By Sarah Donnelly, Director, Retail Services
IBM’s focus on design has its roots in a stroll down Fifth Avenue in New York that Thomas J. Watson Jr. took in the early 1950s. He stopped at an Olivetti shop where typewriters were set out on sidewalk stands for passersby to try out. The machines had sleek designs and a variety of colors. Inside, the shop was bright and modern looking. In contrast, the display areas in IBM’s offices in those days were dimly lit and its computers were drab and boxy. The lobby of the headquarters on Madison Avenue had been designed to please Thomas Watson Sr.’s early 20th century aesthetic: it looked, his son wrote, like the “first-class saloon on an ocean liner.” A few years later, as Watson Jr. was preparing to take over as IBM’s chief executive, he decided, “I could put my stamp on IBM through modern design.” Later, in a 1973 lecture at the University of Pennsylvania, Watson Jr. declared that “good design is good business.”
Good design is good business. One could also say, good business is good design. Every touchpoint a customer has with a business — from the visual display on a website and store fixture to the way phones are answered and customer service issues are resolved — should be designed to attract revenue and invite loyalty. One touchpoint that many businesses use to engage with customers are pop-up events.
At the beginning of the year, TechTown’s retail team started with a goal of elevating our offering of pop-up experiences to entrepreneurs, specifically the monthly pop-up, The SHOP. We asked the following questions: Who does it serve? What is the goal of the monthly pop-up event? What is working well, and what needs to be altered? What is the budget and timeline for any improvements? How can we use design to elevate the experience for both the participating businesses and visiting customers? Using survey data from pop-up participants over the last two years, it was determined that the two main factors that needed attention were inconsistent traffic and sales varying greatly between vendors. While certain factors are out of our control, such as the host location, we determined to dig deep into what we could control — marketing, coaching and displays.
We worked with our internal marketing team on refreshing the look of all digital and printed collateral and invested in new photography. All participating vendors receive a marketing kit that provides them with the tools to market the event on their own.
Our staff members committed to offering on-site coaching to all participating vendors to help answer questions about their visual displays, provide sales strategies and, equally important, connect them to area resources that could help their business develop to its next stage.
While designing the new marketing collateral and coaching schedule, TechTown’s retail team embarked on a six-month process with local firms RL Concetti and Brian DuBois Atelier to create and build a new system of display fixtures for participating pop-up vendors. By abandoning the traditional flat six foot tables and tablecloths, each business could design a combination of fixtures that would best highlight their products and services in a full 360-degree shopping environment. This enveloping presentation was created to invite more engagement between the business owner and customer.
We designed a system of tools to assist entrepreneurs in maximizing their opportunities at The SHOP. Each component is strong on its own, but by designing them to work together, they can have greater impact. Now that the new marketing, coaching and fixture library has been launched, traffic at The SHOP has increased. We were initially concerned that increasing the number of vendors from six to 12 would lower the average sales of participating businesses. That has not happened. In fact, sales are up from last year. Applications hit a record high for 2019, and applications for 2020 will be live in October to help meet the demand.
TechTown is proud to be a partner of the Detroit Month of Design 2019 through our free visual merchandising workshop on Sept. 20, See and Be Seen: Next-Level Pop-Up Merchandising, where tips for creating compelling displays will be shared, as well as the story of the six-month design collaboration behind our custom display fixture library by RL Concetti and Brian DuBois Atelier. Immediately following the workshop, attendees will have the opportunity to visit our retail pop-up, The SHOP.
This event is an official part of the Detroit Month of Design 2019 program which takes place
throughout September. Programmed by Design Core, Detroit Month of Design is a citywide celebration of creativity that gathers designers and the greater community to celebrate Detroit’s role as a UNESCO City of Design.