Retail Focus Online
Volume 3 - 2012 Create your own visual style. Let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others. -- Orosn Welles
James Damian
Establishing Brand Distinction
By James Damian

With his extensive experience, visionary leadership and passion for the customer experience, James Damian empowers brand owners to transform their thinking. As Principal of James Damian Brand Integration Services, James guides leaders to leverage the power of design thinking as a new business strategy platform. He also serves as Chairman of the Board for Buffalo Wild Wings, and acts as director for various retail boards. Previously James was Senior Vice President, Chief Design Officer at Best Buy for 13 years. James received the 2005 Markopoulos Award; the industry's highest, for his many contributions to the design world. James may be reached at 612.325.4345 or email james@james-damian.com.

"Great Brands live in a state of higher purpose - beyond differentiation - in a place of distinction." - James Damian

The game has changed forever in retail and the customer is rewriting the code, constantly. They have begun to create the future of how they buy and why they buy, how they prefer to be served and when. They do not like brands that pander and do not shop brands that are irrelevant or insincere. No more business as usual! Instead they prefer authenticity, great design with great function, cool, fresh, modern assortments that connect with them emotionally. They love change and they love quality. They have a fond appreciation of history and timelessness. This is witnessed in their eclectic tastes in music and fashion.

They have a new attitude that goes beyond age or gender. Their innate sense of style is signaled by a love to concoct their own mixtures. This generation is the smartest, most savvy and discriminating customer in our history. They are au courant as well as retro, and play with reinvention of old with a new twist - and sometimes with a provocatively twisted eye.

Yes, this customer reserves the right to contradict themselves. And as a customer who loves to shop great brands, I get this and live in this behavioral mindset as well. Our shopping behaviors are driven now more by the events in our lives and the mood themes they suggest.

Who is the Customer?
As a retail store designer of environmental atmospheres for customer experiences, I have always started with the question: Who is the customer? How do we establish a conversation with them to understand their unmet needs and go beyond transactional fulfillment; to providing a thrilling experience of joy? The buzzword for this is "customer-centric." I believe brands that play in the world of differentiation are brands that play a game of increments.

It has also been said, "Differentiate or die." I suggest that differentiation alone is a slow death by a thousand increments. This game is not sustainable over time as I have seen brands come and go because they just wanted to play at lower price, bigger assortment, or more coupons, rebates and promotions to drive traffic. This is the road to Chapter 11, not to perpetuating the life and relevance of an organization. This is the practice of a non-visionary leadership team and the CEO's must be held accountable. We live in an age of transparency and one-upmanship that will not win the heart and mind of the customer.

Beyond Differentiation
The role of design is to make the strategy visible. Today it must be visibly consistent across all customer touchpoints. Design must start with knowing the audience in order to surpass the boundary of their expectation to anticipate their desire. Therefore, design must be at the front end of the strategic conversation in the boardroom and have a seat at the C-level table with the CEO. Design represents the voice of the customer to challenge the assumptions of management to remind them why they are in business in the first place.

When in the design chair at Best Buy, my challenge to management was this: "We must no longer think of ourselves as a consumer electronics retailer...instead we must realize that we provide social engagement through the technology we sell. We are a communication and entertainment company that serves through our passion to educate our customers on how to make their lives more productive, fun and easy." This is a higher purpose. This goes beyond transaction and incremental differentiation.

Creating Distinction
Distinction is a stand for a long-lasting relationship with the customer that goes beyond the transaction. Distinction is about mindshare which precedes marketshare. Distinction has sincerity, integrity and long-term vision at the core of its "purpose." Any company that serves a client, customer, community or country, must strive for perfecting the customer experience through an authentic conversation that delivers your promise and thrills your audience. The art is in the delivery and execution of this promise, for the promise goes beyond selling to thrilling. It is the experience that matters most to people, for this is the gateway back to you with loyalty and trust as the gain.

Achieve more long term profit and growth through this method. Just look at the results of these "Great Brands" who win at earning the trust and emotional engagement of their customer, staff and shareholder. My Top Five retail distinctive brands that deliver profit with higher purpose are:

Apple, Coach, Lululemon, Ralph Lauren Polo, Tiffany & Co.

They all possess the same attributes; Great Design, Great Editing, Simplicity, Higher Purpose, Distinction, Mindshare, Taste, Style, Quality and Sincerity. These are the qualities of sustainable brands. How do you measure up to these beacons of distinction? Does your voice speak on behalf of the customer? I challenge all leaders of design and visual merchandising to be that advocate on behalf of the audience you serve, and confront the status quo. The enemy is incrementalism and complacent contentment. Our customers deserve and demand much more than that - don't they?

As I started with a quote, I will end with one from my mentor, Gene Moore from Tiffany & Co.:
"Design is about Sincerity."
Cortefiel Goes Green, Spain
In an energy efficient environment that received the A Energy Rating for Commercial Premises in Spain, retailer Grupo Cortefiel's newest locations for their namesake brand reveals its commitment to innovation and energy savings. The store decor reflects the quest for a balance between creativity and functionality based on an exclusive design by JGA. The brand's collections are showcased in a range of settings, ranging from more urban and sophisticated styles to the quintessentially casual, plus a wide selection of accessories. The new stores have cut energy consumption on lighting by 69%. Grupo Cortefiel is confident that improvements to air conditioning and insulation will reduce current consumption levels by 32%. This will prevent the emission of 42.2 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year. With a wide shop network across four continents, Grupo Cortefiel has become a leading European fashion company. Through its four brands - Cortefiel. Pedro del Hierro, Springfield & Women'Secret, the Group has presence in 58 countries with over 1,600 locations. For more on Cortefiel, click here.
Sleep Number ARE Award
JGA Wins 2012 A.R.E. In-Store Communications Award
During the 2012 GlobalShop event in Las Vegas, awards were presented in 18 categories of retail design before a crowd of industry leaders. The 2012 Association for Retail Environments Design Awards recognized store and shop designs in a number of categories. Recognizing the Sleep Number project at the Oakbrook Promenade in suburban Chicago with a special award for its In-Store Communications, A.R.E. said, "The interactive communication personalizes the shopping experience to help customers find the product that is right for them." JGA creative director, Miho Koshido-Downey, was also quoted in DDI Magazine adding, "The 3-D image is displayed on a textured plastic laminate screen at the foot of the bed, as well as on the ceiling, so that the customer can truly relax into the experience. Prior to this store, the technology of the IndividualFit bed existed, but we considered a strategy and location, and created a new layout to make it more comfortable." For more on the award-winning design, click here.
Inspiracao 2012
An Inspirational Design Conference
Inspiration 2012 was launched as a compass for those who create retail, providing first-hand knowledge on the most innovative trends from Brazil and around the world. Ken Nisch and Alison Embrey-Medina of DDI Magazine will headline a global speaker roster on topics such as store design and production, and consumer insights. Being held April 26th in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Ken will address the topic "Iconicity: Maximizing Brand Effectiveness" at 11:15 am. To register for the conference, visit their website here.
Fashion to Figure
It Figures; Plus-Sized Fashion Makes News on ABC TV
The new fast-fashion concept for plus-sized women is making a splash! ABC News recently covered the women's brand Fashion to Figure, noting the trend for fast-fashion finally reaching plus-sized consumers. Now open at the Cherry Hill Mall in New Jersey, the JGA-designed concept made news for its stylish and glamorous clothing for women sized 12-to-26 at reasonable prices, with dresses typically running $28 to $36. For more on the concept and its founders (grandchildren of "the" Lane Bryant), click here.
Business of Fashion 2012
Hot Off the Press: Images Yearbook 2012
In this annual Business of Fashion Yearbook, Future Group Founder and Group CEO, Kishore Biyani, comments on the state of retailing in India. He said, "We are looking at a domestic consumer increase of $400 billion to almost $1 trillion in the next decade, and an average economic growth of seven to nine percent, every year during this decade. And today the India fashion industry is at an interesting juncture with the increasing market share of modern trade and branded products." In a chapter written by Ken Nisch about "Visual Merchandising, It's Not Window Dressing Anymore," Ken addresses how in today's environment, the problem is that many companies have the right merchandise; they have it at the right price, at the right location and at the right time. But much of today's differentiation is being created not by the many things that they have done "right" up to the point of presentation, but rather, the difference is being generated during this last, and some might argue, most important step - in the store environment, at the moment of magic." For more on Ken's perspective, and to see photos of many of JGA's recent work including Destination XL, Hickey Freeman, LittleMissMatched, Parx and Tashi, click here.
In The News
USA Today: Is Martha Stewart's Brand Confusing?
In a feature about the launch of additional products and companies utilizing the Martha Stewart name - from office supplies at Staples and pet supplies at PetSmart, to craft glitter at Michael's and Jo-Ann Fabrics, USA Today writer Hadley Malcolm asked Ken Nisch for his take on Martha's brand extensions. Ken remarked, "The joke is: 'What doesn't she do well?' She's carved out a pretty big area of competency that would be hard for someone else to get in on." For the full story, read on here.

Canada.com: New Look Pet Stores Focus on Fido
In an article published in newspapers and websites throughout Canada, Director of Client Strategy, Patrick Dalessandro commented on the evolution of pet supply stores. Pat said, "If the supermarket format was 'pet store 2.0,' experiential marketing represents the third wave. We see opportunity for redefining a pet store from a house of brands to a branded house, where pet parents and their pets can experience all products and services through a place that focuses on education and customer services." Dalessandro added, "If you provide for grazers and discoverers - those shoppers that are more apt to spend time in the store - then individuals who are normally more pragmatic or planners will end up spending more time in-store as well."

Lighting Retail: Ambient vs. Accent vs. Energy
In an LD&A feature by Vilma Barr, Ken lent his perspective on today's lighting practices and insights into future lighting applications. Ken said, "I believe that ambient lighting for stores will decrease significantly or be eliminated by many stores. Instead, with high performance luminaries and lamps, sufficient overall illumination can be provided by accent lighting within display fixtures and build-in recesses, plus architectural lighting for covers, uplighting, etc. Lighting will be increasingly task-based rather than ambient, considering macro factors such as the rising cost of energy around the world. Retailers must be open to innovation in the design of their retail environment and merchandise presentation."

VMSD Magazine: Checking Out featuring
Miho Koshido-Downey

One of JGA's creative directors, and VMSD Editorial Advisory Board member, Miho Koshido-Downey was recently interviewed on "what designers need to do to push through the recession and help shape what lies on the other side." Asked about "What do you expect from retail design in five years," Miho explained, "Five years ago, who would have imagined all this technology being integrated into stores? More of that will surely happen, especially more integration of shoppers' mobile devices and social media within the store. We'll have to design environments that are challenging and engaging for the emerging millennial market, which is the biggest user of these technologies." For more, click here.

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