As consumer expectations and shopping tastes fuel shifts in the retail landscape, two of Canada’s leading retail experts have put their skill sets together, ready to help industry manage the ebbs and flows and think beyond just bricks and mortar.
John Archer, former consultant for J.C. Williams Group, an economic development whiz with researching chops, has joined forces with expert Susan McGibbon, former director of marketing for IKEA Canada and VP at ad agencies Cossette and Taxi, with 20 plus years of working with popular shopping districts, malls and retailers like Express and Reitmans.
The result is Three Sixty Collective, a strategic consultancy that helps build brands and create memorable places in a way that is flexible and tailored for each project. The global company, headquartered in downtown Toronto, works with a network of planners, researchers, analysts, architects and designers to provide a holistic approach with a 360-degree perspective.
It’s an approach that’s two-fold: on the demand side with an economic development perspective that delves into customer experience and how the overall target market functions, and the supply side, for instance, what’s happening on the ground retail-wise and competitively that could improve retail performance.
“From a Canadian retailer perspective I think you’re seeing a lot of retailers who haven’t stayed fresh and connected to their customer,” says McGibbon. “In retail you need to be fresh every day and we’re seeing some of those retailers, unfortunately, starting to underperform and/or starting to close some of their banners and corporations.”
Retailers who are succeeding remain connected to changing consumer needs, she says, and they are reflecting that in their physical and Omni channel space. New entrants traversing the Canadian market have also taken notes on what not to do, opening stores one at a time, unlike Target.
Potential Three Sixty Collective projects run the gamut, from brand evaluation and trend forecasting, to real estate assessment and community revitalization.
Socioeconomics plays a big role in these projects. Archer points out a few demographics to keep tabs on: retiring baby boomers and their changing role in shopping; a huge bump in children’s clothing in the millennial market; and the potential size and scope of Generation Z.
“We do a lot of work with developers in the country who own malls,” says McGibbon. “We’re seeing a lot of them take a hard look at who is shopping on their properties, what kind of shopping experience they want, and also what [developers] need to do to attract and keep them there in terms of customer experience.”
Community plays a big role in customer engagement now. There’s more blending of everyday life and shopping, says Archer. A barber shop with a band playing becomes a social gathering spot, for instance.
“You go into a coffee shop now and it’s a work environment, full stop,” he points out. “Yes, they’re selling coffee and scones, but they’re also developing the next start-up in these places.”
He has spent a considerable amount of time defining the viability and vitality of main street and shopping centre retail around the world—knowledge that will inform the practice going forward. From studying and improving the nodes and corridors of Calgary to assessing the impact of retail on pedestrian streets in Toronto, Archer’s projects are vast and varied and historically informed.
“I look back to the past to see why people gather in certain public realm areas and then ask how do retailers recreate and harness that energy of people gathering,” he notes. “You’ll see that people are calling it more experiential retail, but I think it’s more nuanced; people definitely want goods but they want community building and place making and sometimes it’s more than putting a restaurant in a mall—it’s creating those spaces within a retail environment, where people want to get together and socialize.”
Such principles of community and consumer experience are universal across Canada, the duo says, but it’s also important to be respectful in understanding how each community is formed. Some customer segmentation is needed to understand a target audience and assess needs. Montreal and Toronto, for example, have different cultural needs when it comes to restaurants. Higher sales growth is reported in Toronto for quick service and limited service restaurants, which fuel people who tend to live a fast-paced life. Montreal statistics, meanwhile, show more time spent in sit-down restaurants as people prefer time to enjoy their food.
“Torontonians want more variety and the newest kinds of foods,” adds Archer. “That’s fueling smaller more innovative food concepts.”
Working on great main streets of the world has led Archer to grasp what it takes to apply those principles to districts like downtown Oakville or Hamilton’s Locke Street.
“We’re creating awesome retail communities that consumers will want to shop in today and tomorrow or the next day,” he says. “People want to belong to a community. But if you want to get people into the mall or into the shops on the street, there has to be something more than just the price proposition.”
From a property perspective, McGibbons says it’s been interesting to work with the property owners and developers to help them shift their points of view on the value of retail in their developments.
“I think it’s been challenging for some of the development community to shift their mindset from being property owners and managers to actually thinking like retailers,” she says. “Ten or 20 years ago, it was enough to have a really nice clean mall with a nice selection of stores and music, but it’s not anymore.”