadway, while Toys R Us installed a 60-foot high Ferris wheel in the middle of Times Square. Stella McCartney's opening drew rock bands and Hollywood royalty. The message: think large promotional event surrounding a lavish retail storefront. These events should be coupled with imprinted products to distribute to the hordes of people who make the scene.

Prada spent over $45 million on its 23,000 square foot store creating a buzz the likes of which New York hadn't seen for quite some time. The press, the parties - everyone was talking. Three years later, Prada is still a magnet, showcasing the latest in technological innovations, and prompting the New York Times to describe the store as a museum show on display. The flagship store succeeded wildly in delivering on Prada's strategy to showcase itself as a worldwide attention-getting device. But if you think that Prada is too high-brow or sophisticated for imprinted products consider the upscale products representing the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

Such occasions open the door for promotional distributors to create spectacular, dimensional invitations and commemorative merchandise. A flagship store's launch could be celebrated with a replica of the new storefront for an opening reception. The replica could be in the form of a gift for guests, such as a crystal paperweight, or reproduced on letterhead, a pen, bookmark, tote bag, etc., for subsequent promotion.

Think also of promotional media packets, incentive gifts to draw consumer traffic, shopping bags, uniforms, in-store banners/signage. Some stores have even sold self-branded merchandise as souvenirs, yielding another source of revenue and exposure. Again, look no further than the overwhelming success of the MoMA collection.

Not Just For Retailers
Branding through retail isn't only limited to traditional retailers. Giant corporations such as Sony, Samsung, Cadillac and Hershey's, to name a few, all have realized that for approximately the cost of a billboard in Times Square or thereabouts, a retail showroom will send out the same message, yet add much more value. Recently companies like Song Airlines, Target and Meow Mix have even taken it a step further, introducing the concept of short-term or pop-up retail, understanding the bang for their buck is far greater than traditional advertising media.

Here's where the promotional product medium can help to maximize the power of the storefront marketing. Meow Mix, for example, created the Meow Mix Café, a restaurant for cats and the people who love them. In such venues, logoed merchandise, from the coffee cups used to serve customers to imprinted T-shirts for the employees are a way to reinforce the brand further.

So as the trend for short-term/pop-up retail matures, look for opportunities to bring your clients' brands to Main Street. The retailer, manufacturer, new or re-invented brand needing to announce a new product, new line, make its comeback, or anything else may want to think out of the box, and into the store.

And it you're lucky enough to be in New York City, so much the better.

COPYRIGHT © 2005 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved..
Jeffrey D. Roseman is executive vice president of Newmark New Spectrum Retail LLC, which provides comprehensive retail real estate services to retailers and property owners. He's a frequent lecturer/advisor on retail real estate.

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