Lean into local to build brand reach, say retail experts

Metropolitan centers such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City are losing market share, according to Stylus trend analysis, while the heartland has shed the hillbilly stereotype and become a hotspot for authentic grassroots culture. 43 percent of under 30s in the US believe Facebook and Instagram have too many people on the platforms, according to a 2019 Zak study, and Spotify findings from the same year reveal that, globally, 62 percent of Gens Y and Z believe brands can serve communities based on common interests and passions. So, avoid the crowds and go where the action is; this might sound contradictory but brands fine-tuning their post-pandemic business strategy would do well to reach out to regional if they hope to stay relevant.

Dedicated platforms for micro-cultures and specialty niche spaces are the new retail epicenters. 25 percent of Americans use the Nextdoor app. Influencers with rural lifestyles posting cottage aesthetics and extolling village life on social media have grown in popularity where previously a polished if somewhat generic city slicker lifestyle gained most followers. Smaller and decentralized micro-narratives are now perceived as less homogenous, therefore, rarer and cool, and speak to what’s being termed an “anti-social sociability,” explains Katie Baron, Head of Retail (Trends, Insights & Innovation) at the recent Stylus Trends Intelligence Summit. The success behind this intimacy-based retail strategy arises from the impression that brands are speaking directly to the customer, inviting them into an inner circle, almost as if there is a certain serendipity involved.

Apparel resale website Poshmark had been organizing small local meetups, Posh N Coffee, in which members can exchange tips on selling clothes, inventory management, successful photography techniques, thereby driving engagement and retention. But during the pandemic and its resultant stay-at-home limitations, the trend of mobilizing online culture has soared as people feel untethered from normality, and crave a sense of togetherness and camaraderie. This shift to smaller online hangouts is also driven by a desire for less hostile, toxic online environments. On the Threads page of Dappered.com, watches sell for 30,000 dollars via web chat and business is brisk. Evolving chat commerce and establishing intercommunity support networks are key to business success, offering a new level of bespoke service.

Retail goes local

Brand outreach must pivot from global to regional, from cities to communities

Tapping into the squad economy and the move towards “micropreneurism,” the platform Wethos connects consumers who create, first time founders who want to build small impromptu teams to complete a project or pitch. H&M’s youth-focused Monkisphere takes community co-creation one step further with live-stream shopping which allows members to interact with each other and with the product without leaving the stream. Elle UK invited 12 students from across the UK to co-create the September issue of the magazine, offering the young people mentoring and vital experience in layout, photography, and journalism. Gucci Changemakers, a program which awards grants ranging from between 10,000 to 50,000 dollars is another example of this trend for unlocking access and challenging the status quo, removing gatekeepers and creating communities where creativity can thrive.

“It’ll be necessary to decentralize responsibility for brands to evolve from global to regional, from cities to communities,” says Worth Darling, Director of Innovation at Vans. “With communities, you must identify meaningful characteristics of their destination individually: the cultures, institutions and organizations that constitute life in that city, as well as the people.” Vans X The Skate Witches supports a band of girl skaters who started a zine to increase their visibility, provide a sense of belonging and an outlet for posting their photos. Black Lives Matter has only amplified the desire to focus on what’s going on in our own back yard. In the words of Jay Richards, founder of Imagen: “There is pride in local identity; people are fighting for their microcosms.”

Just as the pandemic was forcing stores to close Nike opened a Community Store in LA’s Watts neighborhood following similar openings in Detroit, Brooklyn, Portland, South Chicago, New Orleans and Washington, D.C. The Watts location will focus on the local Latino and Black communities with grants going to organizations including the East Side Riders Bike Club, Peace4Kids, Watts Rams Track and Field. The company has hired 85 percent of its staff from within a 3 mile radius of the store and partnered with the Love Watts network to connect with artists who custom graffiti-painted the interior, celebrating hometown heroes while tailoring the product assortment to the local customer. Footlocker’s latest Power Store in Compton which opened in April revolves around a similar concept, aiming to hold community events, showcase local artists, and maintain a community garden.

Small-town life is cooler than ever, and urban spaces seen through a local’s unique lens carry a seductive power. Retailers with the agility and the vision to monetize the micropolitan will experience some big little wins.

Images by Stylus

Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.


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