Recently, I was at a shopping centre and noticed a very small outlet taking-in clothing for cleaning and repairs. It had a smart frontage, next to a major retailer, but it was tiny, so small that really only one person could work inside. But it was smart, well looked-after, attended by a stream of customers and did not look out of place. It sat perfectly as a destination for consumers, drawing-in custom to some of the larger stores. This small example of retail-success got me thinking (and I wondered if other people felt the same?), with our love for coffee in the Western world, could the coffee bar be the shopping focal point of the future?
Creating the perfect space
My thoughts were that a central retail hub should be a stylish coffee bar with many group seating areas; some areas would contain conventional tables and chairs, whilst others would be sofas and individual soft chairs around low coffee tables. Surrounding the coffee bar would be a mix of small outlets, service and sales points, but the sales points would only be for very small items, online delivery or home delivery for larger items.
So, what drew me to this conclusion? Today’s retail space has changed dramatically over the last 20-years, as the on-line market place has become a major influence and savvy shoppers hit by the recession now use all the modern tools available for the best, most economical ways to buy. That, combined with our love for coffee bars, seems like the perfect match.
Leaving the old behind
Prior to the arrival of this technology, shoppers would have relied upon the TV, newspapers, magazines and “door drop” literature to trawl for the best bargains; cutting-out coupons, or making sure that they shopped on the right day of the week to get the retail bargains. Business meetings always took place in the office, or in the reception areas of hotels and would not venture out into the high street or shopping malls. The internet has changed all this with information readily available upon request, and companies ready to provide you with all of the coupons that are out there in the market place. Businesses now allow their staff to work at home more than ever, cutting-down on the need for desk space, and use the internet to keep teams connected. Therefore, when there is a need to meet-up in-person, a coffee bar or other remote location is an obvious choice (especially when there’s free Wi-Fi).
Focus on revenue
Part of the fall-out of all this is that traditional retail operations, whether in a high street or in a shopping mall, are seeing their revenues drop, whilst overheads continue to increase. Even shops that specialize in modern technology wonder if it’s wise to operate in the high street/mall. Sometimes, it is seen as a matter of prestige that you need the biggest outlet, the glossiest fitments and large numbers of staff to make the company appear substantial and profitable. In fact, many of them, when analysing their revenue streams, can see that their on-line businesses are far more profitable than their shops.
So, whilst high street retailers are struggling, the coffee bar/cafe has gone from strength to strength.
Time for change
We need to change the emphasis in the high street/malls and create these central hubs that are a pleasure to visit. It’s time to re-energise tired looking or empty locations that were previously occupied by large retailers. Coffee bars are the way-forward, with smaller outlets (e.g. TV & telecommunication providers, mail-order companies, florists and start-ups) around the outside. The time for retailers to change is now!