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Why clothing and booze make good business

As businesses struggle to stay afloat, many are applying the two-in-one approach to their stores

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“New York has everything” is what people usually say when they discover the city has a bookstore with “18 miles of books”, a drive-in movie theatre with space for one car, or a restaurant dedicated to meatballs only. Every visit turns up something new, and on my most recent I ended up in a boutique that quadruples as a bar, a movie-screening venue and a clothing exchange. It’s called The Dressing Room, and was opened three years ago in New York’s Lower East Side. Co-owner Alexandra Adame told the Washington Post it’s a good business model because the bar keeps people browsing longer, and about 40% of the store’s total revenue comes from drink sales.

With stores slowly recovering from the recession (In the U.S. retail sales are up 2.8% from 2010), many are looking to provide shoppers with services rather than just products so they come away with an experience. And it’s not just the small guys jumping on this trend. Two years ago french label agnès b. opened a 15,000-square-foot store in Hong Kong with a florist, restaurant and chocolate counter. For short-time kitsch, at the beginning of May, Top Shop installed a Kinect-powered virtual fitting room at its Moscow shop. Buyers could stand in front of it and watch as different clothing was fitted to their body.

The trend exists outside of the fashion world too.  A few years ago the bookstore Borders launched a “concept store” with a digital centre where you can do things like download music or books, burn CDs, research family histories, and print pictures. USA Today reported: “Borders, the nation’s second-largest bookstore chain, hopes to reverse years of sluggish sales by reinventing itself as a hub for knowledge, entertainment and digital downloading…[and to] underscore the anxiety in the bookstore industry, which has been hurt by the growing footprint of online-only sellers.”

The movement is known as the “hybrid product-service.” In a report by FastCode design, Adam Little, a design and innovation consultant writes: “consumers expect products to be more than tangible objects, brands need to think with a service mindset to enhance their offering and connect with their customers in more personal and immediate ways.” Though bigger brands, like Borders, tend to stick to obvious combinations, smaller ones are cross-pollinating businesses to come up with strange but unique offerings.

In Jamaica for example, there’s a complex with a bar, bistro and furniture store, the former  known as the Weekenz Bistro and Bar and the latter Phoenix Originals. The lawn in front serves as a showcase for the furniture, which bar patrons then sit on at night to watch live outdoor performances. In Washington, there’s a quilt shop that doubles as a liquor store, which brings us back to the benefits of booze. One blogger who visited summed up the attraction as follows: “I heard comments like ‘Now here’s the kind of quilt shop I could actually bring my husband to’ or ‘I’ll bet they have some lively classes here.’ It was impressive to see such a busy store too…so if any of you quilt store owners find that business is slow, you might want to think about getting that liquor license.”