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REISS’s Emma Taylor on creating in-person activations to boost small-business shopping

Posted by Alex Samuely on Jun 10, 2021

Last updated on September 7th, 2021 at 03:51 pm

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As online retailers with fast shipping options and massive product inventories experienced an uptick in revenue during the pandemic, small businesses navigated through much different circumstances. The sharp decrease in in-store shopping—coupled with some small businesses’ lack of ecommerce presence—resulted in much lower sales, and in some cases, shuttered storefronts. Now, as consumers become more comfortable with resuming their previous shopping habits, retailers are relying on creative in-store activations to drive foot traffic in their stores.

Emma Taylor, Vice President, North America at British fashion brand REISS, led an effort to boost in-store shopping in New York’s West Village neighborhood, where REISS operates a store. The Shop the Village initiative prompted retailers on prime shopping location Bleecker Street to fill their empty units with pop-up shops and provide a new experience for locals. Emma and her colleagues sought to leverage the power of retail to give back to the community and revitalize small businesses—including restaurants—that struggled during the pandemic.

Emma recently sat down for an Endless Aisle podcast episode with NewStore’s Senior Director of Marketing, Marcus LaRobardiere, to discuss the inception of Shop the Village and how local businesses banded together to make the best out of a challenging time for the industry. Read on for several highlights from Marcus and Emma’s conversation, some of which have been edited for clarity.

On the inspiration for Shop the Village

“We’d just come up [on] our record year at REISS, and then we got thrown into the rounds of COVID, as everybody else did. This piece of me was like, ‘This isn’t going to throw us off track. This is going to be a kickstart for something else.’ We’d been on so many Zooms by this point, talking about [how] brick-and-mortar isn’t dead, and we got together to discuss how we can prove that retail isn’t dead and that the store community can come back from this. After a few spicy margaritas, we all got together for our first in-real-life meeting. Honestly, it was the sparks of ideas and communication that night that really built this project.

“It started as one pop-up shop. We were going to showcase how retail can come back, utilizing different technology to show the store can move forward. Then it turned into a whole area of neighborhoods in New York, because we established that our voices are pretty powerful and we can really drive a community together. So, Shop The Village was born. A number of us had stores in the West Village, and those of us that have seen the decline of Bleecker Street find it sad to watch. There’s so many empty units. Our main goal was to fill those empty units with pop-up shops. The other piece of it was about bringing the neighborhoods together to show that retail stores don’t just want [people’s] money. We’re not there to try and combat these crazy lease payments—we can be there for them as a neighborhood. 

“We reached out to the Chamber of Commerce. Within six weeks, we managed to pull together every retailer on Bleecker Street [to participate] in this event. We managed to convince the local authorities to let us close the street down to traffic for two weekends. We managed to get sponsors, volunteers, [and] local artists. It really does go to show what collaboration and teamwork across a like-minded group of individuals can do.”

On partnering with local small-business owners

“It’s only when you really get to know the people running these businesses that you appreciate their story. We’ve got some incredible business owners on that street, and I’d worked on that street for almost four years and [had] never even gone into their stores, because I was so busy in my own little bubble.

“The restaurants have really suffered in that area. On the block [where] REISS is, we have Suprema and L’Accolade, both privately owned. We worked with both owners to give them expanded seating in front of my store during COVID when [customers] could only sit outside. Everybody partnering to do the right thing has been the most powerful message.”

On how retailers can give back to local communities

“I feel as soon as you speak something into existence, it happens. The whole concept of this event was we’re going to test it in one place and then we can replicate it anywhere, ultimately across the world—whether it’s a different neighborhood, the same neighborhood, a different time of year. We’d love to do something around Fashion Week.

“My main message has been [to] come and be part of something. This is really about plugging back into your community—whether you’re from the West Village or not, whether you’re a true New Yorker or not, whether you’re just visiting. I think it’s important to come down and see the look on the neighbors’ faces when they are listening to incredible music, surrounded by their friends and family. It’s such a powerful moment to be part of.”

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