Unique Concepts Fall 2008
Thirteen Companies’ Fresh Approach
Every company profiled here has its own unique approach to specialty retail, whether that means putting a fresh spin on a mainstream product or introducing a product shoppers have never seen before.
Mvix USA wanted more brand visibility for its newest product, a portable, high-capacity media player. A cart in a high-traffic Virginia mall turned out to be the perfect place to demonstrate its new product, educate consumers about the larger Mvix line of products and generate sales at the same time.
Gypsy Garden entrepreneur Ruby Mitchell turned her interest in the psychic world into a New Jersey kiosk that offers shoppers a glimpse into their futures. Her colorful, eye-catching location gives her customers an entertaining break in their shopping that’s part conversation, part therapy and part theatre.
Paris airport retailer Be Relax wanted to announce their coming-soon airport location in a way that would get travelers’ attention and generate buzz. Their light therapy igloos did just that. Travelers were delighted to find an oasis of comfort and light in the middle of the harried airport environment.
At the Caviar & More kiosk in Miami, shoppers can now sip a glass of wine while sampling-and buying-a range of caviars from Paddlefish to Beluga. A new menu, expanding sampling and new look has shoppers stopping in their tracks when they spot this unique concept.
Manicure concepts are taking off in airports and consumers are virtually begging for healthier cosmetics, so it’s no surprise that butter LONDON is expanding. With a focus on being a “3 Free Company” and an edgy product line that has rock ‘n roll roots, this company is landing its share of airport customers-and they’re not all women.
Heartbroken over losing their dog, Nixon, Michelle and Steve Lamont launched a new line of healthy dog treats, Nixon’s Jazzersnaps. Today that business has grown into a Texas inline, Foxy Paws, which features the Lamonts’ original line of doggie haute couture. With a constant stream of special events and clientele happy to spend big on their furry friends, the Lamonts are having a doggone good time expressing their love for canines while ringing up the sales.
A passion for design is at the heart of everything that happens at Speranza Design Gallery. The Texas inline delights in surprising and entertaining its customers with the most unusual fashion accessories, home d√©cor and gifts, many sourced in Europe. From the $15 CD holder to the $450 teakettle, every product at Speranza celebrates the spirit of design.
Hardly a child (or parent) can pass by a cart stocked with dozens of colorful fish swimming in their own mini Eco-Aquariums. That’s the experience of Wild Creations and its cart operators who say the phenomenal word-of-mouth that kids generate is a key to their success.
Taking eco-vending to a new level, DC-based On The Fly has brightly colored bug-like mobile vending units that can’t help but attract a lot of attention. Maybe it’s the huge wings sprouting from the unit that gets noticed first, but it’s the high quality “food on the fly” and intense eco-focus that keeps customers coming back again and again.
Two Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream trucks are a big hit in Manhattan, where urbanites welcome the chance to have a scoop or two of the freshest Adirondack ice cream around. For Ben Van Leeuwen, the venture has been his chance to “reinvent the ice cream truck.” With the best ingredients, unusual flavors and a focus on the environment, so far Manhattanites “think it’s beyond cool.”
Ernie Dennis created a more streamlined manufacturing process for his company, then parlayed that idea into The Oil Bar, a growing manufacturing and specialty retail business that lets customers create their own personal care products on-site. With retail locations in Ohio, New York and North Carolina, The Oil Bar strategy is to give the customer what they want: A personalized shopping experience creating a product made just for them. In this case, by them.
Make Room for RoomMates! A multimillion dollar wall covering product gets maximum exposure-and top sales-with a cart in a Pennsylvania mall. With an eye on expansion, the company hopes to open additional independently operated locations in the near future.
Not long ago, schoolteacher Candis Johnson launched her Zoey’s World inline store in a Louisiana shopping center to give young girls a fabulous place to go for a fun fashion makeover.
Mvix USA Brand Visibility Grows with Virginia Cart
Mvix USA, the Fairfax, VA developer, wholesaler and retailer of portable high-capacity media players, introduced its first model in September of 2005 with a goal of selling 200 units by the end of the year. They sold more than 1,000 in December alone.
Shortly thereafter, Mvix improved and expanded its product line, adding high-definition functionality among other features and partnered with Amazon and other online vendors, to expand its distribution network online. The company also teamed up with brick-n-mortar chain Micro Center, giving Mvix a presence in 31 US stores.
Sales continued to grow into 2008, yet Mvix was eager to reach the end-user in a way that would allow the company to demonstrate the product one-on-one, bolster the brand’s growing visibility and generate revenue. The strategy? A new cart in Dulles Town Center in Dulles, VA, opened last summer. The common-area location is the perfect place “to show-and-tell” Mvix products, says AJ Jaju, CEO and president.
The most-popular Mvix media player retails for about $300-a much higher price point than many impulse items found in the common area-but Mvix’s goals for the cart location go beyond selling the most units possible. “We want to inform the customer,” says Jaju. Although the revenues are welcome, “the cart is for product awareness.”
Mvix’s media players help users store and manage their entertainment collections, including up to 2,000 DVDs, countless photos, music files, etc. There are several different models, but the core theme remains the same, says Jaju. “You can drag and drop any media to this device,” says Jaju, which enables customers to easily bring family photos from their PC to their big-screen living room TV for a family slideshow or efficiently transfer thousands of music files or store a thousand movies.
Eighty percent of Mvix’s customers are males between the ages of 25 and 55. “These are people who hunt for new movies, innovators who download free videos online, and [those who] store music and family photos and videos,” says Jaju.
If the Mvix cart pilot program is successful, the company plans to open more locations but no definitive plans have been set. In the meantime, Mvix will keep demonstrating its products for customers, building brand visibility and selling product.
Gypsy Garden’s Future Forecast
Malls are emphatically about the present, the ultimate glorification of the “now” as people buy the hottest, latest designs. But at least one corner of the Jersey Gardens Mall in Elizabeth, NJ, is strictly about the future.
Ruby Mitchell last Christmas season opened what the mall describes as a “freeform kiosk” called Gypsy Garden on the first floor between a Tommy Hilfiger and a Nine West.
While mall-goers nearby seek the fashions of the day, others stream into the space where Mitchell reads palms, Tarot cards, crystal bags and crystal balls. “People seem to like the Tarot,” Mitchell says. “A long time ago, everybody liked the palm reading.”
You don’t have to be psychic to know that the mall likes the additional income, Mitchell likes the foot traffic and tourists like the option of making a reading part of their shopping experience.
Denise Monahan, the mall’s specialty leasing manager, says Mitchell caught her interest with the idea of a mystical setting in the mall, but the center was fully leased. So visual merchandiser Kat Contreras created a freeform kiosk that’s “fun, kind of funky, a little theatrical,” Monahan says. The kiosk with its old-fashioned signage and scarves attracts believers, the curious and lots of shoppers merely seeking diversion.
Mitchell may be all about the future, but also has a long past as a psychic. Although she isn’t a gypsy, she is of Romanian descent and speaks Romanian. Her grandmother did readings as a hobby. “She never allowed us to read each other,” Mitchell says. “She thought we would see negative things.”
Mitchell soon began trying her hand at figuring out her and others’ future. “I’ve been doing this since I was a child,” she says. “Around seven years old, I would see things before they happened. My grandmother had the same gift.”
She started doing readings at home as favors and then began charging for them before working on a psychic hotline a decade ago. But figuring out fortunes for customers calling at all hours of the night wasn’t her cup of tea-or tea leaves. “It was very tiring,” Mitchell says. “I didn’t really care for it. Most calls were in the middle of the night. I didn’t feel comfortable with that.”
She operated from a storefront on Broadway in New York City for about six years before opening in Jersey Gardens, closer to her home. It’s $5 for a palm reading, $10 for both palms, $15 for a face reading, $50 for a half a Tarot deck, $60 for a full deck and $80 for crystal bag readings. The Cadillac of readings is the crystal ball for $135.
Mitchell’s work is part public performance and part intimate conversation, part therapy and part theatre. Her kiosk reflects that, carving out a small window into another world in the
middle of the hubbub of the mall.
Be Relax Lightens Up Paris Airports
If you want to get someone’s attention, nothing works quite so well as setting up an igloo inside an airport. Then fill it with special lamps offering light therapy to soothe the body and mind-and voila! It’s hard to ignore a glowing igloo.
At least that’s what Paris-based Be Relax, a retailer of skin and cosmetic products at airports, had in mind last December and January as a way to promote its newest stores and give travelers a welcome break from the airport hustle and bustle.
Be Relaxed believed that bathing people in light in a comfortable setting would be more effective than bombarding them with airport advertising about a new store, while airport management wanted to give people a memory of the airport beyond waiting in line or collecting luggage.
“In Europe, and especially in Paris, the weather was really bad over the winter holidays,” says Aurelien Bigot, commercial director for Be Relax, with airport stores in Paris, Rome and Frankfurt. “People were really sad,” so Be Relax and two Paris airports teamed up together “to try to find a way to make people happier,” which fit in nicely with the Be Relax company mission of relaxation.
Light therapy, more common in the Nordic nations such as Sweden and Norway than in Paris or Peoria, uses special lamps to soothe. It’s sometimes used to treat jet lag and seasonal
affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression associated with the lack of natural sunlight in the winter.
The igloos and light therapy are part of a trend toward experiential marketing or shopper-tainment in airports and malls. Sometimes called “brand butlers,” these concepts offer customers a way to interact with a company on an enjoyable level-a way to connect with the customer rather than try to sell to the customer.
Bigot said the igloos, built by Paris-based Magnum, turned into “an event for the airport” and an effective brand-visibility booster for Be Relax. The company also used the igloos to showcase its new light therapy lamps, which retail for about $300.
At first, travelers were simply “really happy to find a free thing in the airport,” Bigot says. “Then they were very interested in this new kind of therapy.” Which is just the type of reaction that Be Relax-and the airports-were hoping for.
Sip and Sample at Caviar & More
Randall G. Mielke
Although the Caviar & More kiosk in Miami’s Aventura Mall owned Marky’s, a local luxury food importer and exporter, has been there for a decade, more shoppers than ever before are stopping to see what the kiosk has to offer.
“People are waiting to be seated, whereas before that was not the case,” says Sarah Freedman-Izquierdo, project coordinator for Marky’s. “We opened the kiosk 10 years ago, but we just revamped it in May,” when the Miami city council gave Caviar & More the go-ahead to serve a glass of wine or champagne to customers sampling the kiosk’s food.
The ruling gave Caviar & More the chance to revamp its operations on several levels that go beyond the ability to serve alcohol, Freedman-Izquierdo says. “We have
a new menu, we changed how we serve, we have more professional uniforms and the staff is more customer-oriented. We brought it to a new level of service.”
The menu at Caviar & More, which has six stools in the kiosk’s bar area, includes a variety of caviars, foie gras, gourmet cheeses, smoked salmon, Belgian chocolates and two new selections: European quiches and croissants. Sandwiches sell for $5.95 to $9.95; salads from $6.95 to $12.95. Caviars include Paddlefish ($21 per ounce) and Beluga ($250 per ounce). Not surprisingly, more customers go for the Paddlefish than the Beluga, which was partially banned for import in to the US in 2005 then cleared for limited imports in 2007, a process that has kept supplies scarce and prices high.
Marky’s started wholesaling imported caviar to US gourmet stores, cruise lines and hotels in 1983 and now sells to chefs, hotels and restaurants worldwide. Freedman-Izquierdo, a former chef and more recently a buyer for the Epicure Market, a gourmet-food market in Miami, was brought in about a year ago to overhaul the Caviar & More kiosk.
“The kiosk was fine,” she says. “It was making money. But I wanted to get it perfect.”
One step towards that perfection occurred when the kiosk was granted a license to serve four-ounce glasses of wine or champagne to customers sampling the food. Only those of drinking age seated in the kiosk’s bar area are allowed wine and there’s a limit of one glass per customer.
“The champagne and wine go well with the samples of the salmon and caviar,” Freedman-Izquierdo says. She adds that more Caviar & More kiosks are not a matter of if but when.
“We want to give this six to eight months and then start looking around for other spots,” she says of the newly revamped kiosk. “People have expressed interest in franchising, so that might happen down the line. We could do company kiosks, franchising or both. Within six months we will know what’s working.
“Personally,” she adds, “I think something like this should be available to people in major malls in all the major cities.”
Natural Nails Mean Growth for butter LONDON
Dissatisfied by the nail salon choices in her adopted hometown of Seattle, entrepreneur Sasha Muir, who hails from England, decided to fill the gap between the area’s no-frills neighborhood salons where she could walk in any time for a low-cost quick manicure, and the upscale day spas that required appointments and charged top dollar.
In 2005, she launched her first store, butter LONDON, an inline in Westlake Center in Seattle, with a mid-level pricing strategy and 50 percent of the appointment slots reserved for walk-ins. To further differentiate her company, Muir developed her own line of natural nail polishes free of chemicals said to cause health problems-before it became fashionable in the nail industry. She called butter LONDON a “3 Free Company,” meaning the polishes are free of three troublesome chemicals: formaldehyde, toluene and DBP. The “3 Free” angle is consistently advertised on product packaging, throughout store signage and reinforced in conversation with customers.
As the Westlake location was building a customer base, Muir expanded butter LONDON beyond its mall roots, opening a store in Starbucks Center, the Seattle headquarters for the coffee giant. She then turned her attention to the airport retail market, opening stores locations in SeaTac International Airport (Seatac, WA), Sacramento International Airport and Washington-Dulles International Airport. The company also sells online at butterLONDON.com.
From the start, getting into the airports was a major goal for the company, says Sales and Marketing Manager Shannon Rasmussen. “Airport customers are in a mindset of spending money,” she explains. “They have a high disposable income and, since they’re getting to the airport earlier now, they have disposable time. A manicure or pedicure is an affordable luxury that they might not take the time to get in their daily routine.”
Business travelers are a profitable slice of the airport market for butter LONDON. “They don’t often have leisure time in their day-to-day lives for pampering or basic maintenance,” Rasmussen says, adding that about 20 percent of butter London’s customers are men.
Men, along with women, are drawn to the stores’ ornate and elegant design featuring black chandeliers, black lacquer furniture and custom wallpaper designed to exude “British
elegance with a hint of rock and roll,” Rasmussen says. (Recent pedicure products introduced include names like Rock Off, Silk Stockings and Stiletto Stick.)
She adds that the most recent store designs “feature traditional manicure tables that lift off, allowing them to be converted to pedicure stations” quickly and easily. For airport travelers in particular, “It’s a seamless process for customers, who don’t have to get up and move their stuff.” The services are waterless, fast and hygienic.
At $20 for a manicure and $40 for a pedicure, Rasmussen calls butter LONDON’s service “an affordable luxury” that customers-especially airport travelers-are more than willing to pay for.
The Washington-Dulles location, which opened in May amidst a “Bring in Your Toxins” marketing campaign, has “exceeded all volume projections in terms of product sales,” Rasmussen says. Naturally, then, the company is “in discussion with several high-traffic airports in the US and Canada” where butter LONDON is ready to take off.
Lookin’ Doggone Good at Foxy Paws
When Texans Michelle Lamont and her husband Steve lost their lab-mix, Nixon, some 10 years ago, they were heartbroken. But like many pet owners, they turned their pain into something positive, launching Nixon’s Jazzersnaps, wholesaler of fresh-baked dog treats.
Eventually, Michelle combined her love of pooches with her love of fashion to launch a new retail concept, Foxy Paws, creator of original, custom-made clothing for dogs.
“We changed direction to the retail sector and never looked back,” Lamont recalls. “We started to design the clothing ourselves¬†since we are with our clients every day and know them best. We had to stay five steps ahead of the curve¬†to combat the heavy sales of online shopping.”
The company now sells online and through its store at The Shops at Willowblend in Plano, TX.
“We now have a huge following of loyal Foxy Paws fans. We’ve sold over 5,000 pieces in-store and online,” Lamont reports. “We have a private-label design company putting it all together, but¬†I design the majority of the items, and have¬†our young staff of friendly, hip girls vote on designs and styles.”
Foxy Paws matured as a company at the same time people began spending record numbers of money on their pets-a whopping $44 billion in 2006, according to Packaged Facts, a division of MarketResearch.com. That’s more than double what consumers spent in 1994. In its most recent pet market report released last year, sales were forecast to top $52 billion in 2009.
Now that Foxy Paws has established itself, a wholesale line is due out this fall, which the Lamonts plan to sell to pet boutiques across the US. Although the clothes are for dogs, the couple stays abreast of current fashion and celebrity trends.
“We have a savvy consumer and they want [in their doggie fashions] what they see in catalogs and on TV,” Michelle says. “We’ve carried every line that’s hot, from Paris Hilton to Donald Pliner. We want to include every type of dog, so we carry a huge selection of toys, treats and clothing¬†aimed at our big-dog clientele. “To keep things jumping at the store, “We have special events every month, from breed-specific parties to fashion shows,” she adds. A big part of the shopping experience at Foxy Paws is having fun and enjoying the idea of fashion-forward doggie haute couture.
“At the start, people didn’t know what to think of our store, but we strategically picked a high-end mall that had a Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue, not only to get the high-end clientele, but walk-by traffic,” she says. What lured shoppers in the store was the energetic, upbeat atmosphere. The attraction is simple, Lamont says: “We love to have fun with our clients.”
Design Rules the Day at Speranza
Randall G. Mielke
Alex Lubarsky is a specialty retailer who loves browsers.
“People come in just to look, we don’t mind-in fact, we love it!” says Lubarsky who, along with his wife, Nadia, and business partner, Michael Kleyman, owns Speranza Design Gallery, an inline in The Shops at Willow Bend in Plano, TX. “It’s not all about the money. We want to see the excitement in someone’s eyes. We’re trying to entertain and excite people. You can’t walk in our store and not smile.”
Browsers and buyers smile at the wide range of high-design merchandise available at Speranza.
The store offers contemporary home furnishings, personal accessories and gifts, most sourced from Europe where they were created by leading architects, artists and designers.
“Unless you travel internationally or visit museums often, you don’t see many of these items,” Lubarsky says. “Part of what you see in our store you would see at Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue or Barneys New York. Part is what you would see in a museum store. Part is unique gifts.”
The store’s most-expensive item at $450 is the Alessi Pito Teakettle, designed in 1992 by Frank Gehry for Alessi, Italy. One of the lowest-priced items at $15 is a Koziol Dimitri CD holder designed to look like a small weightlifter lifting CD barbells. Other categories include collectible glass, hand-painted ceramics, wooden toys, jewelry, candles and watches-all with a design edge.
The 2,000-square-foot, five-year-old store is a result of a hobby, Lubarsky says. For many years he and his wife collected beautifully designed treasures when they traveled. Now they travel to find merchandise for both the store and the website, both of which consistently see increasing sales, he says.
Lubarsky divides his customers into three distinct groups. One-third are housewives looking for high-end contemporary pieces for the home; one-third are affluent, educated people familiar with art and design; and one-third are people simply looking for unique gifts.
“With such a wide customer base, we have to talk to each in their own language,” he says. “For the one who ‘has everything,’ we have to tell them how [the product] stands out, how it’s different. The others are into design, art and unique gifts, so we have to support those conversations.
“Speranza is an Italian word for “hope,” and Lubarsky hopes he can always offer something different to customers every time they come into the store. “The element of surprise,” he says, “is always here.”
Eco-Aquarium Carts Make a Splash
Fun, colorful and, best of all, alive, EcoAquariums generate a lot of excitement on the mall floor as kids crowd around to see the fascinating creatures living in the miniature ecosystems.
Originally designed as desktop aquariums, Wild Creations’ EcoAquariums never caught on with the professional set. But kids loved them and now account for 60 percent of sales, says owner Rhett Power. “A kid might take one to school to show the class, or the teacher might bring one in, and then the whole class wants one. Parents love them because they’re so easy to take care of.”
The aquariums are self-filtering, self-cleaning cubes of about four inches. They include living plants such as Chinese bamboo, which oxygenates the water for the wildlife included: two small frogs or a freshwater fish or two. Each aquarium includes a snail or two-a tiny maintenance team that eats the algae as it grows. “Living Gravel” converts the wildlife waste materials into nutrients, closing the eco-circle to create a balanced environment that’s constantly feeding and cleaning itself.
A five-year-old company based in Myrtle Beach, SC, Wild Creations wholesales to about 400 retailers in the eastern US, including carts. The company opened its first corporate cart in 2006 at the SouthPark Mall in Charlotte, NC. The product was an instant hit. Five year-round corporate carts now operate in four southeast states. Independent operators run three more carts year-round and operated about 20 carts last holiday season, with 30 to 40 expected this coming holiday.
“Running the corporate locations has helped us understand the cart business better,” Power says. “We have a better understanding of what our [cart] customers need and how to manage inventory and promote the product.” Based on those experiences, this year the company launched a cart start-up package, which ranges from $3,000 to $3,500 and includes on-site setup, displays and training. At the end of the holiday season, the company buys back all unsold aquariums, Power says.
Wild Creations is currently re-branding its product, creating a “more fun, offbeat and colorful look” for its website, signage and packaging to take full advantage of increasing demand. After all, each time a kid brings home an EcoAquarium, dozens of neighborhood friends are bound to see it.
“Sometimes on a Saturday, we’ll have people two to three deep at the cart,” Power says. At that point, one-on-one demonstration takes a back seat, “and we’ll explain the product to the whole group.” Which is just fine with him.
On The Fly: Eco-vending with Flair
Healthy food in environmentally sound packaging, sold from a street-legal, mobile cart running on electric energy?
If it sounds like a dream come true for Earth-loving consumers, take a look at On the Fly’s creative smartkarts. The fresh new eco-vending units now seen on the streets of Washington, DC near some of the most-visited tourist destinations in the city, including the American History Museum, the National Arboretum and the Washington Nationals Stadium.
With fun, wild smartkart designs featuring bug-wings spreading 14 feet into the sky, the bright-colored mobile units are the talk of the town-in a town that does a lot of talking.
“On The Fly is growing like a weed,” said Gabe Klein, the company’s CEO. “We have about 10 smartkart locations right now, eight or so active any given day.¬†We also have two smartkafes. People want high-quality food on the fly, and they don’t want to pay more for it. ‚Ä¶ So we designed a low-overhead concept with the emphasis on food quality and convenience. We only put out food that we would want to eat. Emphasis is on taste, quality and sustainability.”
Each smartkart is an American made, zero-emission plug-in truck. A division of Home Slice LLC, On the Fly uses eco-friendly packaging (“eco-tainers”) for its products and partners with local suppliers to stock organically farmed, chemical-free food whenever possible. Food styles include Mexican, Asian and American. Dishes include salads, vegetarian dishes, sandwiches, energy bars and other natural snacks as well as good-for-you beverages.
In addition to the smartkarts, On the Fly is gradually opening a series of smartkafes, brick-and-mortar versions of the mobile concept. These venues share space with local companies close to transportation hubs.
“We started as an eco-vending company, with a focus on breakfast and lunch, for busy urban workers and residents,” Klein said. “What we are finding is that there is a demand for that-but much more. We are rapidly becoming an outdoor food company.¬†Universities, parks, zoos and downtown environments all need high-quality outdoor food options and enhanced streetscapes.¬†On The Fly can provide both. We have about a 50-item menu and a dynamic chef, Jordan Lichman, who is really setting a new bar for grab-and-go food.”
Van Leeuwen’s Fresh Approach to Mobile Ice Cream
For ice-cream lovers elbowing their way through Manhattan’s pedestrian traffic, happening upon a mobile vendor selling natural ice cream made from the milk of cows grazing peacefully in the Adirondack Mountains sounds like wishful thinking. But for some, it’s a wish come true.
Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream brings the fantasy to life every day. The mobile-dessert provider has two successful locations in Manhattan, in SoHo at Greene and Prince Streets, and on University between 11th and 12th streets. The company opened for business in late June and drew long lines from day one.
“Things are going better than I could have imagined,” says company founder Ben Van Leeuwen. “People’s reaction to the product, as well as the overall¬†concept-the truck, our
environmental stance-has been awesome. When creating the product, I obsessed over the quality and purity of the ingredients, so it’s great to see the¬†positive¬†reaction.”
Van Leeuwen says he knew from experience driving a Good Humor truck that “the ice cream truck has many advantages as a method of¬†distribution. I wanted to reinvent the ice cream truck and do everything as well as possible-from the product to the design of the truck to the corporate responsibility.”
He takes the mantra, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” seriously. The company’s trucks are converted vintage postal delivery vehicles, giving two once-discarded vehicles new leases on life (a third truck is used exclusively for special events).
Anything disposable such as napkins and cups are made from 100 percent renewable, natural resources like sugar cane husks and cornhusks. One percent of the company’s profits are donated to Wildlife Direct, a Congo organization that protects endangered species.
Environmental issues aside, an unceasing commitment to quality is what drives Van Leeuwen. “Food has always been my main point of interest,” he says. “We only use fresh milk and cream, eggs and cane sugar in the base of our product. It’s the old-fashioned way of doing it. The flavors we source are usually found in four-star kitchens, not ice cream trucks. We use slow-food certified Bronte Pistachios, Michel Cluizel chocolate and a vanilla extract made by aging organic bourbon and Tahitian beans in vodka inside oak barrels for four months. People seem to really taste the difference.”¬†
Flavors include vanilla, chocolate, pistachio, ginger, coffee and red currant, among others. “Our difference is the high-quality flavors and lack of additives, rather than [a flavor] that is very unique but tastes mediocre,” he says.
Customers are sometimes taken aback by the quality of the ice cream found on a city street. “Some are surprised and thrilled,” says Van Leeuwen, who is considering franchising the concept since customer reaction has been so positive. “They act as though they have stumbled upon a treasure chest on some¬†deserted¬†beach. People think it is beyond cool.”
The Oil Bar Gets Personal
When Ernie Dennis was partner in a personal care company that sold to big-box retailers, he had his share of challenges. “Whenever we would get calls to bring out a new line, we would have to buy a truckload of supplies and it was very expensive,” he recalls. “So I came up with the concept of custom-blending high-quality personal care products on the micro level.” Little did he know that his strategy to save his company time and money would result in a new retail business venture.
As Ernie described how his company could now “make what the customer wants right there, like when someone goes to a bar and the bartender asks them how they would like their drink,” he and Jamie began to imagine a retail store where “customers could select the fragrances and oils that they want in their personal care products, we’d mix them up, and they’d be on their way” with a one-of-a-kind product created quickly and inexpensively.
The Oil Bar’s first cart opened in Eastland Mall in Columbus, Ohio, in March 2007. Jamie, who has a design background, was responsible for developing the cart’s eye-catching look. And it’s not only women shoppers who are taking notice, Dennis says, noting that a surprising 35 to 40 percent of his cart customers are men.
Fragrances are grouped into categories for shopability: Designer Women’s, Designer Men’s, Fruits, Florals, Clean & Fresh, Earthy & Woodsy, and Seasonal. Essential oils, which can be mixed into a variety of personal care product bases such as a body lotion, or used in oil warmers to scent the home, retail for $5 to $25 per half-ounce. Fragranced body oils sell for $5 per half-ounce (three for $12). Unscented lotions retail for $11 (13 oz.) and custom-blended fragranced varieties run $14. Body washes are $11 (8 oz.); body spritzers are $8 (4 oz.).
The Oil Bar now has a second cart inside a gift store in Jamaica, NY run by one of the Dennis’s partners, and a third cart in the Northgate Mall in Durham, NC is run by an independent operator. The company now has a start-up package for carts and is seeking additional operators for further expansion. Because The Oil Bar manufactures its own product, “We don’t have to go through a middleman, which allows us to price our products competitively so we and our operators can earn a nice profit at the retail level.” He adds that shoppers are “surprised at the quality of the product they’re getting for these price points.”
Heading into the holiday season, the company is being “pretty selective about who we want to bring in as an operator,” Dennis says. “We’re not pushing for growth, growth, growth. Steady and controlled growth for the long run is our goal.”
Cart Gives RoomMates New Market, Big Sales
Randall G. Mielke
As COO of RoomMates, a Pennsylvania manufacturer of removable wall stickers mainly for kids’ bedrooms, PJ Delaye was pretty happy when the company’s sales team was able to rack up millions in wholesale revenues in 2006, the company’s first year of business. When the growth continued into 2007, he was even happier.
Yet, despite the success, something nagged at him. His product begged to be displayed in a way that his wholesale customers, many of them home-d√©cor stores, just couldn’t swing. What he really wanted was a way to market RoomMates as a fantastic impulse buy any day, not just as a great home-d√©cor item purchased only when mom and dad are specifically focused on redecorating. He wracked his brain for a low-cost, high-profile way “to capture the attention of consumers by showcasing our product line-in almost its entirety-so we can prove we are a strong impulse buy” day in and day out.
Not far from his company’s York, PA headquarters, Delaye found his answer in the York Galleria, where the first RoomMates cart opened over the summer featuring more than 80 percent of the company’s 200 SKUs.
“We’re delighted by the results,” he says. “We’re outselling on a per-location basis any other retailer that we have [as a wholesale account]. And we’re in thousands of doors at retail, which proves that RoomMates are indeed a great impulse buy at the mall.”
What makes customers buy when they see the RoomMates cart? Kids love RoomMates because they’re colorful and fun to stick and re-stick on bedroom walls, windows, doors, mirrors-anywhere there’s a flat surface. Parents love RoomMates for those reasons, too, but mainly because when Johnny’s interests turn from Thomas the Train to more mature Batman fare, Thomas can be peeled off and the Winged Wonder put up in just a few seconds. Also available: Spiderman, Speed Racer, NASCAR racecars, and dozens of other licensed designs for boys and girls, whose favorites includee Hello Kitty, Barbie, Bratz, the Littlest Pet Shop.
More designs for kids-or adults-include dozens of Collegiate emblems (big sellers for dorm rooms) and a host of holiday and seasonal graphics. Retail prices range from $6.99 to $34.99, with most around $12.99, with lots of room for add-on sales since many wall stickers have matching borders, wall murals, growth charts, etc.
“I call RoomMates the ‘ultimate instant extreme makeover,’” Delaye says. “This is a product that’s not new per se but has really enjoyed a renaissance over the past three years. The peel-and-stick category in the US is actually on fire.”
With an eye-catching line priced to sell, the RoomMates line “pushes all the right buttons” with mall shoppers, he adds. “People see it, they love it, they buy it.”
Making Sales and Smiles at Zoey’s World
Candus Johnson only needs to look at the faces of her young customers to know if she’s having a good day at work. Eight-year-old girls, after all, don’t hide much. If the young faces are grinning back at her, Johnson knows she’s doing well.
Johnson is the owner of Zoey’s World, an inline at Pierre Bossier Mall in Bossier City, LA that provides inexpensive makeovers for girls, usually from the ages of three to 13.
“The girls feel so special after getting their makeovers,” Johnson says. “That is so rewarding. I love seeing the smiles on the little girls’ faces. I love making them feel so happy about themselves.”
When she first opened her business in June, Johnson operated from a cart. By October, her sales were strong enough to prompt the move to an inline in the same center. The store attracts children eager to have their hair temporarily dyed a funky color or find out how glamorous a manicure can make them feel. Other Zoey’s World services include facials, pedicures, hair styling and makeovers.
The most popular makeover packages are the Princess and Rock Star themes, the latter featuring spiked hair in bold colors. Makeovers range from $25 to 45. The store also hosts birthday parties that accommodate up to 10 children.
Johnson has high hopes for her concept’s continued growth. Though she’s set no specific timetable, she envisions Zoey’s World locations throughout the South. An elementary school teacher by trade, Johnson credits her mom with inspiring her to launch Zoey’s World. Her mom has long run a similar business in Jackson, MS, offering private children’s makeover parties. She helped her daughter solidify her retail strategy and encouraged her to open the cart location when it became available.
Mall locations are ideal for a business like Zoey’s World, Johnson says, thanks to the exposure and foot traffic malls provide. “The mall is somewhere everyone goes,” she says.
“They’ll spend their free hours here, just browsing around. If they see something they like while at the mall, they’ll come back later for it. That’s what’s happened with my business.”