December 4, 2018 / Point of View
The amount of retail closings in 2018 is likely to be an all-time high, as online commerce continues to disrupt physical-world shopping. This shift toward people preferring e commerce is going nowhere but up — consider that 2018 is expected to see 57 percent of all holiday purchases done online. Yet here in Minneapolis, brick-and-mortar store MartinPatrick3 (MP3) continues to add square footage, even as they eschew e commerce altogether.
Stepping into MP3, an internationally recognized retail gem located in the North Loop of Minneapolis, feels like being welcomed into the home of a generous host with a style all his own — one who has considered every detail of your time together, who knows your cocktail of choice and the right record to put on the turntable to make you feel not just appreciated but understood.
The acting host for MP3 on our recent visit was brand manager and buyer Erick DeLeon, who, together with his team, creates this unique retail experience. Walking through the 22,000-square-foot space with DeLeon is like taking a master class in authenticity. Not the kind you might spot as a descriptive word on a brand architecture document, but the true kind of authenticity — the kind that radiates between people when the social masks have fallen away, the kind that can only be delivered through heartfelt gestures, the kind that has become a rarity for brands today, especially legacy ones far removed from their roots.
MP3 knows exactly who they are as a brand, and it shows in every detail of their experience design. The original intention for the store was to create a space where men would refer other men for gentlemanly accoutrements they couldn’t find elsewhere: the most comfortable wallet, a one-of-a-kind tie, an expertly tailored jacket that can be worn for most occasions — all delivered in a space that can only be described as an earnest fusion of soul, style and creativity.
A distinctive and integrated brand experience
MP3 offers pieces for every man across every part of his day. Apparel ranging from elevated casual garments to bespoke suits is intermingled with accessories, furniture and even drinkware and apothecary, all presented as styled moments that reflect what a life well-lived consists of: a cocktail shaker that holds memories from gatherings with friends over the years, a fine sofa where you’ve ended many long days or sat reading The New Yorker, a simple pillow printed with “Let’s make out,” because make outs are love, and love is life, obviously.
The space itself tells the story of the brand — the way the experience has expanded physically and philosophically over the years, broadening its offerings. “When we started, we had six pairs of shoes that barely sold,” DeLeon said. Now they have hundreds of shoes neatly in line on custom shelving in a dedicated room.
Imagine an elegant labyrinth of expertly selected goods — that’s MP3. The entire store is loosely segmented into different rooms. Moving from one area into another is like moving through different expressions of the brand, fit for the style or occasion story most relevant to the products on the shelf. An entire room is designed to hold streetwear and sneakers, and just a few steps away you can buy a designer watch, a pair of buckskin choppers or furnishings for your home. That’s right, MP3 offers interior design services, as founders Greg Walsh and Dana Swindler come from the world of interiors, bringing their aesthetic sensibilities and deep understanding of how people spend their time into this retail environment.
Making service the true center of the experience
Perhaps it’s the foundational interior designer’s appreciation for how people live and how they want to feel that guides the MP3 experience, which includes choosing to sell products that are worthy of nothing less than love, designing custom shelving and furnishings for every area in the space, building a barbershop inside the store to help clients look and feel their best, and treating each person who walks through the door like a VIP. To ensure no detail is overlooked, MP3 hires people with a passionate commitment to service, which is to say a commitment to humanity. They’ve made careful language choices that guide the experience they deliver. The word “customers” sounds transactional, whereas referring to patrons as “clients” speaks to service.
Clients plan layovers in Minneapolis for the sole purpose of visiting MP3. That’s how much they value the experience. The store also ships clients curated boxes of items selected to suit the client’s needs for the season or occasion. People trust the experience they’ve had and the people they’ve worked with at MP3 so much that they ask them to select pieces on their behalf.
And when it comes to brand partnerships or shop-in-shop experiences, MP3 is grateful for the opportunity to bring more brands to their clients and create dedicated moments in the store to showcase products from the likes of Ted Baker, Aesop, Rodd & Gunn, Filson, Tom Ford, Missoni Home, Jonathan Adler and JB Hudson Jewelers, which has its own expert staff in the MP3 space. “It’s a huge credit to our clients for us to be able to build great relationships with these brands,” DeLeon said.
MP3 credits their growth to their clients — the people who come from all over the country and the world to experience something that has become hard to find: a brand that cares deeply about each client and infuses that care into every aspect of the experience.
Finding success in making people feel “feels”
MP3 designs for a wide array of clients with different needs and buying behaviors. They offer lower price-point brands like Bonobos as well as a sale section that is as meticulously attended to as the rest of the store. The intention is for every type of man to be able to see himself in the MP3 experience.
They don’t do much marketing beyond events and Instagram. Rather, they rely on word of mouth and continue to see new clients walk through the door every day because of it. They don’t sell online because that would take dedication away from the heart of the brand experience: the physical store. And they don’t pay attention to the competition, with the exception of using competitive experiences to understand what not to do, such as dressing the staff in unapproachable formalwear or following fleeting style trends like the stylish joggers that seemingly every man wore for a minute last year.
DeLeon said frankly, “If we had that corporate mentality, like we need to reach a certain sell-through, we wouldn’t get anywhere.”
Their success metric — the first compliment clients receive on a piece they bought from MP3 — reflects the sincerity of the brand. Of course, they track trends and sales and make strategic decisions about how to expand their assortment, interiors and other services. But the reason they do anything is to show care for their clients.
MP3 is a brand that all brands should strive to be more like, offering a truly human-centered experience. To that end, here are a few lessons about brand and experience design from one of the best:
• Understand deeply who you are for and how they aspire to live
• Cultivate a passion for service that permeates your culture
• Create spaces (physical or digital or blended) that treat people like guests at your brand’s party
• Design for the way people live and how they want to feel, not for how they buy
• Consider success metrics in terms of how people will talk about you
Thank you to Erick DeLeon for his time and perspective, and to the rest of the MP3 team who welcomed us into their space.