Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Posts Tagged ‘curation’

Idea – Small Business everyday – not just once a year on Saturday

Posted by shannonclark on November 19, 2012

This Saturday is the return of the American Express sponsored alternative to Black Friday, Small Business Saturday which is indeed a great event where American Express is using their marketing clout to promote shopping at local, small businesses. if you are an American Express cardholder you definitely should register before Nov 24th via the above link and qualify to get $25 credit if you spend more than $25 (on a single transaction) at a registered small business – either per the website above or a Square merchant.

No complaints about that emphasis from me but it did spark an idea and a question.

Why restrict this movement to one Saturday a year? Why not create a way to promote shopping from innovative businesses every day? 

Clearly there are a lot of complicated reasons to focus on a single day – for one it is a great way for American Express to leverage marketing dollars to make a single push and to emphasize the value of accepting American Express to small business merchants (i.e. since it costs more for the merchants anything like this day that adds value to that transaction via stretching marketing dollars is a win for small businesses) but I think there is a lot of great opportunities for networks of smart businesses to work together to create value for all participating merchants.

First however a few definitions and restrictions I would put on any such project were I to pursue it.

  1. The value for consumers in shopping at a small, local business should be the service they get and what they can get there that can’t easily be found elsewhere. In many cases this means businesses that offer unique items, often locally made and/or that support and service older items no longer available elsewhere. Used bookstores versus an only new bookstore for example.
  2. If I were running things I would emphasize the value of curation and editing over comprehensiveness. Small businesses win against the Amazon.coms and Walmarts not by competing on price or selection but by offering better service – which includes editing what is available to only sell great products. This in turn also allows for value to buyers even if the absolute price of a given good is the same (or even higher) than that good might be at a big box store or massive online site. Busy shoppers value service – and help in identifying the great versus the not-so-great is, for many, worth spending slightly more (avoiding the costs and time of returning items or replacing things that wear out quickly)
  3. Small businesses don’t necessarily mean tiny one-woman shops. Relative to the $100B+ massive big box chains like Walmart nearly every other retailer is “small” – small in this context primarily means in ethos and focus – though I think I would start with businesses primarily in the <$100M/year range (mostly in the <$10M range with many in the <$1M). These could be mid-sized businesses like San Francisco’s Rickshaw Bagworks or even smaller businesses like my wife’s design business.
  4. Here in SF we have an example of the type of thing I’m thinking about – SF Made is a network of 100’s of local to San Francisco makers – companies that aren’t just based in SF but in most cases manufacture what they sell here in San Francisco. SF Made is close to what I’m envisioning though I think it should be a national movement not just a local citywide one.

I don’t mind in thinking about this idea if it excludes many types of small businesses. The idea isn’t to promote shopping locally or at small businesses just because they are small or local – ignoring whether they offer great products at fair prices – rather the idea is to find a network of likeminded, related businesses that through pooling together can better market and promote the unique products and service they offer. Any such organization has to be about the value to buyers as much (perhaps even more so) than it is about the value to the local businesses. If it is this could be a highly sustainable movement – if the value isn’t there however or if it is too skewed towards one party over the other then this isn’t a sustainable, long term movement.

Groupon’s approach isn’t, I think, the right on – it emphasizes price over quality and service. What I’m thinking about would be a service that is not open to any business to join – but which rather is possibly a co-op where very business has to be approved in some manner (perhaps not by each other – this should be open even to “rivals” as long as they all meet the core criteria and philosophy). Once a member and once pooling marketing and promotional budgets the idea would be that this organization could do things that no single small business could reasonable take on – sustained online marketing campaigns, long running offline advertising and promotional campaigns etc. Possibly this organization would also serve as a negotiator on behalf of these smaller businesses for a wide variety of products and services (health insurance for example but also negotiating with payment processing firms like Square, American Express etc.

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Posted in advertising, customer service, Entrepreneurship | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The business opportunities I see for 2012 and beyond

Posted by shannonclark on June 26, 2012

I see 1000’s of opportunities all around me for new businesses. A few are being pursued by my friends (and even family in a few cases) but most are not being pursued or well funded. Before I list a few of the opportunities which I see let me start with a few disclaimers.

I am not (currently at least) an investor – I don’t work for a Venture Fund or other investors and my personal net worth, such as it is, is tied up in my own company and family. I will mention here many companies and ideas being pursued by friends, invested in by friends and in some cases have family involvement – I’m completely not an unbiased observer of the tech world and do not claim to be one. That said I try to offer constructive criticism to my friends (and family) when asked.

Many of the opportunities I see and the ones I’m most passionate about are likely not the ones that you “should” focus on if you want to have the easiest path to getting funding in the current environment. I will be focusing on sustainable businesses (sustainable in the sense that they can keep going based on pulling in more resources than they expend on a regular basis – in a few cases also sustainable from an environmental perspective) I’m not focusing on what is “hot” or “trendy” or “sought after by investors at the moment”.

I can offer few guarantees other than that a) I will miss at least one billion+ opportunity and b) many of the opportunities I propose will upon being pursued lead to failed companies in many cases.

So disclaimers done here are some of the 1000’s of opportunities I see all around me. I think that many of these ideas could be pursued anywhere in the world – many of them are not limited to a specific geography or a culture (but some are) and these are not just for the “1%” though again a few of them are at least initially targeted at a luxury market. My goal is not to suggest the “best” businesses for the world – or to solve every problem across the globe.

That said I do also fundamentally believe that the best businesses are based on strong values and consistency (and honesty with all stakeholders). Businesses built upon fooling someone (regulators, investors, customers, suppliers, bloggers or other partners) will inevitably come crashing down – leaving destruction in their wake. Absolutely these can be businesses that give the impression of success (and in fact often generate outsized returns for someone – see many firms on Wall Street in recent decades or the stories behind many past booms and busts) but in the long run if your business is built upon fooling someone once that deception is revealed your business (and personal reputation) will likely suffer.

Businesses which are built upon a basis of offering great value to every party involved in the business (including the communities where the business operates) are businesses which are designed for long term success.

So where do I see opportunity?

  1. Streamlined and carefully curated local businesses.
    Far too many small businesses try to please every potential customer – they try to stock something for everyone, try to have a dish on their menu (if a restaurant) for every taste and occasion. In their efforts to please everyone more often than not small businesses (and for that matter big businesses) all too often please no one and furthermore invest too much in aspects of their business which will not pay them back (i.e. in inventory which will go unsold). Instead the successful new retail businesses which I see are most often those businesses which have very carefully curated what they sell – and thus who they sell to. Businesses that may offer only a very small selection of items – but which know those items exceptionally well, offer very high degrees of service and high quality products and experiences. Frequently as well these are businesses that do not try to be the lowest priced offering in their market, instead they have the confidence in their products to offer them at a fair but often high price.

    These opportunities are both for restaurants, cafes and retail businesses of all types. Look around your community and see what is missing. Most of these businesses are unlikely to be venture capital investments – but a few could be – see The Melt for example. Consider as well that most fast food businesses were very streamlined when they started (at least) offering just a handful of items and a consistant quality. While this has changed as many businesses have expanded around the globe it is a lesson worth revisiting.

  2. Curated eccomerce combined with a pre-order and limited edition philosophy.
    Online it is relatively easy to think about businesses that have seemingly infinite inventories – think Ebay,  Zappos, Amazon.com or indeed most of the eccommerce businesses started in the 1990’s. This model is indeed powerful but for long term profits it requires vast numbers of customers (to attract eventually a buyer for everything in your warehouses) and it requires fairly significant investments into warehouses and inventory (or in Ebay’s case a network of sellers that handle these issues).

    But there is an opportunity that I think too many investors are reluctant to invest in but which is a brilliant and long-term game changing model to consider – sell only a handful of items almost all of which you have pre-sold and which you limit the number of to command higher margins and minimize inventory complications. Think the model built upon many Kickstarter projects where 1000’s of customers have paid, in advance, for the products they desire. Now imagine a business that, mostly, only sells things that customers have not just said they are interested in but have taken the bigger commitment of actually ordering and paying for in advance. This business does require a lot of care to get the timing right – you have to know how long it will take you to make the goods you sell and you have to know what your prices will be in the worst case to ensure that you haven’t just sold your entire inventory of something new for less than it will cost you to make. But if you can get that right this model is incredibly powerful (and highly bootstrapable). It also is a model that can be highly sustainable especially if you are selling a product to customers who will likely come back to buy another product from you in the future.

    This model is seen today in a handful of mostly design driven businesses – Threadless, 20×200 but I think the opportunity is actually a lot greater and bigger especially as manufacturing networks shrink and capabilities increase globally for collaboration and production to happen faster and in smaller batches.

  3. Co-operative partnerships to create strong brands and great businesses as well as create compelling content.
    I don’t know of current examples of this idea but here it is.

    Historically great content was supported by a handful of brands that sold goods and services that had a wide market but limited differentiation (think soap companies that started the genre of “soap operas” via their support of early radio dramas). In the modern era however brand advertising on a national scale has become limited to only a handful of mostly very large businesses (still some soap companies, a few banks and insurance firms, car companies, soft drinks and beer companies, drug companies and only a handful of other industries). But at the same time content creation has dropped in cost in many places (other than non-reality show television series) with the proliferation of YouTube channels and other forms of online content across all mediums.

    I think there is an opportunity for a group of new companies to pool their resources and support great content that has a logical association with their businesses, targets a specific niche and which has a long term plan both for content creation and distribution – a plan that will support the business goals of every party involved. This is high risk to be sure as most content sounds better in theory than in practice and building an ongoing audience is never easy – nor is tying that audience back to each of the supporting advertisers/sponsors a trivial issue and this has to happen over a long timeframe and at a level that grows the businesses of every party involved. That said, I think that the opportunity here is massive – something has to replace the 30 second tv spot and the historical model of advertising based content (newspapers, magazines, radio and tv). The costs here also don’t have to be high – this could start with a YouTube channel type of model and indeed we are starting to see this to a degree with some of the current crop of YouTube channels – except that the content and the sponsorship/advertising support for the channels are not tightly connected to each other in the least (and in most cases seem highly random).

  4. Businesses that are not built on offering the lowest price but on offering incredible quality and exceptional experiences. 
    Yes, WalMart will not be failing anytime soon and sure everyone everywhere loves a great deal. But increasingly there is also a recognition that many “great deals” aren’t as good as they at first appear. Cheap clothes that you have to replace every few months quickly cost you more than clothes that will last for years. Food in large bulk containers that end up being tossed away unused and rotting and which contribute to higher health care costs are also not a “good deal” however cheap they appear to be at first. Instead I think there are lots of opportunities in building businesses that charge for the value they provide and use that to grow lasting business. This is a shift back towards quality and craft alongside the customization available at lower volumes. Companies such as San Francisco’s Rickshaw Bagworks illustrate this model.
  5. Businesses that build tools and services that enable other businesses to prosper.
    Okay this is an old fashioned business, it is the modern variation on the don’t be a gold miner be the guy selling shovels and pickaxes. But more fundamentally it is about recognizing that there are in essence only two core types of businesses – those businesses that provide a core element for another business’ success (suppliers broadly speaking) or businesses that sell discretionary purchases that compete to some degree with all other optional purchases (whether optional purchases by corporations or individuals). The first category restricts your pricing to low enough that your customers can still leverage your offerings to in turn make more money from their customers. The second category allows for literally unlimited pricing (or more specifically “as high as the market will bear” but means your customers are likely fickle, more costly to engage with and your competition will continually emerge from new areas you can not anticipate.

    Amazon.com is an example of company that is trying to do both types of business – both be a supplier to 1000’s of other businesses – via both their Amazon Web Services technology offerings and via their Amazon Fulfillment services offering as well as other ecommerce services to 100’s of other businesses and of course as both a large scale consumer eccommerce company and as a publisher and consumer electronics company Amazon sells discretionary purchases directly to consumers.

What other opportunities do you see in the market today (globally or locally)?

Posted in Entrepreneurship, geeks, internet | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Curate for me – an idea for a simple web service

Posted by shannonclark on February 19, 2010

As always, I am posting this business idea publicly and “as-is”. Feel free to build it. If you do and want to give me credit that would be greatly appreciated – if you want me to be involved I would likely be willing to be and am always happy to talk further. But I’m not going to sue you if you run with this idea and build something that makes the web better.

Yesterday my friend Marshall Kirkpatrick tweeted about how few pages views a post on Read WRite Web about Google Maps in Africa had gotten. This post in turn sparked a discussion this morning on Google Buzz.

In that discussion I suggested the following:

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to filter content – tweets, blog posts and more. I don’t want “the most popular” (or the most retweeted etc) – that’s the stuff I’m most likely to have already seen, already heard about. Instead I want some way to see what people who’s opinions and views I care about think is the most important stuff they have created recently (and this also includes companies and brands – if I’ve chosen to pay direct attention to them – for example following Ford & Scott Monty on Twitter).

So that is my idea.

Create a very simple web site & service which would build two very simple sets of services.

Service 1 – Very simple tools for people to curate their own content & republish it into a consolidated feed

Service 2 – Very simple tools for people to link up who they follow (across many other services) to these new, curated feeds.

One key to this service would be that it has some real constraints built into it – restrictions that help force people into making real curatorial decisions about what amongst a bunch of content they have created it worthy of making this “must-see” list. I don’t know what the right constraints are – but I’d guess they are something like limiting people to less than 5 items a day (perhaps fewer).

Another key would be to make the process of using this service simple yet not too simple. Again the idea here isn’t to be an automated, full feed of everything you generate but to represent real thought & effort, real decisions about what is truly most important, most worth people seeing & noting even if it isn’t what is “popular” (or most retweeted, linked to by others etc).

Other constraints such as expiration of content might be helpful and important in keeping this service limited to just the most important stuff, just the really useful & interesting items (though I’d also keep this history of what you thought was important at various points in time as I think that too would be really useful and interesting to study).

To launch this it could probably be a web service with linked Oauth (Twitter OAuth, Facebook Connect, perhaps Google’s stuff as well). Ideally the interface would make it really easy for someone to login, see their content from many services and filter upon that content to just the content they most want to highlight to others.

The site/service would grow organically as people then promoted their new, filtered feeds/page out to their current followers across many services (and on their blogs etc). These feeds of “the best, must-see stuff” would make very natural widgets to be embedded across the web in many ways (on people’s blogs & personal websites, in their profiles in Facebook or LinkedIn etc).

I do not know if this service would have a real business model (I have some ideas but I’m not certain). Nor am I sure if it would meet a large demand or need – but I know that I, for one, would really like to see what a bunch of people who I care about, who I deeply respect and am very interested in, would think is the most important stuff at the moment. It might not be what I would think is the most important – but that is the point.

I want to learn what I have been missing, what my friends (and companies I care about) are most passionate about at the moment.

From businesses this might be deals of the day or it might be Haitian relief efforts. From my friends it might be their pending wedding, new job, a great post they wrote or a fantastic deal they found.

It doesn’t have to be web-centric either. My friend Alex Steffen tweeted earlier today about the magazines he bought at the newsstand to read this weekend. That is the stuff that really does interest me (see my post on my Media diet in 2010)

I’m happy if my friends and businesses I choose to follow use this for commercial purposes.

If they start to spam this service I have a simple way to stop that spam, I can choose to unfollow them.

The service should have a “block” or “mute” option unique to the service and could also suggest that you mute/unfollow/unfriend those people on other services where you were already following them (i.e. the services you used to authenticate and link to this new service).

So who wants to help me build this into a real service?

Posted in geeks, internet, networks | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Idea for a new magazine – to be named later

Posted by shannonclark on January 10, 2009

I recently learned about a very interesting new service, MagCloud, which prints magazines on demand and handles all subscription features (mailing, payment etc).  They are currently in limited Beta and have some limitations (the biggest of which is the cost for buyers – $0.20/page though the publisher can set the price for any given issue at a higher rate to make some profit. 

For a long time I have been thinking about creating a media outlet of some form and at the moment I am serious leaning towards a magazine of some form. This post is an exploration of those ideas, it is a stake in the ground as to the shape of this new publication. It is also a call for submissions and volunteers.

The Name – to be named later

My working name for the publication was going to be Mesh (or The Mesh) but it turns out that there was a MeshSF magazine here in SF a while back (appears to be out of print now) and there is another Mesh magazine in Jacksonville Florida. Thus to be named later – the name has to be highly inclusive and evocative of the range of topics to be covered, while also not being too long or hard to remember or use (and yes this includes requiring that there is a good domain available). 

The Format

My thinking is that to be named later will be more akin to a series of books than a monthly (or more frequent) magazine, though over time it may evolve into a more frequent publication. Thus I am torn about a number of physical formats – leaning between a book like size such as that used by Granta (or many University literary magazines), a slightly larger format such as that used by Foriegn Affairs, or a more traditional magazine size such as The New Yorker or Monocle (which is more booklike in format). 

That said, while a perfect bound format (glued edge) creates a more booklike publication, I personally find that format less conducive to reading – as quite literally it makes it harder to read the publication (since you can fold the magazine to only view one page at a time as you can with a traditional magazine). That said, it does create a more archival publication which has some advantages. 

Years ago when I was the editor of a literary magazine (in high school, we won an award) we decided to go with a half size format which had some advantages especially for the publication of poetry as it created a highly readable format (if small).

However for to be named later my goal is to have a publication which stays in print for a long time (so “back issues” remain available for a long period of time), which eventually (and as soon as possible) pays highly competitive rates for photos, art and articles, which supports a lot of very interesting writing, and most critically is a publication which I want to read myself. 

The Guidelines

  1. Articles must have a point of view, but may not be purely opinions.
  2. Every article will have illustrations – photos or art
  3. Every article will be bylined
  4. A very wide range of topics and types of articles will be accepted – no subject is out of bounds IF the writing is good, consise, and well written.
  5. Serious as well as non-serious writing is welcome and encouraged, including in most issues at least a few articles that meet peer-reviewed academic writing standards (footnotes and all)
  6. The physical form & design matters.
  7. Every issue will have at least one work of fiction (clearly identified) – genre writing not just welcome but encouraged (Science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance etc).
  8. Every issue will be meant to be relevant for at least a year, usually longer. Thus timely articles will not be printed, nor will reviews which are timelimited (i.e. of a limited run of a show – though movies which will eventually be on DVD may be accepted)
  9. While the focus may include regional and city interests – underlying to be named later will be a global perspective (though initially at least all articles will be in English)
  10. CC-licenses for the content will be encouraged (though not mandated) and while to be named later will retain a right to keep each issue “in print” for a long duration, authors & artists will have the right to sell their work for other publications (i.e. they retain all rights – but to be named later has the right to keep an issue “in print”, including via print-on-demand for a long duration – ideally perpetual). Much of to be named later (perhaps all) will be published online as well as in physical form – though the PRINT edition is the primary focus.

So what do those 10 somewhat random points mean?

First I am imagining a publication which will have a seriously broad range of articles – from writing about food, to serious academic exploration of economics, to science fiction stories, to photographic coverage of art and hacking. 

That said, the focus of to be named later will also be on timeless writing, on writing which is first and foremost eminently readable and engaging – which you want to turn back to and could pick up anytime after it is published and enjoy (i.e. this will not be a publication trying to cover breaking news or trying to get “exclusives” or scoops). 

to be named later will have advertising

Even if to be named later is wildly successful in generating interest and subscribers it will include commercial content from the beginning. Advertisers who welcome the timeless nature of to be named later and want to support the publication of high quality, challenging, intelligent writing covering a wide range of issues with a high focus on being enjoyable to read and experience. 

My tastes are wide ranging and eclectic – a magazine I publish will reflect these interests – and thus, I hope, will be of interest to an audiance that share some traits with me. In turn, I hope that there are (and I believe there are many) advertisers who want to reach this audience. Some may be local, some national, some global. All will be welcome (with some limited exceptions) specifically political or advocacy advertising will probably not be accepted as it would be discordant with the tone and focus of the magazine (which is inclusive not exclusive). 

Curation will be key. 

I may technically be the publisher, may also be an editor, but first and foremost I will be the Curator of to be named later – it will be my tastes and decisions (or my choices on delegation) which will determine the content of the magazine. 

Topics to be covered

  • Food – especially from a Slow Food and serious foodie perspective
  • Local businesses – not reviews persay but stories about local businesses but with a global perspective
  • Hacking – especially from an Arts perspective
  • Science Fiction – both via publishing great stories (including perhaps Fantasy or other genres) and also articles about the field & genre
  • Science – especially reports from the frontiers of research
  • Business – if written about in a highly engaging manner and in a timeless manner
  • Non-fiction storytelling – think This American Life style stories – which can cover any topic imaginable but are written with a point of view and story to tell
  • Design – especially highlighting intentional design applied in innovative ways.

Topics which will not, mostly, be covered:

  • Breaking news – i.e. current events, pop culture etc
  • Politics – while great stories about campaigns might be published, “stories” which are more manifestos will not
  • Activism – I am a CENTRIST. I am neither “left” nor “right” and my magazine will reflect this. While we may, occasionally, take (and publish and clearly label) an opinion on important matters, my magazine will not be a forum for activism, nor will it mirror the articles found in most Free weekly newspapers around the country (indeed in spirit we will likely be more capitalistic)
  • Time sensative reviews – stories about the arts (movies, theater, music, books, gallery shows or events) will definitely be published, but reviews of specific events or limited availability content will not
  • Product reviews – the focus of the magazine will be on stuff people want to and will enjoy reading, reviews of products rarely meet this criteria – nor do they usually meet the criteria of remaining relevant for years to come (since most products today are only sold for a limited time and replaced later with newer/better/cheaper/faster versions)

I intent to be named later to be eclectic, to be personal, to probably not be for everyone. That said, for those to whom it resonates I want it to be a publication which is read cover to cover. The focus will be on being reader friendly first – high design second (we will not be akin to Wired magazine in terms of design aesthetic)

All of this is tentative – now I am looking for:

  • Submissions: email submissions or ideas for articles/stories to shannon DOT clark AT gmail DOT com, please use a SUBJECT line of “Submission for to be named later”. Include a short bio of yourself, as well as the publication history (if any) of the article (preference is for unpublished writing). For the first issue(s) payment will depend on advertiser and subscriber targets so be prepared to only get a token initial payment (but the goal is to reach “professional” levels as quickly as we can. If you will only sell the story for a specific ammount include that, but realize that may impact our ability to accept the article/story for the first few issues
  • Volunteers: while in the future all staff will be paid (if only small amounts initially) to get going will be a labor of love, not money (unless we obtain financing or serious advertisers/sponsors quickly). Copyediting, “slush pile” reading, and pre-press layout help are initial core needs. Quickly as well help with advertising sales, distribution and more will also be needed.
  • Advertisers: From the first issue the plan is to have advertising. Rates almost certainly will go up as we grow the audiance, but the advertisers in the first few issues will be set – even as those issues remain (as is the plan) in print for at least a year, likely longer. So the first few advertisers will, we hope, get a bargain over the long term. There will be a limited number of full page ad opportunities, as well as a handful of partial page opportunities (think New Yorker style part of page ads). The back of the front cover as well as the back pages will be the highest cost ads. Rates are still to be determined, preference will be given for advertisers who are willing to commit to a full year of issues (at least 4 but the goal is to get to probably monthly). Advertisers will also be part of the online presense as well as the print publication – so should include a URL to link their ad to online. As a new publication ALL aspects of the readership are yet to be determined (including the size, demographics etc) so early advertisers must be interested in the mission of to be named later and willing to support it. Exact dollars are hard to determine (and to a point go up as the number of copies printed go up) but my initial “gut” guess is that for the first 4 issues something close to $100,000 is needed to pay all writers & artists, to physically print the magazine, and to pay staff (even just a token amount). So a target of about $25,000/issue is the goal though more may be needed for the very first issue.
  • Investors – My plan is to bootstrap. Even in the absense of all the advertising support I might like, the goal is to use a service such as MagCloud to enable us to put out a first issue (or two) and build up the audiance over time. To learn by doing and to thus incur as little costs upfront as possible. But if the right investor or sponsor/grantmaker were to offer I would listen. My goal is first to get great stories published, secondly to make money doing so (mostly I want to build something which is self supporting at a minimum). I also want to test my theories about how a new media publication could more than just made do but also prosper even in the Web 2.0, “the media is dying” world. 

So that is the idea – very rough, may not happen, but I hope it will. Please leave a comment, blog about this, link to this or at least contact me if you are interested!

Posted in digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, futureculture, geeks, internet, personal, photos, reading, tbnl, working | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Two models of retail – the Dollar store vs the Apple store

Posted by shannonclark on December 14, 2008

DUDES + DOLLAR STORE = VISALIA 07'Apple Mini Retail Store - Stanford Shopping Center

I contend that there are two primary models of reatail, at least in the US (there is a third model I’ll mention at the end which is rarely seen in the US).

In the title I called these The Dollar Store and the Apple Store but more accurately these are the “everything and the kitchen sink” versus the sparse and mostly open. 

In the first model, call it the Kitchen Sink model the buisness model is to have everything that someone might possibly be looking for, to have a surplus of choice and options, to fill most available space with products for sale and to, in theory, sell a lot to everyone who comes through the door. Typically these models combine having everything (or trying to appear to have everything) with a lot of emphasis on price. 

The logical extreme of this model is the Big Box Retailers such as Walmart, Costco, Home Depot, Target and countless others overwhelming the suburban malls of the US (and occaisonally making inroads into he urban centers as well). Typically these stores attempt to have most active inventory right on the store shelves with the customers pulling their own products as they shop. Employees restock the shelves, sometimes help guide customers to the right aisle, and only in select departments of the store (if at all) have a direct customer service role, often taking custom orders for those products which the store does not keep in stock. 

Though in many of these models the store deemphsizes such products in favor of products which can be kept in stock on the stoor “floor”.

In contrastthe other model of retail is the Curated Experience, of which The Apple Stores are a fantastic example. In this model the emphasis is less on keeping a wide selection of products in stock, but rather on highly currating what is avialable for sale. 

Typically these stores have displays which highlight the products which are available but the full inventory of the store is not on the main storeroom floor but rather is kept in the back in a storeroom, off limits to the customers. Most (non-Payless) shoe stores operate in this manner. As do most higher end designer clothing stores. But the Apple Store is an example which many more people have likely experienced directly.

In many ways this is a very old fashioned retail model, this is how, for example, the old fashioned grocery stores operated in the days before the grocery cart and customer self service. Speciality food shops occasionally still operate in this manner, with all the products behind displays and cases and only available via a direct interaction between the customes and the shopkeepers. 

This model of retail is labor intensive, most of the staff has to be able to inteact with and literally serve the customers. It is also built upon the taste and curatiatorial skill of the store’s buyers. In place of trying to have everything that anyone might possibly want this model of store posits that they can choose between those goods (or services) people should want and those which they should not. 

It is the model of a bookstore which instead of cramming every available inch with books stacked upon books (and often barely if at all sorted) is highly seletive with what they buy, turning away more books then they choose to purchase (here I’m describing mostly a used bookstore but the same model also holds for new bookstores to a lesser degree). 

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In my experience though I occasionally will suffer the cramped, overly full bookstores, it is the stores such as Aardvark Books here in San Francisco which I return to time and time again, and from whom I buy many books over the course of a given year (in 2008 I’d guess around 100+ books perhaps). What often draws me into the store is a carefully currated window display of the latest used book purchases of the store – almost always hardcovers, in perfect (or nearly so) condition, and not infrequently books which I had recently read reviews of in national publications (I’m fairly certain that they buy books from a number of locals who receive review copies as nearly every book which is getting active reviews ends up in their store window within a month or so of publication). 

The curatorial model is not limited to physical retail stores, if anything it has even more value online. It may seem paradoxical, as online it is technically possible for many stores (especially any store selling digital goods) to have nearly infinite inventory. And I’m not arguing that there is not a place for such mega stores (call them the Amazons of this world) but there is equally a great deal of value in culling away the cruft and of practicing great curation to only highlight a select group of pruducts.

Buyers will then shop such stores less on pure price comparisions and more on an appreciation of the service offered in making them (the buyers) aware of products that they should own and enjoy. 

A short sidenote here. A few days ago I was at a local seasonal market, the Mission Market, which was an experiment where a number of local vendors (many without physical stores) had a booth at a converted Armory in the Mission district of San Francisco. One of these merchants sold music, mostly CDs. Now I have not bought a lot of physical CDs in the past few years (though I have bought more music in the past years than ever before). But I ended up buying two fantastic CDs from this man, entirely because he had a very select collection of works for sale, all clearly curated with care. And of the works he had in genres I enjoyed (which were nearly all of the genres of music he stocked) I already owned a pretty large portion of the works he was selling. 

And not just owned the works, but these were among my favorite albums of the past few years, music which exactly defined what I like.

So I was immediately favorably inclined towards him and especially towards the works which he had for sale that I did not already own – assuming, correctly as it were, that since clearly our tastes overlapped considerably, the works he also chose to stock would quite likely also be works I would enjoy.

And indeed that was exactly the case.

And that, in short, is the Curatorial Retail model. 

At the start of this post I mentioned that there is a third retail model, but one which is rarely seen in the US. That model is the Bazaar Model which can be a variation of either the Kitchen Sink or the Curatorial model but with the addition of a highly variable price. In many parts of the world this is the dominant model, where price is nearly infinitely negotiable and most (though not all) goods and services are subject to rounds of bargaining before a price is agreed upon. 

In the US this is not a common retail model, though to a degree the proliferation of discount codes (especially online) and complex sales at larger stores (Macy’s for example) combined with loyalty cards/store credit cards sometimes creates an environment which feels like every price is variable and subject to many factors. Online the purest form of Ebay historically was intended to be this exact model with the buyers competing to offer the best price to the seller. 

However what the pure auction does not capture in the true Bazaar model is that most of the time the negotiation is not multiparty (i.e. an auction with many buyers and only one seller) but one-on-one. One buyer, one seller who negotiate between themselves about a transaction which can either happen at a price, not happen at all, or be modified (expanded to include other products, shrunk to be something smaller).  The buyer always has the option of walking away (and the seller of simply not agreeing to sell).

With the exception of most tourists to such markets (who usually get the worst prices in part as a result of my next point) buyers and sellers who have a history with each other, who expect to do additiona business in the future (sometimes with the roles reversed) have more complex incentives in the negotiation process than just maximizing revenue/minimizing expense on a given transaction. 

Instead when there is an expectation of repeat business many other factors come into play. 

It is here, in part, that curation can add value, considerable value in fact, to even the Bazaar model of retail. A buyer who trusts the tastes and instincts (and fair dealing) of a seller will often value that the seller put something aside for that buyer over getting the lowest possible price for the product. 

It is my view that in the long term success will depend more on curation than on stocking the kitchen sink. 

And I mean this for both online retailers and for physcial stores. 

Posted in customer service, economics, Entrepreneurship | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Future of Media is Curation

Posted by shannonclark on November 18, 2008

I can has Cheezeburger at Zoo I kan have a mashabul? Robert Scoble

Much has been written in the past few years about the Future of Media, dozens (perhaps hundreds) of conferences and discussions have occurred and there has been a lot of mashing of teeth, a lot of posturing, volleys of lawsuits on the behalf of some parts of the media landscape (RIAA I’m looking at you!), at least one major strike (Writer’s Union), numerous failing and flailing businesses and much confusion about what the future holds.

Starting with a shifting and varied definition of just what “media” is anyway. 

Without picking a particular definition, though I’ll try, here are a few of the many sources of what I include as “media” – books, magazines, journals, weekly newspapers, daily newspapers, radio, TV, blogs, online video, podcasts, Internet radio and other streaming audio, electronic books, online magazines, games (console, computer, online/web, even mobile), art (a broad category indeed).

And almost certainly there is someone, somewhere, creating a new form of content and experience which should be included in my list above.

So with so many variations what isn’t media?

Short answer – increasingly many things not previously part of the “media” have some aspects of the media – Gap’s recent Vote for t-shirt campaign for example, the ads are fairly traditional “media” – albeit delivered online, but the shirts themselves were also a form of media and self expression.

Building on this expansive and highly inclusive definition of media – which includes media whose purpose is to entertain, media whose purpose is to inform, media which is intended to persuade, and media which is entirely personal and esoteric, what does the future hold for media?

I claim that the way forward for Media, at least the media which will have a sustainable and lasting future, media which will remain important as well as viable, is curation

What is Curation? 

In a way I am using an old word in a new way. I’m not, however, the first or the only person to use this broader usage. Originally curation referred entirely to what a curator did which, in turn, was to maintain a collection of art or artifacts, usually for a museum or art gallery. A curator would manage a museum’s collection, would put together a particular show or exhibition. That process might, occasionally, be referred to as curation. Virginia Postel made a similar point, though she used the term Age of the Editor back in 1994 in Reason Magazine

My meaning of curation is broader:

Curation – To select and highlight specific media usually ground in a particular point of view

Simple perhaps, but I think also something new – something different than Editing, though not unrelated to what a good editor does at a magazine. Indeed I would say that some editors are also acting in a curator role, though many are not. The key point, I think, is that curation is a process that filters, that selects a set of things to be highlighted, that is about less not more.

So why do i claim this is the Future of Media?

Because as we entered a world where everyone can (and most people will to at least some degree) create media the volume of media available to all of us is increasing at a rapid rate. The technology which only years ago was only available at great expense to a small set of highly trained people is now available for free or for very low cost – digital cameras often with video capabilities are most new cellphones to note just one key example. 

Thus “professional” and “amateur” content will continue to proliferate and expand – likely with the “amateur” content vastly exceeding in quantity the “professional”. But value will be created by curators, such as the founders of I Can Has Cheezburger, Pete Cashmore of Mashable and Robert Scoble of FastCompany who each filter through a huge amount of media and select a small set of content to present to their respective audiences. In some cases they create the content themselves, hire others to create content, or select and promote works created by a large pool of people. 

Some curators will be highly selective, highlighting only one work a day if that, others will create a large pool of content every day. Many will work in many different mediums each an avenue for different forms of interactions and media. 

A few other great examples of modern curation at work

  • Monocle magazine – a traditional print publication with a solid web presence, they look very much like a traditional if highly polished magazine, but they are also functioning as curators in many ways. They select a small set of physical goods which they sell customized versions of to their readers. In the content of the magazine itself they adopt a rich multimedia sensability – lots of photos and video on the web. See http://monocle.com
  • Jason Kottke –  For many years Jason has blogged as a curator of as he calls it “fine hypertext products” in short he links to the best stuff he finds across the web, often design related, but wide ranging, across many topics, and for his passionate audiance almost always of great interest. His audiance is passionate enough that he supports himself from his blog and he selects his advertisers with much the same care as the sites to which he links. See http://kottke.org/
  • WallBlank – A site that sells one print a day, five days a week, either a photograph or a print, always a limited edition and selected with care. One of a number of similar businesses which sell a small set of limited editions, usually only one or two works a day (or a week). See http://wallblank.com/ other similar businesses with some differences are Threadless, PleaseDress.me and 20×200.com 

Posted in economics, Entrepreneurship, internet, web2.0 | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »