But two decades later, the tide has turned. Circuit City and Borders have gone bankrupt, and Office Depot and Barnes & Noble are trying to stay afloat. It’s the big boxes that are now in trouble, mostly because people (especially millennials) are less interested in anonymous, generic outlets and more interested in personalized shopping experiences.
A small-town entrepreneur, I was raised in Bellefontaine, Ohio, and instead of moving to the nearest big city, Columbus, I decided to stay in my hometown of 13,000 people. I own a commercial real estate company, which owns more than two dozen retail properties in town. All of the businesses in our properties are healthy and growing.
ADVERTISINGIn my experience, the Main Street businesses that thrive all do a few things that help them compete. The secret is to provide what no behemoth retailer can. Here's how:
1. Create experiences that engage the senses.
Big-box stores offer discount prices and an everything-in-one-place convenience, while internet shopping makes purchasing even easier. But in the end, customers do not live for transactions alone. People also shop because they crave a special experience that creates new memories and provides feelings of nostalgia, connection and beauty. A small shop in a small town is inherently better able to offer customers a memorable, meaningful experience.
One store in Bellefontaine, Peach Tree Boutique, has captured the hearts and minds of children. The store features a children's room filled with books, toys and unique gifts surrounded by a 32-foot neon light rainbow and real yellow brick road. When shopping, you can’t help but feel like you are transformed into the classic movie, “The Wizard of Oz.” All of this is good for business, as some people travel more than an hour to see and experience this unique shopping experience.
As we spend more time in front of computer screens, we crave physical experiences in our off time. A recent Price Waterhouse Cooper report on retail trends concludes that millennials “want to touch, see, and feel the merchandise.” Small-town proprietors know they need to give customers something to do.
But don’t take my word for it. Look instead at what’s happening with wildly successful online retailers such as Warby Parker, Bonobos, Blue Nile and even Amazon: They’re opening physical stores." ...
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