The store of the future is here, and it is in a small building in the Short North.

The store of the future is here, and it is in a small building in the Short North.

And the irony is that although it is a bricks-and-mortar store, the Columbus-based men’s fashion brand started as an online business.

“We’re trying to lay the map for other young brands,” said Web Smith, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Mizzen + Main.

The 1,000-square-foot “flagship” store that recently opened has just enough room to display sample sizes of the young company’s signature, tech-fabric dress shirts; seven pieces of original art; and a “curated” array of products from other brands that, like Mizzen + Main, are made in the United States and focus on a young, hip male clientele.

There’s a rack of shoes; leather bags; a few pieces of furniture, including a cocktail table made from a whiskey barrel; and a conference table festooned with computer tablets.

The tablets serve multiple purposes — not only encouraging customers to research the products but also allowing the company to eliminate a traditional checkout aisle.

“The ‘store of the future’ — everybody’s got that on their minds,” said Lee Peterson, executive vice president of creative services at WD Partners, a Dublin-based consulting company that recently produced a study on what consumers want from bricks-and-mortar stores.

In the past, the route to success was far simpler for big-box stores such as Walmart and Home Depot: “Stack it high and let it fly,” Peterson said.

But online retailers over the past decade have overturned that model. Most people associate online shopping with Amazon, and most people know that they can find essentially anything — books, clothing and music, for example — at a low price at sites such as Amazon.

Shoppers have changed, too. Although older shoppers might be accustomed to running out to the store, the digitally savvy young-adult crowd is quite happy to “couch shop” — sit in the living room and order something online via tablet, smartphone or laptop.

“The younger you get, the less you like stores, the more you like online shopping,” Peterson said.

So, where does this leave stores that have stood pat in the face of such withering competition? If the answer was to get bigger, add stores or become a discount warehouse, then retailers such as Borders and Blockbuster still would be in business.

“The more stores act like a warehouse, the more they will get destroyed by Amazon,” Peterson said.

And yet, online retailers such as Mizzen + Main still see an advantage in bricks-and-mortar stores, for a specific reason: “E-commerce limits the sensory experience,” said Kevin Lavelle, Mizzen + Main co-founder and CEO. “Our retail location activates sight, smell and touch.”

“We’re trying to craft a classic American brand,” Smith said. “There’s only so much that copywriting can do. In a high-tech boutique, you can try on a jacket, try on a shirt, pick up a bag.”

A significant physical feature of Mizzen + Main and other stores of the future is one that’s little-noticed: There is little or no back-room space because there is little or no inventory in the store — it’s shipped to wherever customers want. That can be to their home, to a friend’s home or to the store for convenient pickup.

“We can handle the transaction and have it delivered within 48 hours,” Lavelle said. “If they want it overnight, it’s a small surcharge.”

This feature — some call it omnichannel shopping, others call it “BOPIS” for buy online, pick up in store — is a favorite feature among consumers.

In light of that finding, WD Partners recently helped design a store for Finish Line that, like Mizzen + Main, “is sizes only,” Peterson said. “There’s no inventory in store — it’s shipped to your house.”

The so-called “showroom” store has brought immediate results to both Mizzen + Main and Finish Line.

Mizzen + Main opened its Short North shop right before Black Friday and sold as many shirts in three days as would previously have taken a month to sell online, Lavelle said.

Finish Line recently reported strong third-quarter sales and raised expectations for its full-year profit, attributing the great performance to its new approach.

“Kevin and I are both tech junkies,” Smith said. “We built this very lean, very agile. ... What we hope to prove is that our model makes sense, and that it makes sense to be an American brand.

“It will become apparent to the great behemoth brands that it makes sense to do what we do.”


©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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