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Smaller Retail for a Smaller Buying and Consuming Era

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Image Credit: Flickr user Luca Penati

Are we still building our retail outlets for a bygone era? One where everyone piles up big at Walmart on a regular basis? Where gas makes going long distances just to shop at regional centers easy as pie? Where houses are unlimited equity lines of credit? Where people have the kinds of jobs that just let them shop at will?

Big boxes lay empty. More homes are  built in downtown areas that encourage a more urban lifestyle. Gas prices are insane. Home foreclosures are at numbers not seen in nearly a century. Yet, I still hear stories of retailers who build for all of these market conditions. Yet, this is not what I would consider neighborhood retail. Neighborhood retail is where our present needs to be and our near future needs to go.

What currently passes as neighborhood retail looks one of three ways. First, is the Wal-Mart on one side of a six lane highway from a Home Depot. Second is the rapidly decaying strip mall that was the first replacement of  a downtown retail spot. Third is the new “lifestyle center” that attempts to look like downtown and provide a walkable experience, but still has miles and miles of parking that only gets used during Christmastime.

There is a smaller version of traditional village style retail, but it’s still few and far between. The areas are either extremely poor or extremely rich and not reaching the middle class, who seem to be disappearing from the retail conversation too.

In addition, despite all their market research, department stores and the supermarkets themselves are getting it wrong. Yes, people are coming to the stores and spending millions. However, it’s not for the factors that you think.

It all boils down to customer service and price. Customer service is the hallmark of true neighborhood retail. It adds experience and loyalty. Price will get people in the store, but customer service will keep them coming back.

I know a number of people who hate going to the malls, the Wal-Marts, even the supermarket because it’s so big. Yes, it’s great to have all those objects, but we as a nation should think long and hard about how our retail can better serve our communities. Developers like the million dollar payoffs of big stores, but more chains are understanding the value of small.

The smaller these chains are, the more small fish that can jump into the pond and that can work together to provide good livelihoods and a more variable shopping experience. These smaller stores also cost less to staff, heat and cool. Even though staffing is reduced, there are more opportunities for more companies, bringing back the argument of the market.

When I began writing this post, I had in mind stores that were doing things right and wrong. However, I felt it best to let everyone else sound off as we speed into 2012. Which stores are getting neighborhood retail right? How can the ones that are getting it wrong get right?

This post is a part of a Blog-Off on Neighborhood Retail Check out more information about it here.


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