I’ve come to believe that we are truly creatures of habit. Have you ever noticed if you attend regular meetings people will sit in the same chair even though there are no assigned seats. We generally take the same route to and from work daily. Most family meals consist of ten meals rotated over and over again. We buy the same gas, frequent the same stores, read the same papers, and listen to the same music over and over again.

I think this is true of most of us and that’s okay. In fact, our “routines” allow us to feel safe because we don’t need to venture far from our comfort zones. However, what works in our daily lives will often fail if we practice the same habits in retail. Retail demands experimentation, investigation, and reaching out to embrace the opportunities that exist outside our comfort zones.

The best advice for new ideas that we can come up with is simple. Be on the look-out for “Furbies.” Unless you were out of the country you know that Furbies were the wonder toy of 1990’s. Kids either loved or hated the little battery operated fuzzy gremlin look-a-like.   But even with this love/hate relationship the Furby was still the hit of the season.

Retail is not altogether different than the stock market. You are taking a risk every time you write an order.  Since you’re taking a risk, why not go after the next “Furby” of the season.  Think of that sought after item as an undervalued stock that has the potential to become the next, Furby.  Break out of your comfort zone.

Take a look at your company and ask does it look pretty much the same now as it did the same time last year? Are you presenting the same vendors from two or three years ago?  Are your sales tactics the same?  Are your windows reflecting changes? Are yours sales associates introducing your inventory in pretty much the same way?  Sameness in retail can be a very dangerous symptom. How many new lines are being introduced this season?  How many do you intend to present next season?  How many new shows have you attended? Do you intend to attend any next season?

Years ago a fine men’s shop client, introduced some of the finest tablecloths and napkins available anywhere in America, you may ask Tablecloths…in a men’s store?  Surely it didn’t fit the mold, but every piece sold, exclusive women’s stores presenting some great home furnishings or Golf shops selling cigars. It makes sense now, but who would have imagined it ten years ago?  I can picture fine apparel shops introducing fine wines, and specialty foods, because of the symbiotic relationship between the culinary arts and fashion apparel. Several successful apparel retailers are in the restaurant business as well.  I guess good taste bridges across several lines.

The fact is, the use of innovative tactics isn’t against the law of nature, nor should it be against the law of retail.  On the contrary, it should be against the law of retail not to try new and unusual tactics in your quest to grow your business.

Try stretching yourself to see beyond the same vendors with products that you invariably display in the same old ways.  I’m not suggesting you abandon what you stand for in the eyes of customer, but do try to incorporate new approaches that allow your clients to see your shop in a fresh new way.

The most pleasant surprise you can give your customers is the unexpected, the “Furby” you discovered, and the new item you looked high and low for. I would venture to say locating this item might be the most pleasurable aspect of buying and retail. Retailers are having a very difficult time looking different; they are struggling to find ways to differentiate themselves. It does take work but it’s worth the effort. One or two unusual items, inventory that says it has never been here before, can make all the difference in the world.  Well, maybe not the world, but it can make a difference in a season.