The Amazing Retail Revival: How Joann, Office Depot (And Even Nordstrom) Are Staying Relevant


(Photo: Business Wire)

Joann is trying to prove that 75 is the new millennial.

The sewing and fabric chain, once a fixture at strip centers, has made a sharp turn on the path to what many might have thought was obsolescence and is remaking itself. New technology, new creators’ studio, new target market. The old girl apparently has some fight in her, and she’s putting it to use.

And she’s got company. Several old-school merchants, in categories ranging from shoes to office supplies, are remaking themselves in a bid for shopper relevancy. Sometimes it’s through highly specialized online-only sites, sometimes through niche services and occasionally, as in Joann’s case, through total reinvention. But they all seem to follow a similar life cycle: Their model peaks, they cut out or minimize the middleman and then find new life in a new form.

Regardless of the life cycle stage, in each case, these merchants have reidentified their core markets. Here’s a look at a few of them.

Joann’s Cut At Recreation

Following 18 months of intensive research, the chain has unveiled its concept store in Columbus, Ohio, combining elements of community building and technology.

Among the key features is a creators’ studio, with a Starbucks counter, for classes and social events such as birthday parties and Girl Scout activities. Also featured are touchscreen kiosks showing Pinterest craft projects, with instructions, that can be personalized by user.

(Photo: Business Wire)

But the focus is not limited to in-store activities; it recognizes and eliminates common purchase pain points. The store offers rentable sewing machines and crafting tools for the crafting curious and a service called Sew & Go, through which customers can hand off their projects to seamstresses. There are personal shoppers and a no-wait fabric “cut bar,” where shoppers can drop off their pre-measured orders and selected fabric and receive mobile alerts when they’re ready to be picked up.

Joann also is recognizing professional crafters and makers who sell their products by offering the chance to livestream classes from the studio as well as display their work in in-store installments.

Office Depot Out Of The Box

Office Depot identified its emerging core market in new business owners and entrepreneurs, many of whom seek the expertise of “Biz Pros.” Its BizBox concept, at 14 locations in Texas, is an all-in-one-box suite of services and networking opportunities where visitors can work, build and collaborate.

The stores, in Austin, include flex workspaces where customers can seek face-to-face expert advice from BizBox professionals in “consulting hubs” and network with fellow entrepreneurs and business owners. There also are designated “Tech Zones” where professional tech support staff can help with computer snafus, smartphone repairs and other common challenges.

The service-led concept, which is planned to expand to other locations, is designed to free up business owners from workaday hindrances so they can focus on innovation and growth. Office Depot calls it a step toward a “strategic transformation from a traditional office products retailer to a broader business services platform.”

Those outside of Texas can access’s back-office tools, services and expertise. These include logo and web design, email and social media campaigning and legal and financial services.

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