9.20.2005

The genuine compliment

How do you like to try on clothes?

If you are male, you probably want to walk down a long row of stalls, get in, see if they fit, and get out.

But if you are female, you probably want to do a whole lot more than that. Show it to your friends, get the saleslady's opinion, and look in at least five mirrors.

So there's this new store called Forth & Towne. It's targeted at women over 35, and it has lots of originality and flair that its owner, The Gap, lacks.

The Forth & Towne store I visited has areas for different brands, like an old department store. It has sketches of its clothes pinned to the wall along with swatches of fabric, bringing the shopper closer to the fashion design process. It is filled with 40-year-old saleswomen who all look great. The store is generating buzz through photo contests, lures of membership benefits and the overall theme of indulgence. It works.

But what I feel works best about Forth & Towne is actually its dressing room. In the center of the store, it's an open, rounded space with twelve mirrored fitting rooms surrounding a central ottoman of sorts. Even though the area was empty, I could immediately envision shopping companions sitting here, giving opinions to not only their friends, but other women who were trying things on. And this is really, really powerful.

I'll try to illustrate with a story. When I was in college, I was persuaded by a friend to try on a pair of tight black pants. This was NOT my style, but she was persistent. When I came out of the dressing room, my friend said "Oh, they look great!" Did I take her seriously? Eh. Only about 30% seriously. She's my friend, she's motivated to get me to buy them because she'll feel good about helping with my new look. I wasn't convinced.

Then the salesgirl came over, and said "Those look great on you." All right, fine, thanks I guess. I took her about 50% seriously - she didn't have to say anything, but she's also motivated because she wants to make a sale. I was getting slightly more convinced.

But then - a total stranger, a woman that I've never met, came over and said "Hey, those look great on you!" Whoa. Someone who doesn't know me, who has no profit motive and is never going to take credit later, has complimented me on the pants. That's it, 100% convinced. I had to get them.

I think that Forth & Towne is cleverly planning to facilitate this moment every day in their stores. Their dressing room is more than a convenient place for the friend to rest her feet. It's a social town hall, where women will feel compelled to compliment each other and in turn make each other buy more clothes. They are literally turning their customers into salespeople! Genuine, trustworthy salespeople who have no apparent motivation other than to be nice to you!

I predict that Forth & Towne will succeed not because of the clothes it sells, but because of the magical moments created by genuine compliments from random strangers. Nice job, guys.

3 comments:

Elliott said...

Are there any of those in Chicago? I haven't seen any. Anne Taylor actually has a very similar set up to what you have described. I went in there once with my mom and there were several people sitting on a couch in the center with these elegant free-standing mirrors spaced every so often.
I actually felt a little odd because everyone was staring at me when I would come out and show my mom a dress. It was very loud and chatty for a dressing room too, which may make a lot of people more comfortable, but for me it just made me want to find a dress that fit and get out of the loudness and staringness of strangers.

sara said...

There are four locations in Chicago and one in New York.

And I think that you bring up a great point - sometimes it's not that fun to put on a fashion show for random strangers. Perhaps Forth & Towne should think about some larger, two-person dressing rooms, or smaller mirrored areas around the edges of the store.

I was in a large boutique in New York once, and the dressing rooms opened onto a long and narrow hallway with the mirror at the end. Girls had to strut down like they were on a runway. It was fun when I was watching my friends, but when I tried stuff on it became super awkward. Especially when things were too small or revealing. You just don't want to be standing that close to people.

stacy said...

ESPECIALLY if the clothes don't fit. I think this is a great point. It's fun to hear strangers say "Wow, that dress makes you look so skinny!" but probably a lot less fun to hear strangers say "Wow, that dress makes you look really, really fat. Don't buy it." Ha ha, what an awkward moment THAT would be. I'd probably never enter the store again.