Banana Republic - Themed Retail That Once Was
The original Banana Republic (BR), which began in 1978, was a two-store safari and travel-themed clothing company.
The majority of sales came from its eccentric catalog, which presented high-end and unique items with chatty, usually fictional, backstories from exotic locations, as well as more pedestrian high-volume products deliberately spiced up with a similar treatment. For the younger crowd, think: J. Peterman from Seinfeld - The company competed directly with the J. Peterman catalog that was satirized on Seinfeld. As BR expanded its retail operation, it became known for the themed decoration in its stores, often featuring authentic elements, such as real Jeeps and foliage, as well as atmospheric elements, such as fog and steam.
Banana Rupublic was a shopping experience! A themed store that had a jeep crashing through the wall, had mud huts for changing rooms, straw and grass mud walls, and vintage safari gear as décor…It transported visitors/ shoppers to a place where they actually needed safari wear! Or at least a few t-shirts that made it look like they did.
From the start, Banana Republic sold a concept as well as clothing; the look was unique, and trade dress identity strong. The company's original catalogues stood out for their ink and watercolor drawings of flight jackets, photo-journalist's vests, paratrooper briefcases, and gurkha shorts--all of which were accompanied by travelogue-type copy highlighting the theme of travel and adventure. All items were constructed of natural fibers. As the premier outfitters of travel and safari wear from 1978-1983, Banana Republic was a forerunner in the specialty fashion market which appealed to the 25-44 year old crowd of young professionals.
And you bought into the store and the lifestyle! Why? Because the whole process was an exciting experience! So what happened…What happened to Banana Rupublic? They fell into the Gap in 1983.
The search for a solid corporate identity began to take shape in 1988, when The Gap brought in a new management team and director of design and product at Banana Republic, implementing a decisive shift away from the safari motif. In an effort to maintain traffic in the chain's then-100 stores, it knocked down prices substantially to clear out old merchandise and to develop and test new merchandise. The new lines, which included brighter-colored casual wear and cruise line apparel, were moved to the front of the stores, while the more traditional khaki and safari apparel were placed in the back. Stores were refurbished to reflect a more sophisticated, modern sensibility. In 1989, the catalogue was discontinued.
COOL! Here is a great site called "Abandoned Republic - A Journey Through the Vintage Banana Republic Catalog"
Everything that we had grown to love about BR was gone, but we were too blinded by bright colored pocket t’s and denim to notice the advertising campaigns we now adopted; selling the company's new relaxed, urban lifestyle image.
And what of the retail experience today? Safari-wear looks a little different online.
What is it that draws shoppers out of their homes and off their computers? Retail design. Theming and interactivity help bring people back to shopping! Whether it's the pleasant attitude of the salesperson or background music or terrific props, the end result is the same: The visitor is engaged in an emotionally reactive experience, and that involvement encourages their spending and brand loyalty.
HOT HOT HOT
If you take BR as an example, is it any wonder how the hot retail trend of highly themed retail environments will help stimulate shoppers and build brand awareness? Eye-popping, themed design, will dominate and shoppers will respond with their dollars.
Did you know? Successful applications of interactivity at the retail level help to establish the brand and sell its image? If people are entertained and informed by their interactive experiences, they will come back.
A new study by LIM College and the NRF Student Association (NRFSA) reveals that, in general, 18- to 25-year-olds prefer in-store shopping. Apparently, all of our fears and predictions that technology would circumvent the need to be in-store is pretty much false.
The survey goes on to share some fascinating details about this demographic’s shopping preferences:
- 68 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds would rather be in-store for apparel and shoe shopping.
- More than 88 percent of this demographic do not want to shop via Facebook/Twitter (I don’t blame them – so not a fan of this!) although they will “like” a brand on Facebook.
- 66 percent use the Internet as an information-gathering tool, not for shopping.
- Only 23 percent use a tablet or smart phone to shop.
Turns out, these young shoppers are savvier than we thought. They want to feel and try on their merchandise before buying, they love having the shopping “experience” (especially with sisters or friends!), and they use technology the way it’s meant to be used – for information gathering and knowledge enhancing.
Does that convince you to up the ante?
Bottom line: Retail design can create themed, extra-sensory experiences for people of all ages.
And don’t you miss trying on clothes in a mud hut? I know I do.