Many of the trends we are seeing – and liking - in retail, hospitality, services and even urban planning, deal with smaller size because a strong, growing segment of us is tired of Big.
We want small, independent, pop-up, mobile, local, rogue. But – and this is an important but – we want it served up to us in a professional manner, we do not want amateur fumbling even from the smallest providers.
In essence, we want what we cannot have from the mega-malls, big boxes, airports, big brands or grocery giants. And that leads to another important ‘but’. We want small BUT we still want the big, too. Nothing new here, but it still seems that many brands, marketers and researchers have a hard time dealing with the fact that we are not black-and-white, either-or. We are both-and, plus a little extra.
You cannot divide consumer habits into age categories or behaviours the way you could a decade or two ago. We are indeed picking and choosing from each basket, and we will continue to do so, but we are choosing small significantly more often than we used to.
It is hard to imagine someone whose ideal living environment - city, town or village – would be a vast expanse of gigantic malls where global brands offer indistinguishable wares in boring lookalike stores, or where cavernous big boxes ply cheap goods stacked up floor to ceiling. Acres of parking lots; people always in cars. And actual “living” taking place separately in isolated enclaves, and working in yet another isolated location.
More and more frequently, we envision the ideal living environment as something quite similar to a traditional small town or vibrant village. Or a neighbourhood with people, services and work all within walking or biking distance.
We believe that this trend is going to get stronger and stronger, and it will be good for the businesses that understand their niche and offer their customers true value: something that is worth their money and time.
Small businesses are the essence of such neighbourhoods and towns. They are the glue that makes it all stick together. They bring people together, they create small oasis of lovely interaction.
But just like in the traditional small town, today’s small businesses must try harder. From the startup on, they must earn their place in the circle. The merchants and service providers in the old towns were professionals of their trade. They knew their customers, they respected them and they worked hard at earning their trust. The same is true today.
This trend, as we said earlier, is nothing new. It has been brewing for a long time in step with our overall dissatisfaction with the big, faceless brands and their outsourced, hopelessly horrible “service.” When Seth Godin wrote about the topic in 2005, we all took notice. Yet today, almost a decade later, it is still only a trend. But we believe it’s time has finally come.
Big brands offer smaller
One aspect of this trend is seen in the behavior of many big brands that are opening smaller-scale stores, restaurants and hotels that are more intimate, offer a more tightly edited selection of products and services, are targeted and tailored to meet individual local markets, and usually also pay more attention to design and local tastes.
We are also seeing a renaissance of boutique-scale businesses; stores, hotels, restaurants and services that do not plan to grow bigger, only better. These are often one-store or one-hotel operations that gain a dedicated, loyal client base by understanding their customers better than their bigger competitor chains.
Unfortunately, many of these become so successful that the bigger competitors want to buy them out in order to either remove them from the market or to gain some of their halo. Usually, with such buy-outs, the aura of the independent, owner-operated business disappears and the previously so loyal clientele moves on. The heart is gone from the business and the clients can see it.
Of course, another much-talked-about aspect of this trend are pop-ups. Any brand worth their reputation has opened pop-ups by now, but it is still an appealing proposition for both brands and customers. Pop-ups liven up neighbourhoods, malls and streets with new, temporary offerings. They give big and small businesses an opportunity to test markets, products and services. They give businesses a chance to benefit from temporarily empty spaces. And they liven up potentially dead storefronts.
Pop-ups will still continue although we are also seeing some fatigue as some businesses now use pop-up as their chance to have regular blow-out sales and other repeating offerings that dilute the surprise factor and excitement of pop-ups. Perhaps there will be a new, more exciting reiteration of the pop-up that will bring back the excitement?
In the manner of the ice cream truck, milk man, shoe-polish box and hot-dog stand of the past, mobile offerings are also growing around the world. From food carts and mobile cafes to bike services and mobile pet spas, new, exciting businesses are popping up as mobile carts.
Many cities have been forced to alter their laws to accommodate these temporary, mobile businesses that often do not fit under the laws created for permanent, bigger operators. We think this is all to the good. While laws and regulations are necessary, they need to become much more flexible and nimble to adapt to startups and small operators that add desirable flavor, colour, excitement and convenience to their surroundings.
Also part of the mobile, portable phenomenon, are the various dwellings, hotels and businesses housed in repurposed shipping containers. The Illy Café in New York in 2007 garnered a much attention and a multitude of reiterations of the idea now pop up daily.
One valuable consequence from striving for smaller, portable, mobile, inexpensive, sustainable pop-up is that many forms of temporary housing options, portable clinics, schools and water purification stations and so on have become not just curiosities but real solutions in far-flung places and/or difficult conditions to help in areas of catastrophe, extreme poverty and environmental crises.
As poverty has often turned out to be the mother of invention, we believe that this is one area where sometimes even the silliest-seeming ideas can actually be transformed into real relief and smart solutions where they are most needed. As we who have everything in excess “play with our food”, perhaps we will in the process find ways – and the will – to relieve suffering everywhere.
We also believe that our exasperation with conspicuous consumption – that is partially expressed in our desire for everything smaller – has also helped to bring about a new kind of helping culture. We are starting to consider the consequences of all of our actions as companies, teams and individuals, rather than doing whatever it takes to momentarily satisfy our desire for the next fix for our inner emptiness, or to blindly and impotently try to meet the shareholders’ relentless demand for bigger profits.
The small mobile business is tied to another aspect of this trend – locality. More and more people want to buy local, not just food but other products and services as well. And while it is difficult for a small, new operator to compete with the prices of an established, strong brand, we feel that local businesses and local initiatives will continue to grow in popularity.
What we do know as well is that whether a business is local or small, it still has to meet the needs of today’s demanding clientele.
Many small operators seem to believe that just because they are passionate about their business and because they want to do it, customers somehow owe them their patronage. That is not the case today, and it never was.
We will not part with our time or money – at least not repeatedly – if we are not getting great service and great products. Being small, local or independent will carry a business only so far. A loyal customer base will not develop out of pity or shame.
Professional branding is also a given today. And that does not necessarily mean having to spend a lot in the creation of logos and package design, although it may mean those as well. What it does mean is that if you are going to succeed, you will need to be able to charge a premium price. And to charge that price, you need to look and behave like a brand that knows who it is and what it does and why it exists.
Clear messaging, cohesive visuals, well thought-through customer experience, professional staff – all of these are important. And yet, you can achieve all this without having to appear or behave like a pretentious branding exercise with a fake story and dumb logo. It is all about knowing who you are, what you offer and why your valued customers should spend their time and money with you. All the basics of business still apply.
The last aspect of the Small is the New Big trend that we’ll cover in this article is what we’ll call Rogue concepts. They incorporate many of the other aspects of the trend with the added appeal of a grass-roots initiative.
The Rogue concepts add the empowering angle of people taking to the streets, creating their own “brands”, doing it their way, breaking the rules.
This, perhaps more than any of the other aspects, speaks to the true core of the entire trend. We are tired of giving our power – and time and money – to the Big Brand. There’s an undercurrent of sophisticated protest. Call it idle nonsense of the well-heeled, if you like, but we think it is part of a serious undercurrent. The world of Wall-E is not quite as absurd as we’d perhaps like to think and the power to change it is in our hands. - Tuija Seipell.
Images 1,2,3 - Happy Bones Cafe, NYC, images 4/5 - Grey Goose Pop up bar in Edinburgh., Image 6 - Intelligentsia coffee van, Image 7 - Sigmund Pretzels, Image 9 - LA Distributrice - Montreal, Image 10 - Omotesando coffee - Japan, Image 11 - Velopresso Mobile Espresso bar, Image 13 - Box Park - London, Last image - Homer Wine packaging
Francoise Nielly's massive, colourful portraits are delicious to look at. Even more wonderful – and particularly infuriating to those of us who have timidly dabbled in painting – is to watch her create them. She, in her confident, strong hand, wields her painting knife shaped like a miniature garden trowel, and makes painting look easy like cake frosting.
She paints her vivid, passionate canvases — some as large as 78 x 25 inches (195 x 62 centimeters) -- from black-and-white photos, further proof of her unfailing ability to interpret light, shadow, hue and tone by applying brilliant colours and daring strokes.
Born in Marseille, brought up near Cannes and Saint-Tropez, and now living in Paris, Nielly is at home among bold contrast and dazzling light. To add to her likeability, here is the list of her loves: Life, wide open spaces, sushi, blue lagoons, the Internet, humor, books, Paris, New York and Vancouver.
Six of her prints are available exclusively through TCH online store - 1000mm x 1000ml & 1200mm x 1200 metallic print on acrylic.
Architect and designer Helle Flou, founder of Copenhagen-based HelleFlou, was responsible for the design of the offices for the Danish Fashion and Textile association (Dansk Mode og Textil) and Kopenhagen Fur.
The offices are located in the fabulous 1835-built, heritage-listed A.N.Hansen mansion at the corner of Fredericiagade and Bredgade in the Fredriksstaden neighbourhood of central Copenhagen.
The move together of the two organizations established a anew home and innovation centre for their cooperative effort called KicK initiative(Kopenhagen Internationle Center for Kreativitet). KiCK’s focus is on collaboration between the European and Chinese fashion industry.
Flou’s design reflects the idea of a “Nordic Diamond.” In an interview, Flou was quoted as saying that she was inspired by “. . . the Nordic nature and a special Scandinavian light that gives a strong sense of history, atmosphere and experience. . . The diamond is hardy, but at the same time extremely elegant; with its beautiful facets it creates rigorous order and transparency at the same time. The two elements have jointly created the guidelines for a balanced and harmonious space.”
We agree. The neo-classical frame of the building is evident in the staircases, doorways and gold-painted accents and friezes. Contemporary and classic Danish designer furniture and fixtures fit seamlessly in the black & white, gold & gray colour scheme, and also help establish a level of easy and cool comfort. Natural light finishes off the harmonious, spacious design. - Tuija Seipell
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Working in a shared space - in a café or a rented-by-the-hour office - is nothing new, but sometimes a concept pops up that is worth a second look. Now into its third week of life, Joint Café + Workspace in Bangkok stands
out in its whiteness.
We will not speculate on what it will look like after a few months of coffee spills and foot traffic, but for now, it appears inviting like a new notebook, all ready to be filled with people, ideas and inspiration. The space, designed by Thailand’s 56th Studio, is located on the 12th floor of the Asia Hotel’s car park building.
The space is flexible and can be rented in various configurations for workshops, lessons or meetings. Joint Café + Workspace looks more like an office and less like a café, which may make it a unique proposition in that it will not become a coffee shop where people hang out for hours working on their laptops and tablets over one cup of coffee. - Tuija Seipell.
We are now officially suffering from office envy and the object of our feelings is located in Poland, in a former cable factory in Zabłocie, a post-industrial district in Kraków. It was designed for the web technology consulting firm u2i by architect and urban planner Justyna Friedberg of Kraków-based Morpho Studio.
The obvious breathing room – so often lacking in offices – is clearly evident here. White, ash wood, natural light. Somehow we can imagine thoughts flying freer in a space like this, with this much openness and light.
The real gem of the 800 square-meter (8,611 sq.ft.) office, and the part we covet the most, is the central indoor porch, or chill zone, with its swing and potted plants. A simple, fresh idea, beautifully executed.
We suspect that herbs and favourite flowers will be grown here by the team, and that it will turn out to be not just a passive space with the surroundings fitted and provided by someone else, but that it actually will live as a real porch or garden where people can putter around and exercise their green thumbs. Or just chill in the swing.
With this open porch, the basic, large, rectangular space has become more of an environment and less of a set of offices. And what we like most is that the porch does not have the omnipresent sad pool tables or soft-drink dispensers that still seem to denote “cool office” to some. - Tuija Seipell.
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Flamingo Shanghai’s swanky new office, The Attic, is a grand example of how the intelligent use of scale and natural light, and the minimalist approach to materials can create cohesive unity that looks both fresh and imbued with patina.
Shanghai-based Neri&Hu effected their special brand of design philosophy on this cavernous industrial 620 square-meter (6673 sq.ft.) attic, and created a dark-hued and angular open-concept office for the creative agency. The attic includes offices, conference space, exhibit space, observation areas, quiet room and kitchen.
The hard materials and cold surfaces project efficiency and focus. We assume that the natural light through the large skylight windows, together with the presence of people, will balance those aspects with softness and creative life energy.
Husband-and-wife duo, Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu established their own design and architecture practice Neri&Hu in Shanghai in 2004 after having moved to China two years earlier to work with Michael Graves. The Philippines-born Neri (b. 1965) has architecture degrees from Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley. Taiwan-born Hu (b. 1968) was trained at Princeton. - Tuija Seipell.
Swedish restaurateurs Magnus Ek and Agneta Green started their entrepreneurial careers in 1994 as they rented the small Oaxen Skärgårdskrog restaurant in Stockholm’s archipelago. They taught themselves the ins and outs of wine, food and fresh ingredients, eventually bought the restaurant and started to gain a steady reputation.
But the Swedish winters being what they are, the archipelago location was open only part of the year. Forward the clock from that to last year, and the grand opening of Oaxen Krog & Slip, their brand new corrugated-metal framed and so beautifully aged twin establishments, right at the old shipyards on the island of Djurgården in Stockholm’s city centre.
Designed and lovingly outfitted with repurposed, antique and retro furnishings and materials by architect Mats Fahlander and architect-designer Agneta Pettersson, the restaurants have already gained several prestigious Swedish awards in business, design and food categories.
These include Stockholm’s Restaurant of the Year 2014 recognition for Slip by the Swedish city entertainment guide Nöjesguiden, and Oaxen Krog’s awarded of Business Restaurant of the Year 2014 by the financial newspaper Dagens Industri. Oaxen Krog has already one Michelin star and Slip has won the Michelin Bib Gourmand-award.
Krog is more of a dining room and Slip a bistro. Our absolute favourites in Slip are the lovely finds dating back to fairly recent Swedish history – the wooden 1905-built craft in the ceiling and the single scull from 1920s. The old Swedish school desks, theatre-seating and repurposed tableware create a uniquely welcoming and familiar feeling.
Oaxen Krog is a bit more formal but seats only 35 and therefore retains an intimate atmosphere. Slatted oak covers the walls and ceiling , and the chairs dating back to the 1950 but still in production by the Swedish Wigells surround the tables custom-crafted by shipyard carpenters. As e the smart city set dines on organic fare, we think we can hear some Swedish Old Salty in his blond beard and blue eyes singing a melancholy song or two about the rough-but-oh-so-wholesome life on the cold shores of Sweden. - Tuija Seipell.