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First, there is reality TV, now there is reality retailing. Prof Martin M Pegler goes behind the scene to uncover details of Once Famous, a home-furnishing store in downtown Minneapolis, USA, that is operated by an advertising agency.
Smile! You are on Candid Camera. Or is it Big Brother watching you? Are you part of a reality TV programme called Shopping in Once Famous? Whatever you want to label the experience and it is an experience you are forewarned before entering the 2,300sqf home-furnishing store located in downtown Minneapolis, USA: You may be taped and your conversations recorded if you enter now.
You are warned, so if you do not mind people from the Fame advertising agency the owners and operators of Once Famous listening in, looking and watching you move through the store, observing your traffic patterns, what attracts you, and what you think about what you are holding, then welcome to Once Famous.
The only retail store in the US run by an advertising agency, Once Famous is under the direction of Fame's president and chief creative officer Tina Wilcox. The agency develops original products that are tested in the store. We want to understand how people shop, the emotions. It gives our people a hands-on lab, says the company.
The agency staff sit behind a glass wall and, by means of strategically-placed microphones and cameras, they are able to track the shoppers' patterns through the retail space and also hear their comments.
In addition, the agency personnel spend at least two hours of each week on the selling floor where they interact in a one-on-one relationship with actual shoppers/customers.
The store is designed in zones that allow the agency to research participants as they shop in live' but controlled retail settings.
The Once Famous store is an eclectic mix of home-furnishing items and gifts that retail from US$0.99 (peacock feathers) to $15,000 (an antique armoire).
Every item in the store, including the ornate display cases and oversized merchandising pieces, is for sale. There are even one-of-a-kind items that have been rescued and restored or handcrafted by members of the advertising agency's staff.
Of the 53 staff members, four are dedicated store employees, while the others do their two hours each out on the floor. According to the agency: The experience is designed to deepen each employee's understanding and knowledge of a live retail operation and provide learning that will ultimately benefit the agency and its clients.
For over 12 years Fame has worked with retailers and brand-name manufacturers like General Mills, Wilson's Leathers, Crayola, Dress Barn, Mattel Toys and even Target for whom it helped to develop the Archer Farms grocery brand.
Fame will provide its clients with important knowledge about pricing, assortment, and presentation techniques. Target has made use of the Once Famous store experience to test its in-store presentations and even its TV commercials. Michael Franas, Target's senior vice-president of marketing, considers the store and the research valuable tools.
As designed by Wilcox, the store has been set up so that it can readily be stripped down to its bare red walls and if necessary converted from an urban, home-fashion boutique to a marketplace to test grocery items for General Mills products.
She says: Great retail is good theatre. You know the stores you like to go into because of the products, the design, the music that's the formula for great retail.
The point of doing this is not to make the store a gold mine. We're trying to understand consumer behaviour better and, therefore, we need to test with different kinds of products and displays.
As far as market research, there's not an advertising agency that runs its own store. We're putting our money where our mouth is which is strategy that we can put into place with our retail clients.
As mentioned earlier, the store's research tools are only used during structured and announced studies.
A sign out front will alert shoppers that such testing is in progress. So, if you don't mind being a live guinea pig or a mouse in a maze as observed from an observation nest as you scurry through self-imposed traffic patterns welcome to the wonderful world of retail research.You may be contributing to a worthy cause and you may even get to reap some of those rewards yourself on another shopping excursion.