Thursday, February 24, 2011
If you want the flavor of New York City, I recommend watching Late Night with David Letterman. Here you will get comedy with an edge and a blend of the New Yorker's classic traits - smug indifference, elitism, cynicism, skepticism, sarcasm and impatience, applied to any and all topics, like the world of specialization, which we see more and more in all sectors of life whether business, occupation or recreation.
In retail, however, this is an extremely risky proposition. With a large product mix, a retailer can shift gears, i.e. inventory, as trends and consumer demands change. But to have a brick and mortar shop that specializes in a specific product leaves one at tremendous risk - a change in the tastes of the consumer and you are finished. A highly specialized retailer will typically require a very large population to keep a physical shop afloat financially selling one product. New York City offers the best opportunity for success.
For every specialty survivor, I have seen a hundred casualties - like the gelati craze of the 1980s. We now have a wave of Red Mango and Pinkberry shops seemingly everywhere. Although they may offer a higher quality product, it is reminiscent of TCBY in New York. Now, there is only one left in Manhattan. One has to deal with the not only the fickleness of the consumer but also that of the New Yorker who has their own particular taste.
The specialty shop sells only one product line, like Canal Rubber. The real specialty shop sells only one product - The Doughnut Plant, Kossar's Bialys, H&H Bagel. But food shops or chains specializing in one product are common. Hard goods much less so. This is the world that surprises. Like Bari pizza ovens. Perhaps the quintessential poster child for real specialization in New York City retail is Just Shades, which, along with Just Bulbs, were the subjects of a brilliant, classic David Letterman skit in 1983. In it, Letterman starts by visiting Just Bulbs, where he persists in asking a salesclerk if they carry anything other than bulbs. Here are excerpts of Letterman's brand of torture:
Letterman: Besides bulbs, what do you have here?
Letterman: How about shades? Could you get shades here?
Clerk: NO, we are Just Bulbs. If you want shades, maybe you go in a place called Just Shades.
Then we cut away to a downtown retailer, Just Shades, where Letterman pursues the same relentless questioning with a little old lady:
Letterman: What is the name of this store?
Clerk: Just Shades.
Letterman: And what can you get in here?
Clerk: What can you get in here? Only shades. That's why our name is Just Shades.
Letterman: But seriously, what can you get besides shades here?
Letterman was able to poke some fun at the expense of extreme specialization, and for that, you need a New Yorker, New York and a place like Just Shades :)