Category: Published Articles

Breaking Category Conventions to Remain Relevant

May 1, 2017

Today’s drug store looks nothing like the drug store of your parents’ youth.

Once upon a time, I was able to have neighborly banter with Stan, the local pharmacist, who greeted me warmly and actually knew all about me. Stan freely handed out community news, bad jokes and even a bit of innocuous gossip along with my prescription. Now I get it, things change, and I’m OK without Stan, but as both a consumer and a consultant, I wonder if the changes are for the better.

Today’s drug store, if the word even applies anymore, is an eclectic assortment of allergy medications, cleaning products, packaged food and beverages, candy, “As Seen on TV” gadgets, toys, beauty, you name it. The operative idea is to create a one-stop shop for all things you need (and perhaps some that you don’t). The only item you can’t get these days in most drug stores? A personal relationship with your pharmacist.

The progression from mom-and-pop shops to mass chain stores has been the catalyst for the sector’s evolution. However, it’s important to examine the ways this has affected consumers. After all, the entire industry is working hard to leverage size, capture more market share […]

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5 Retail Trends in C-Store Design

May 25, 2016

1. Channel Blurring From AXION’s coffee-centric Spot! Café in Argentina to the fast casual-inspired Kum & Go Marketplace in Iowa, c-stores no longer are bound by old formats and product offers. Is something working in another channel? Adapt it and weave it in. Consumers no longer expect hard-and-fast divisions between c-stores, QSRs, coffee shops and drugstores.

2. Outside-In In the fuel-based c-store context, what if consumers could use something like Apple Pay to order food on a touchscreen while filling up and have it delivered to their car? Zarco USA, for one, is already giving this a try. Expect more technology-assisted design changes, outside and in.

3. Sit and Stay a While At many Sheetz stores in the Carolinas, people lounge on couches and sip coffee. Retailers may need larger stores and parking lots to accommodate this kind of offer, because excessive crowding is a visual cue suggesting slow checkout lines. However, even c-stores with less-ambitious seating areas can up the ante with better furniture and more considered environments.

4. Inside-Out When you cover the windows from floor to ceiling with promotional posters, the store actually repels customers. Contemporary c-store designs offer unobstructed views through oversized windows. The idea is to look appealing […]

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Classic Brands Are Going Organic: Will Consumers Go For The Change?

May 23, 2016

To compete with niche brands offering better-for-you products, mainstream CPGs are rethinking their products and packaging to convey greater authenticity and quality.

Consumers today are more health-conscious than ever. They want less processed and more natural and organic versions of foods they love. They want to know where their food comes from and whether the ingredients used to make their products are healthy and natural. As a result, many consumer product companies are concerned about their mainstream brands losing market share to smaller competitors focused on conveying quality and transparency. The possibility of losing traction with authenticity-focused Millennials is surely a big part of the equation.

This trend is affecting classic American brands that have remained untouched for decades. Traditional manufacturers are scrambling to meet these needs in meaningful ways and offer options that keep these brands relevant with consumers.

Staying current via acquisitions One way is to buy successful brands that effectively compete in or have helped to create a category and simply add them to the portfolio. Companies are not always transparent about these ownership changes. In fact, some of them go out of their way to make sure consumers continue to view acquired brands as small and […]

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‘The People Are Revolting’: The 1 Percent Should Think Twice About Mocking Mainstream Brands

May 16, 2016

When Italian design house Moschino swiped the look of a Windex bottle for its Fresh Couture luxury perfume earlier this year, the oxymoronic twist felt familiar to educated elites who can spend $82 for 3.4 ounces of eau de toilette.

After all, the unexpected elevation—everything from Duchamp’s 1917 “Fountain,” to Warhol’s 1962 “Campbell’s Soup Cans,” to Damien Hirst’s dead tiger shark in formaldehyde—is now such a part of the art world that it is … well, expected.

Reversals such as these are now part of high fashion, too. Moschino’s Jeremy Scott, in particular, is known for appropriating the language of the masses. Past Moschino collections have included fashions that looked like Hershey’s chocolate bars, bottles of Budweiser, McDonald’s “Happy Meals” or even the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants. In addition to the Windex-like spray bottle, Moschino’s 2016 spring-summer collection riffs on rubber gloves, car wash brushes and feather dusters—all of which are everyday items that hinge on manual labor.

It’s all just artsy, tongue-in-cheek fun, right?

In an America that has given rise to the xenophobic rants of @RealDonaldTrump and open discussion of “class wars,” maybe not.

When I saw Fresh Couture’s Windex-inspired trade dress, my first thought was of Americans […]

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How Chain Drug Stores Can Stand Out From the Crowd

April 22, 2016

For practical purposes, we all consider convenience stores to belong to one retail sector and drug stores to another. In a very real sense, however, the modern chain drug store is a c-store. Convenience is the raison d’être for the extraordinarily well-positioned real estate of the drug store sector as a whole. The strategy, of course, is to create one-stop-shopping destinations for neighborhood customers who already need to visit the store to pick up prescriptions. In this model, the role of the pharmacy is roughly analogous to that of the gas pump at c-stores — it is the primary traffic driver.

But in case you haven’t noticed, traditional c-stores are coming into their own with strategies that substantially augment this approach. The idea is not just to ramp up productivity by offering more reasons to walk into the store; it is to elevate the experience in order to cement brand loyalty and drive repeat visits.

When you walk into a chain drug store today, is there anything novel or exciting about the experience? How does the overall atmosphere make you feel? “Experiential” is the biggest buzzword by far in all sectors of retail today. Yet, the experience in our drug […]

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From Food Courts To Food Halls

March 9, 2016

The retail mall environment needs to learn from the city. Food halls can help.

The traditional mall has lost its appeal. There are numerous reasons why, but one of the most poignant is the resurgence of the urban center and specifically the appeal of Main Street.

Main Street is attractive again, and with it are all the things that the density of the city provides to pull shoppers away from retail-focused venues like malls. Cities offer a density of chaos and accident and a commensurate density of ideas and creativity. This is a phenomenon that even a well-planned mall, limited by its necessary focus on retail and a preset menu of activities, cannot compete with. Or can it? What can malls learn from cities, and specific to driving traffic, what can they learn from the communal spaces of the city to enhance their attractiveness to consumers?

Within the traditional retail mall, one arena ripe for reinvention is the food court. Food courts were initially envisioned as a quick recharge while shopping rather than as destinations in and of themselves. For this reason, most mall food courts are populated by bland and undifferentiated quick service restaurants (QSRs), and seating that is […]

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Toss the Tacky, and Other Strategies For Inspiring Holiday Packaging

November 29, 2015

To create holiday packaging that will enchant consumers, you need to move beyond seasonal clichés and embrace quality design that brings a bit of the unexpected.

With the holidays upon us, celebrations beginning, and an influx of plastic Santas on rooftops, I can’t help but pine for more sophisticated creative this season. It goes without saying that much of the holiday packaging we see is, let’s face it, pretty tacky. It’s as if someone said, “Just slap a reindeer, Santa, or snowflake on the package and call it a day. Oh, and make sure it’s gaudy!” I believe that brands that use cheap tactics are underestimating the public’s ability—and desire—to embrace quality design. Let’s look at some great examples that haven’t used tacky gimmicks to convey “holiday.”

Tissue boxes conjure classic holiday settings

There’s corny Christmas humor—ugly sweater contest anyone?—and then there’s keen Christmas wit. Kleenex opted for the latter when it launched its limited-edition tissue box holiday collection in 2013. Festive enough to leave out on the mantel alongside your stockings for those emotional holiday moments, the holiday tissue boxes were made to resemble quintessential settings like a gingerbread house and garland-draped fireplace. Best of all, the structure […]

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When Did ‘Private’ Become a Dirty Word?

November 2, 2015

The terminology we use in daily life can have a subliminal effect on the way we look at things, from advertising to packaging. Why? Because terminology shapes our thinking, and our thinking shapes our actions. As a case in point, contemplate the usual connotations around the word “private.” Typically, it’s a term that connotes something special and elevated: If you work for a top private equity firm, you’re a big shot. If your kids go to a private school, and your family belongs to a private country club, those are good things, too, right?

And yet when it comes to use of the term “private label,” it is hard not to notice an undercurrent of discomfort in certain quarters. This is understandable: Consciously or unconsciously, many people still link private label with cheap knockoffs. In all likelihood, this is why so many retail executives bend over backward to use an alternate term like “own brands.”

This ambivalence around terminology might actually be a wise, almost instinctive, understanding that older approaches to private label are now thoroughly outmoded. The oldest approach literally was brand-less: In the 1970s, a generic bag of potato chips on U.S. grocery shelves offered little more than […]

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4 Tips for Applying Local Inspiration to Scalable Brands with Big Dreams

October 13, 2015

In creating product packaging for upstart brands, one approach is to look at the ultimate goal—rising to become a top brand in the category nationally or even internationally—and to then copy the look of brands that have already reached this summit. The problem with this approach, though, is its inherent lack of authenticity. Copying others is what you do when you have low self-esteem, right?

This “knockoff play” sometimes works, of course, but it can certainly be problematic in today’s marketplace, where the need for authenticity is playing an ever-larger role and will continue to do so as Millennials and Generation Z’s take the reins. Simply put, today’s consumers are looking for authentic stories. This is precisely why so many of them are strolling through farmer’s markets every week, befriending neighborhood chefs and food truck operators, and just generally doing all they can to live by the mantra “think globally, buy locally.”

In fact, the rapid success of so many local operators is translating into growing demand for an alternate strategy to the knockoff play—namely, helping brands maintain their authenticity and potential for category disruption even as they scale up to become players on the national stage.

One example of […]

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Showstopper Packaging: the Power of a Bottle

September 23, 2015

I recall a business meeting where my team hosted 20 colleagues from Japan. At the end of the meeting, each and every one of our guests twisted the cap back onto his soda bottle and placed it in his bag. I had noticed cultural differences via greetings and meeting behaviors throughout the day. This action, however, transcended customs and geographies and I realized in that moment that appreciation for beauty and art is a universal human trait. These people “liked” this showstopper packaging design and decided to keep it. These particular bottles were the streamlined metal Coke and Diet Coke bottles, and would undoubtedly be put on display when they returned home.

Historically, consumers held onto packaging only if it served a functional purpose. Cigar boxes, coffee tins and Quaker Oats canisters were repurposed as storage or toys. They ended up sticking around for days, months or years as subtle reminders of the brand. Growing up, I can remember having Folgers cans in our basement filled with nuts and bolts. The Container Store wasn’t ubiquitous in the 80s, so my dad improvised. As a result, I will never forget those Folgers cans.

Functionality will keep an old package around. Creating […]

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