The first time 72 Smalldive learned of Alexander von Keyserlingk was through his blog site “Slowretail”. Not unlike the slow food movement, a delegate of people have been and are, even more so now, advocating “slow consumption” as le mode de vie. The tainted food and the economy crisis in this millennium has left a resounding reminder of the ugliness of hubristic notions of progress and expansion. Those unfortunate happenings have incidentally spurred a greater awareness of issues such as provenance, ethics, culture preservation, and humanity in the realm of consumption. Amid such awareness, we ask to Alexander how a retail space may uptake the role of an arena to nurture a meaningful and intimate relationship between producers, suppliers, and consumers.
V: You named your consulting company Slowretail and along with this moniker one of your core ‘philosophy’ is to focus on building a relationship between the store owner and the customer. In your opinion how has this ‘relationship’ evolved over the decades?
AVK: Generalists such as department stores and mono-brand stores (for e.g. ZARA) have edged out specialized and customer-friendly stores over the past decade. Many worldwide retail-chains place a disproportionate focus on their brands’ presence and not on the customer. Brand building trumps individuals’ needs in the mass retail market. This has provoked an anti-trend: A new generation of customers are “demonstrating” by frequenting less departmental stores and rejecting replaceable store formats. These consumers demand for a more individual, personal, and authentic shopping experience.
V: At Commes des Garcons’ runaway show in Paris for S/S 2010, the show’s underlying message is to ‘slowdown’. We see an increase of awareness towards the slow movement’ in food – is this also rampant in the non-food retail sector?
AVK: The slow movement is a worldwide phenomena in many industry sectors. Many companies have been and are working on concepts and principals of slowing down their development pace to focus on increased transparency, efficiency, and sustainability. The product story becomes as important as the product itself. Fair trade and organically grown produce are becoming more easily available in the market place due to wider acceptance; unlike in the past where such items are often regarded as unattractive or niche. Customers now want to be fascinated by a convincing value proposition, not just by product packaging or superficial marketing.
V: In your opinion what makes a retail space stand out? What values should, do you think, the space confer?
AVK: In my opinion, the perfect retail space is one that maintains an unique concept. Without a good concept, many successful independent stores would not have been sustainable and more importantly inspirational. The old school of thought about “location, location, location” doesn’t exist anymore. Now stores have to keep focusing on “concepts, concepts, and concepts”. With the right concept, a store can be established anywhere. Be courageous!
V: Tell us more about your recent project Ludwig3? Do you think Ludwig3 is a model that can be replicated in others markets such as Asia?
AVK: Ludwig3 is Germany’s first concept store that offers organic and fair-trade lifestyle products. It is located in Regensburg, a UNESCO heritage site, in southern Germany. The store has been considered a fine example of a modern retail space that offers fair-trade and sustainable products. Ludwig3 has garnered strong press interest in Germany, within the first weeks of its opening. Its success story has inspired us to consider replicating the concept to other markets and we are already working on it now.
Alexander von Keyserlingk’s vast experience in the retail market includes having pioneered Berlin’s first GAP store in Tauentzienstrasse, a major shopping street in western Berlin. After his successful stinct with GAP, Alexander moved on to manage several retail institutions of Berlin, such as Quartier 206 and KadeWe. Apart from Berlin, Alexander also assisted chain retail stores in establishing their presence in major cities in Germany.
To know more about Alexander’s retail consultancy services, please visit http://www.slowretail.com.
Ludwig3 is located in Ludwigstrasse 3, 93047 Regensberg, Germany.