More than one retailer sharing the same space is an idea that’s familiar to many consumers. Think about Starbucks inside Target stores, Fossil integrated with Macy’s, or Sephora within JCPenney. Called co-retailing, industry experts view this concept as an established yet evolving practice.
“The idea that an intentional program and space is created for co-retailing is a newer concept,” says Sarah Kimes, who leads the North American division of the London-based retail design consultancy Portland , a subsidiary of Perkins + Will . In her experience, co-retailing typically involves a more dominant brand bringing in a sub-brand as opposed to two brands partnering.
Though that partnership concept has potential advantages for small businesses, too. “We’re going to see more of it, but it has not caught up on the independent retailer side yet,” says Angel Cicerone, president of Tenant Mentorship , who helps landlords improve the performance and retention of tenants. She sees co-retailing as viable for entrepreneurial small business owners looking to stay ahead of the curve.
Here are four reasons to join the co-retailing game:
1. Offer Customer Conveniences
Bringing complementary services or goods together under one roof helps maximize customers’ time. Seattle-based Molly Moon’s Home Made Ice Cream, for example, opened a microshop within Madrona Laundromat, allowing customers to “enjoy a sundae during the spin cycle,” as its website boasts.
Or consider Girls Auto Clinic outside of Philadelphia, which offers full-service auto repair with “manis, pedis, and blowouts while you wait.” While Girls Auto Clinic is a single-owner business, retailers brainstorming partnership ideas can learn from creative examples such as this one.
Surveying existing customers and “digging deep into your customer avatar” can help a business owner determine what kinds of off-the-radar synergies might be possible, says Cicerone.
2. Create Better Customer Experiences
While there’s no hard-and-fast answer about whether it’s best to blur interior lines between two businesses or keep them distinct, experts see an opportunity to build a unique space that will engage customers.
“When people are leaving the house and getting off their phones, they’re looking for an experience,” says Kimes. “If it’s two brands that really resonate within the space and you’re offering customers a different experience than they can get from a larger shopping center destination, I think it’s a win-win.”
She especially values partnerships between service and product businesses, or businesses where people are co-creating goods.
Take retail landmarks like Cone & Steiner in Seattle, a circa 1915 general store relaunched by the founder’s great-daughter in 2014, for example. The one-stop shop, a “unique twist on the corner store,” caters to customers who live nearby and on-the-go office workers. It encourages people to enjoy craft beers as they shop and has welcomed other local businesses as pop-ups.
For a service-based business, consider if some sort of “entertainment” could be offered during wait times, suggests Chris Guillot, a retail consultant who founded Merchant Method and works with small business owners. “Co-retailing is so exciting and can really push the envelope for a brand and for the industry.”
As Cicerone advises clients, retail growth “is not just about product or having more product. It’s about serving the customer in a unique and different way.”
3. Lower Your Risk
Particularly for e-commerce brands that are seeking a physical space without a huge investment, co-retailing can offer a low-risk trial space, says Kimes. “It’s less risky than opening up a location on your own.” Co-retailing not only offers the benefit of shared rent costs, but shared staff, checkout technology, and marketing as well.
Co-retailing can also open up opportunities to lease space in a shopping center with higher rents and larger spaces, which are generally too risky for small businesses flying solo, adds Cicerone. Not to mention, combining businesses and broadening the scope of offerings builds foot traffic and can attract publicity.
However, some experts note that a two-business partnership can be a bigger risk for small retailers than larger ones, but renting in a market space, where the whole purpose is to house smaller brands, can minimize it. “In those instances it works really well,” says Guillot.
Businesses should also protect themselves by ensuring the landlord is aware of any co-retailing plans. “Say I’m the primary one on the lease. I claim my store is a women’s boutique and then I decide to bring in a coffee purveyor. There may be [competitive] restrictions within that center,” says Cicerone.
4. Learn a New Set of Skills to Grow
The co-retailing experience “is like signing up for professional development,” says Guillot. “It ups your entrepreneurship and merchandising game.”
She believes partnerships are most logical for established retailers with the staff and resources to look at longer-term branding and marketing and consider opening a new location.
Professional development can involve observing what the big box retailers are up to. “Look at the pace in which larger retailers are remodeling, where the walls are and what kinds of flexibility they’re building into their spaces,” says Guillot. “Where are they putting the cashiers? Is there lounge space? How are they transitioning between brands? What kinds of fixtures are they using?”
To a client interested in co-retailing who may hesitate to jump into what feels like uncharted territory, Cicerone says: “What’s the downside of creating excitement within your store? There’s almost none. It’s really one of the most exciting things to happen in a long time, the general acceptance of this trend.”