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Marine Layer’s COO Adam Lynch on retail’s cardinal rule

Posted by Alex Samuely on May 4, 2021

Last updated on August 26th, 2021 at 01:51 pm

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The retail landscape has dramatically shifted in recent years, giving more power than ever before to customers. These days, consumers’ choices are plentiful, and the convenience is unparalleled. To stand out among e-commerce giants, retailers must place themselves in their potential customers’ shoes and hone in on what really matters—the relationship building, the in-store experience, and the omnichannel shopping capabilities.

According to Adam Lynch, chief operating officer at retailer Marine Layer, customers now place higher expectations upon brands. Every aspect of the retail experience—from the visual presentation in stores to the products available online—must be tailored toward the target audience. Retailers should also solicit feedback from their customers to ensure that the products are meeting their needs.

Adam recently sat down for an Endless Aisle podcast episode with NewStore’s Senior Director of Marketing, Marcus LaRobardiere, to discuss the intricacies of running a startup, what retail opportunities the pandemic has created, and the importance of investing in omnichannel platforms. Read on for several highlights from Marcus and Adam’s conversation, some of which have been edited for clarity.

On who has the upper hand in retail

“The customer has all the power now. That would be my headline for everything that’s guiding the way we’re trying to set our business up. The landscape has shifted demonstrably toward the customer, and that’s perfectly fine. I’m a customer of other brands, and I expect the same thing as a consumer myself.”

On what he learned by running a startup business

“We knew nothing about apparel design, nothing about apparel manufacturing, nothing about e-commerce, nothing about retail. But when we stumbled upon this pop-up shop that we did for 10 or 12 days, something just clicked. It sounds a little cliché, but we were there in the store, meeting customers. And we’re like, ‘Well, retail is an experience, and we like talking to people and building relationships.’

“That’s all you’re hoping someone gets when they come into your stores—they get an experience and some touchpoint to the brand that is positive. We felt, from the early days, that we could do that by being genuine and being ourselves. The thing that [we then] did is we were immediately in a direct feedback loop with our customers. While one of us was upstairs, haggling with a vendor or trying to get the next hundred t-shirts produced, the other person was downstairs, talking to customers. That feedback is what allowed us to more quickly evolve. That’s a large part of where the product line evolved from—just listening to our customers.”

On omnichannel’s role in showcasing available inventory

“We need all of our inventory—all styles—to be available at all times, and [in] all locations [where] we might have an interaction with a customer. If you show up on our website, you need to be able to see all the inventory in the business without really knowing you are. You need to be able to see everything that’s in the stores and buy it, because that’s the most frictionless experience for the e-commerce customer. We made the decision, from a platform standpoint, to go to NewStore because we thought it gave us the best chance of doing that.

“Difficulties in putting the right amount of product in the stores is something that we struggle with—figuring out what the proper visual presentation in the store might be; how many of your styles you keep online only, versus putting them in the store. Every time you put something out in the store, it takes up space on the rack, and you need to merchandise it and make it look nice. There’s a balance there, which frankly, we’re still learning. The whole goal with replatforming our omni inventory is to learn and improve how we’re doing that process right now.”

On how the pandemic illuminated more retail opportunities

“I don’t think good retail is going anywhere. There’s been a tightening of the market and retail that wasn’t hitting the mark on experience or presentation—that’s the retail that has been potentially out of the market, and it always leaves an opportunity.

“I spend a lot of time talking to my director of retail, and my head of overall real estate is like, ‘Hey, now we have an opportunity. We made it through; we’re one of the lucky ones that has survived this and is probably stronger than we were when we entered. Now, it gets fun. We can try some different things. Maybe with our new technology platform, we can try some pop-ups. We can try some co-branded.’

“There’s a lot of fun things we can get to now, which will be exciting.”

On what we can expect to see from retailers in the future

“I think you will see retail brands trying to be more creative. We’ve seen a large number of our adjacent brands and competitor brands start to experiment more with third-party wholesale. We’re working with Nordstrom now.

“Honestly, we were pretty anti-wholesale for a long time, but we’re very focused on DTC, like retail, e-commerce. That’s where you can get our stuff. We send direct mail; we do catalogs. I think what this whole pandemic has shined a light on is it’s the sustainable businesses with a healthy distribution model that are the ones that made it through.”

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