My annual Christmas shopping excursion always leads me to one place: Powell’s Sweet Shop. To me, it’s the ultimate example of successful franchise branding.
Macy’s still holds some appeal during the holidays, and Ben & Jerry’s in the summertime. But Powell’s resonates with me on a completely different level.
To me, it’s a mood-altering drug.
It’s virtually impossible to leave Powell’s without feeling warmer, younger at heart, and at least a little giddy. It’s more fun per square foot than any store I’ve ever seen.
Franchise Industry consultants call Powell’s Sweets “an involving retail experience that taps into deep-seated emotional connections with long-forgotten childhood brands.”
They are banking on the power of nostalgia to sell everything from collectable lunch boxes and pez dispensers to gelato and old-fashioned candy. They have all the brands you haven’t seen since childhood, and all the flavors that linger in the palette of your memory.
Powell’s is a store full of stories. And vivid, authentic stories are the main ingredients of success for franchise branding.
As I browse through Powell’s, or even just peer in the window, the stories come flooding back… My little sister, hair in braids, eating Fun Dip in the back of the station wagon. My older sister hording her tube of Flicks. The penny candy selection at Jack’s Country Store. The red, black and purple licorice I loved so much at summer camp.
That stuff sticks with you.
But Powell’s triggers more than just memories. It also triggers the imagination. It ignites the senses and conjures a latent, childlike creativity in us that gets beaten down by the demands of modern society.
Maybe that’s why go back every year. Maybe that’s why I want to linger so long. It’s not just satisfying my sweet tooth, it’s filling a need for creative inspiration and optimism. I can feed off the energy of the kids and the delight of the parents. There’s laughter and smiles and buzz you just don’t find at the Starbucks next door.
There aren’t many brands that can honestly say that.
Unfortunately, the Powell’s website doesn’t capture any of that laughter and buzz that I’m raving about. Their site is a boring, disconnected piece of corporate communications that wouldn’t move anyone to do anything. (I hope they’re working on a refresh!)
So what can you learn from a little candy store in downtown Bend, Oregon?
You want customers to tell stories about you. You want products and service that create lasting memories. You want positive word-of-mouth that’s more powerful than anything you can say yourself.
Here are a few, random reviews of Powell’s from Yelp.com:
“Move over Disneyland – this is the happiest place on earth. I feel like I step into Charlie and the Chocolate Factory every time I come here.”
“This candy store rocks. It has everything you want especially if you’re looking for some candy that will blast you right back to your childhood.”
“The best candy shop. Period.”
“I want to hug the person who came up with the concept of this store…they are pure genius and manage to put a huge smile on my face the minute I walk through the door!”
Interestingly, the nostalgic theme of every Powell’s store seems to work equally well on children. Because the appeal of it is timeless. The candy that we thought was so cool, still is. The element of surprise and the sense of discovery works just as well now as it did 30 years ago.
That’s why brick and mortar retail stores will never go away… they can deliver a sensory experience that can never be duplicated on the screen of your phone or computer. It’s the cumulative effect of the smells, the sights, the colors, the selection, the sounds and the flavors that trigger that flood of fondness.
So if you’re trying to build an unforgettable retail shopping experience, I’d suggest a visit to Powell’s Sweet Shoppe. Just soak it all in, eat some sweets, and see what happens.
For more on ecommerce, try this post.