NOTES FROM THE FIELD 10/20
During a recent webinar one of my colleagues requested that I share a few books related to the retail world that I’ve enjoyed. There are indeed many exceptional works out there on the topic, and a variety of titles came to mind that rang true with my experience in the industry.
I reflected on works that speak to key elements that set the stage for a store visit that is truly unique. The components of most importance are culture, teams, leadership, customers, creativity, visual presentation, and unique merchandise.
Presented below are some recent releases along with a few books on retail that have stood the test of time.
Retail Pride by Ron Thurston is an excellent read. It’s a fresh conversation that provides an informative perspective on the retail industry. It underlines the importance of empathy, curiosity, and consistent focus. Throughout the book there are quotes from thirty retail professionals from a variety of backgrounds, each sharing his or her unique personal experience and insights.
The work explores critically important aspects of leadership, which should always come with a positive, optimistic attitude and praise for others along the way. Other areas discussed include teams, customer experience, culture, and relationship building. This timely, important work provides inspiration to those considering or just beginning a retail journey as well as to leaders and others on what makes this industry so rewarding.
Some of my most enjoyable years in retail were spent in leadership roles at Barneys New York. At this unique fashion art house I learned some of the essentials of creativity and visual display from my colleague Simon Doonan. He recently released How to Be Yourself: Life-Changing Advice from a Reckless Contrarian, which joins his collection of other works.
After decades as creative director and creative ambassador at large, Doonan has continued to inspire generations of people with his imaginative, truthful storytelling and provocative wit on a range of topics from fashion, style, art, and decor. Of the many terrific quotes, a standout was from Iris Apfel: “If you don’t know yourself, you’ll never have great style. You’ll never really love. To me, the worst fashion faux pas—is to look in the mirror, and not see yourself.”
In the visually captivating Barneys New York, Christopher Bollen shares the history of the iconic brand along with outstanding photography underlining their approach to presenting unique fashion collections. Simon Doonan’s work, along with that of other members of the creative team, is also highlighted.
During my years launching Gap International in London, I would regularly visit one of my favorite designers’ stores on Floral Street in Covent Garden just down the road from one of my Gap stores. I regularly observed Sir Paul Smith on his shop floor, a fundamental priority in going the distance in retail. True success involves being with your teams and customers as much as you possibly can to ask, direct, guide, and most important, listen for all the things that truly matter.
Smith recently collaborated with author Tony Chambers and just released Paul Smith, featuring fifty items that he designed over the years and sharing what inspired him along the way. It is so vital to be clear about what the merchandise is that you are selling, what your story is, and how that translates to your customer creating brand loyalty. A visually delightful collection of this designer’s work.
Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill discusses the vital importance of understanding exactly what happens when potential customers walk into your store. He and his teams explore the range of important elements that impact the store visit. This book underlines much of what I have learned serving customers in a variety of physical spaces ranging from small boutiques to several-hundred-thousand-square-foot stores and event spaces.
All the components come into play and truly matter. These include entrances, location of merchandise, visual presentation and displays, lighting, signage, pathways, sounds, and so many other elements that form the landscape for a meaningful customer experience. This book presents a fascinating conversation that has never been more important today.
Adam Bryant spent several years interviewing an incredibly broad range of leaders on how they inspire and lead teams that create sound organizational cultures. In his book The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed he shares many of these lessons that are so vital in the retail world today. Bryant had a New York Times column of the same name in the business section for years leading up to the publication of this book.
On an interesting sidenote, when I finished reading The Corner Office, I was so impressed that I wrote to Bryant to praise the book, pointing out the richness of the leaders’ insights and describing the work as “a pleasant read and roomy enough to let concepts and themes ‘breathe’ for personal reflection.” In his reply to me he wrote, “Nobody has quite put it that way, but it’s a spot-on articulation of what I was hoping to achieve.”
Fashion, simply stated, is a beautiful photographic story of us all. This visual showcase of two hundred images is presented from the National Geographic archives by author Cathy Newman. The book shares rich creative art, fashion, culture, and history from all over the world, including Africa, Asia, North and South America, and Europe.
I discovered Newman’s work when I was with the National Geographic Enterprises team in Washington, DC, and was inspired seeing the joy that fashion brought to people throughout the globe over the course of history. Of many wonderful quotes in Fashion, this one by Anne Hollander resonated with me: “Clothes stand for knowledge and language, art and love, time and death—the creative, struggling state of man.”
The most effective retail stage possesses a distinct collection of elements that incorporate all the human senses, drive engagement, and forge relationships. Many examples are shared in these works; I hope they provide you with enjoyment and inspiration.