STORES Trends: September 2016

#STOREStrends is a monthly roundup of fresh retail ideas from STORES Magazine.

Pampered Pets

It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. Sometimes a pet just needs a bit of pampering.

While most would agree that today’s pets are often loved and indulged beyond measure, PetSmart is turning up the coddling: The PetSmart Pet Spa, billed as a test for new, innovative retail concepts, opened last month in Oceanside, N.Y.

The Pet Spa features a heavy emphasis on services such as high-end grooming, and has a spa-inspired design that caters to both pets and pet parents. The 7,400-square-foot store houses a self-service dog wash where pet owners can bond as they personally bathe their pups. There are baked dog treats for four-legged patrons and a coffee bar for those with two legs.

Insights from this store test are crucial to the continued enhancement of the customer experience for PetSmart across its growing network of more than 1,460 locations.

The retailer is already committed to a custom, pet-focused music system newly installed across all store locations. The playlist for its on-site boarding services facilities, PetsHotel, is meant to alleviate separation anxiety and/or appease overly indulged pets — ones who simply need to chill out and escape from the hectic day-to-day routine of sit-stay-fetch, eat-sleep-repeat. The soothing sounds were developed by Mood Media, a firm that specializes in creating enhanced retail experiences through music, visuals and scent marketing and social mobile technology and systems; this is its first foray into the animal kingdom.

If PetSmart’s hypothesis is correct, a happy pet may just equate to a happy pet owner — and more in-store sales. It’s a relatively safe bet, given that Americans spent more than $60 billion on their pets last year, according to the American Pet Products Association.

A Scoop of Democracy

Ice cream giant Ben & Jerry’s remains one of the most outspoken brands when it comes to social issues — even though it’s owned by huge multinational consumer goods company Unilever. So it should come as no surprise that the dynamic dessert duo is dipping a scoop into the 2016 election cycle. But don’t look for the brand to take sides.

Empower Mint, a new flavor of peppermint ice cream with fudge brownie pieces and fudge swirls, is intended to push people to get out and vote. The company says the fudge-filled variety reflects its belief that voting gives everyone a taste of empowerment and that an election should be more “by the people” and less “buy the people.”

A campaign dubbed “Democracy is in Your Hands” uses online videos and articles to explain political topics including the power of big money and voting rights, driving home the message that “together we can fix our democracy.”

How great would it be if ice cream were the ultimate elixir? Worst case scenario: brain freeze.

What Would John Wear?

If John Lennon was alive today, would he be wearing the latest menswear trends — Fifties shirts, bomber jackets and overalls?

Probably not. The music legend and cultural icon always marched to his own beat, even when it came to fashion. Now others will be able to tap into Lennon’s highly coveted rebel style influence with the John Lennon Signature Collection, which premiered last month at Toronto Men’s Fashion Week.

The Signature Collection, created by Canada’s Caulfeild Apparel Group, utilizes the best fabrics in Europe to recreate garments that Lennon wore then, and would wear today. The styling is reminiscent of the sixties, but adapted to today’s modern silhouette, and features a multi-colored, embroidered, John Lennon self-portrait. Lennon’s lyrics are used in the intricate design of many of the prints.

“This iconic figure and his legendary music, art and personal style remain at the forefront of the collection,” says Kelly Pettit, designer and divisional vice president at Caulfeild Apparel Group. “The Signature Collection is pieces inspired by the lifestyle and persona of John Lennon — a collection of wovens, trousers, leathers and graphic tees that will resonate with people that want the world to be as one.”

The collection has Yoko Ono’s stamp of approval.

From Burritos to Burgers

Americans consume approximately 50 billion burgers a year. Do we need another burger shop? Steve Ells, co-CEO of Chipotle, believes there’s room for at least one more. Tasty Made, the company’s new burger restaurant, will open its first location this fall in Lancaster, Ohio. The menu will feature only burgers, fresh-cut french fries and milkshakes.

“Early fast food burger restaurants generally had focused menus,” Ells said in a statement. “We think there’s great strength in that original fast food model and wanted to create a restaurant built around that.”

Tasty Made will tout all-natural burgers and shakes made with high-quality ingredients, Ells said. Patties will be made from “responsibly raised” beef and served on freshly made rolls free of preservatives, dough conditioners and other artificial ingredients. Shakes will contain real ingredients, including milk, cream, sugar, eggs and other natural components.

“Making only burgers, fries and shakes with really great ingredients, we think we can appeal to people’s timeless love of burgers,” Ells said, “but in a way that is consistent with our long-term vision.”

McDonald’s 2020?

What does the future look like for McDonald’s? How about tech-infused, customizable, service-oriented — oh yes, and overflowing with fries.

A first-of-its-kind futuristic McDonald’s opened last month in St. Joseph’s, Mo., that invites fast foodies to place customizable orders using an interactive kiosk. Burgers and sandwiches can be personalized with such items as guacamole, maple bacon and special sauces.

Diners can craft their own special Coke by adding different flavor shots, and there’s even a dessert bar offering an assortment of cones and topping options. Table service is available, if desired, as are armchairs and couches for hanging out. An interactive play area with a three-story play place and digital and projection games is expected to encourage patrons to linger longer.

And what about the fries? At least for now, diners who build their order using the kiosk and make it a meal are entitled to an “endless fries” option, which has proven to be especially popular out of the gate.

Could this 6,500-square-foot, three-story “McDonald’s of the Future” be an indicator of what’s to come for this fast food granddaddy? Mum’s the word so far — but then it did debut in the Show Me state.

Convenience Lift

You know that feeling: You’re craving a Slurpee and you’d give anything to have one delivered. How great would it be if it could be delivered by drone?

It may not be too far off.

7‑Eleven, the world’s largest convenience store chain, recently partnered with independent drone delivery service Flirtey to deliver a chicken sandwich, hot coffee, doughnuts, candy — and yes, Slurpees — to a family in Reno, Nev., marking what is purported to be the first fully autonomous drone delivery to a customer’s residence.

The delivery, conducted in celebration of the convenience store chain’s 89th birthday, was intended to advance drone deliveries as well as further refine Flirtey’s delivery technology and packaging. Two deliveries were successfully completed using a unique Flirtey drone delivery container that allowed hot and cold items to be delivered simultaneously. The package was flown using precision GPS; once in the family’s backyard, the drone hovered in place and gently lowered each package.

“We’re absolutely thrilled to have 7‑Eleven … embracing new technologies and working with us at Flirtey to make drone delivery a reality for customers all over the world,” says Flirtey CEO Matt Sweeny. “This is just the first step in our collaboration with 7‑Eleven.”

“Drone delivery is the ultimate convenience for our customers,” says Jesus H. Delgado-Jenkins, 7-Eleven executive vice president and chief merchandising officer, “and these efforts create enormous opportunities to redefine convenience.”

Both companies say plans to expand drone delivery tests and work closely together are in the works.

Beating Amazon?

There are not many companies willing to take on Amazon, but an upstart in the United Kingdom is primed for the challenge.

NearSt is essentially a book-locating and delivery service. Using the app, London-based shoppers can search nearby shops for the book of their choice and then opt to have it delivered within an hour.

Nick Brackenbury, co-founder of NearSt, is focused on bringing business back to physical shops. The app is built on the belief that buying from local, nearby shops should be more convenient than ordering from an online retailer.

“Today, our smartphones have no idea what’s in the shops around us, yet they are the devices we go to in order to find [and buy] almost everything. As a result, the local shops right on our doorstep suffer, as they bizarrely are no longer the most convenient option,” Brackenbury said in a blog post by Whitefox Publishing Services. After spending time talking with shop owners and working to understand the challenges they face, he and his partner built NearSt.

“There is incredible value locked up in the local shops that line our high streets; all the more so when you look at them as a connected network,” Brackenbury said. “Why wait days or even hours for a delivery when there is almost certainly a shop within a few hundred meters that has exactly what you want?”

NearSt is currently collaborating with several bookstores; the ultimate goal is to have every product in every shop on every high street available via the app. Already the founders are working on adding half a dozen new shop categories, including consumer electronics and health and beauty products.

Products on NearSt are exactly as priced in the local shops and users pay a small premium for delivery. NearSt is not trying to “price-fight” with online retailers; its emphasis is on unmatched convenience and speed.

NearSt might have a tough time competing with Prime Now stateside, but in London where deliveries are a different animal, the app might write a new chapter.