The Charming Chess Shop (and what it can teach us…)

Chess lovers´ haven The Chess Shop in Greenwich Village has been around since 1972. The dedicated shop, situated a block from Washington Square Park, hosts games 24 hours a day – 365 days a year. Over the years, hoards of chess lovers have passed through its doors and framed (and non-framed) photos whisper of legendary visits of super heroes from the international chess community.

The shop clearly plays a role in gathering the chess troops, and in spreading  the chess gospel. It hosts a lot of courses for all ages in how to master the art of chess. Besides the social (gaming) business model, the shop offers the widest range of chess sets you can imagine. This makes The Chess Shop a great place to pick up a gifts for chess loving friends. The chess shop is longtail retail at its best. Other retailers take note from The Chess shop on a couple of things:

1. Generous opening hours have a lot of beneficial psychological spin-off effects. Socializing with and in the store “after hours” increases the the degree of perceived intimacy between the customers and the products of your brand. Being in a store after hours automatically transitions your store to a living room, hence, making it living store! Of course this holds true for first movers, and not for the you guys at the bandwagon…

2. Your shop/shops can be a social hub and still sell stuff – In the long run its the ability of mastering the social hub element that will determine sales performance. The character of the retail offering is changing and the retail business models along with it. Stuff no longer necessarily hold dominion over Social. Not getting it? Try to come up with some alternative models of interaction between the store and the customers rather than the predictable look&choose&pay&gohome. Throw the elements around a bit and think about a alternative models (the old one is becoming a tad boring…). Although the assortment can be constantly renewed and hence restart the look&choose&pay it seems evident that that somewhat hysterical loop can not spin much faster than it is already. Hence, something else need to shift in the retail formula, and i´m not talking about simply transferring of the old model to the digital sphere – that aint new or very interesting in the long run.

3. A new set of new customer-centric social performance ratios need to be developed, implemented and measured. How to define these? Focus on trying to capture the emotional pay-off of a store visit, rather than the financial one. As online purchases and potential increases, the successful brand needs to focus on the  inspirational and truly soulful dimensions of the physical store. Give your customers that – and they will engage and commit to your brand in the digital sphere. If a brand succeeds in intensifying the physical store experience, and leverage from that via sales on online platforms, then the need for wast retail spaces could be reduced (and rent costs along with it). Physical store efficiency ratios need revision and retailers need a holistic perspective on physical and digital. Why not simply consider the physical store as one big fitting room and the web as the check-out?


Joining the Conversation

The Converse store in NYC´s Soho district mimics a high school gym in the 50´s, nods to the 80´s and yet has an overall strong contemporary wibe. The high school gym is the theme of the store decor. Details like old wooden benches (from which to cheer your team), tiled walls (like those in generic changing rooms), industrial elements like steel bars and exposed brick walls makes the place ooze with ambition for an autentic feel, far from the modern glossy polish adopted by brands like Adidas and Nike, long considered as competition. Positioning themselves within a nostalgic American paradigm, Converse sticks out as a successful lifestyle brand. Given that the brand is near 100 years old, it has seen the birth of America as we now it today.Using the gym as a thematical symbol is a smart move. The gym is and always have been the place where all have to get together, whether belonging to team jock, freak or geek. Of course, subcultural clashes and divisions like these are timeless. Yet, happily for Converse, so is the appeal of their Chuck Taylor shoe. Hence, the shoe, just like the gym, becomes a shared experience in which all take part, no matter who you are or where you come from. In a broader perspective – is the Chuck Taylor shoe the American dream translated into a retail hit? No matter how far you want to stretch it is it clear that the All-Star, All-American image is an important part of the brand with its frequent use of the American flag and its elements (the star being the central feature in the Converse Logo, with theme colours white, red and blue). Although this might seem obvious, one can note that in comparison, Nike does not play (at least as effectively) on the chord of homeland nostalgia. Channeling a high school wibe is a smart move for Converse, as the brand has such authentic claim to this heritage. This is a rare and exclusive quality for a high street brand. But, without getting too nostalgic, Converse also have a strong contemporary wibe, with it´s bet on the trend for customization.

In the back of the store the frenzy is evident, as customers line up with minds swamped with creative vision for their new shoes. A bright shining rainbow of branded Converse laces evoke interest, as do the arty. The openness of the process creates a nice and engaging conversation. Ideas are exchanged between brand to customers and vice versa. However, and more imporantly, ideas are exchanged from customer-2-customer. More or less consciously, customers are studying others and letting themselves be studied in the customization game. Just like in the school yard, meanings are attached to symbols and signs that evoke interest, categorization and familiarity along the following exemplifying and simplifying lines of thought 1.) aha!…he likes green shoes and blue laces 2.) as do I! 3.) Must be my soulmate!”. Given this arena for social interaction, I would not be surprised if the line to the customization booth at the Converse store will be the start of many out-of-store relationships,  and how´s that for a relevant brand story?!    For many customers like myself, the typical American suburban highschool experience has only been experienced through the lens of popular culture. The endless fascination of the American high school setting is clearly a collective obsession, with steady inflow of new films and TV shows circling around the enticing adolescent drama. Perhaps as it allows all to identify and remember: the games in the school yard and hallways, the romantic dreams of boys and girls next door, the dreams of success against the odds, the inherent power of social and generational rebellion? Speaking of young rebels, it is perhaps no coincidence that the store features a big framed photograph of James Dean (in low rise, white Chuck Taylors). The American icon and star in of flick Rebel without a Cause, which takes place at a High School and which, is often cited as the first one to portray youth as misunderstood by the older generation. Of course, this old photo, in all its black and white historical glory, further accentuates the connotations of autenticity in the Converse Store. An other photo in the store features an afro-american basketball star. All in all, the old photos of youthful dreaming echoes a universal dreamscape with a universal appeal. Although we would all like to be as courageous as the heroes in the photos, dreams of today are both mainstream and nisched. Hence, what better than to let Converse help you channel your inner hero in the purchase of a pair of new unique pair of Chuck Taylors? They will surely, help you take a few steps on the path to the customized life of your dreams.

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