Over the past few years, there has been a noticeable shift in the imagery and messaging retailers are using to reach their consumers. Many companies are harnessing the power of inclusive marketing, which reflects the diverse communities that a retailer serves—representing all ages, sizes, ethnicities, gender identities and so on. Savvy retailers are taking this one step further: bringing their storefronts directly to consumers who have been historically underrepresented.
In addition to inclusive marketing in print ads and social media, the logical strategy extends the brand with a brick and mortar presence in the actual communities where these target consumers live—not necessarily West LA, Beverly Hills and Hollywood. There are millions of consumers living east of the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles County who have disposable income that they will spend on new food, fashion, fitness and experiences; there is a demand and innate craving to have these experiences accessible locally in their own backyard, rather than having to fight traffic or find transportation to get to the Westside of Los Angeles.
The benefits of expanding brand presence in these markets is two-fold. First, these locations can be profitable for retailers. A physical presence drives a sense of community, place, and gathering at shopping centers, leading to increased positive engagement on social media platforms and increased sales revenue—bringing awareness and engagement full circle. These areas can also serve as fulfillment centers to nearby residents, helping to solve for last mile logistics, and cutting costs on distribution and transportation. In addition, many larger brands approach these locations from a mission-driven perspective, aiming to improve their micro neighborhoods through investment in hiring from the community and, in certain instances, selling local products.
Nike is one example of a brand that has recently implemented this strategy with its community store on Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles. Leveraging the intersection of sports and lifestyle, Nike fostered a true sense of place within a diverse setting. This community store helped create a unique amenity within the local community and serves as a gathering place for residents. The company has opened additional community stores in Brooklyn, Washington, D.C., Tuscaloosa, South Chicago and New Orleans.
Grocery giant Whole Foods has taken a similar track in Englewood, Chicago, a neighborhood that historically has experienced high rates of violent crime. However, Englewood is also home to many working-class families struggling to find proper groceries amidst its food deserts. Opening in 2016, Whole Foods occupies 18,000 square-feet within the newly-constructed Englewood Square. Almost one-half of the store’s employees were hired directly from Englewood, and this location sells upwards of 35 Englewood-made products, allowing vendors to boost their own staffing. Moreover, the entrance of Whole Foods into a community that is underserved from traditional retail allows for increased access to fresh foods, greater connection to the community, and education about healthy eating habits.
Starbucks has also invested in several low-income communities across the country in New York, Milwaukee and a store in Englewood, Chicago. With an aim to integrate disadvantaged youths into the workforce, Starbucks has created a program to hire those who are at risk of never achieving economic self-sufficiency. These stores will not only employ dozens of youth from the local area, but will also provide a dedicated space for training; utilize local women and minority-owned contractors for design and construction; and work with suppliers to sell local food products. This initiative is part of Starbucks long-term expansion strategy.
Retailers and shopping center owners can both benefit by bringing inclusive marketing and brand awareness to all communities, not just high socioeconomic communities that have access to upscale retail amenities. Retailers need to make the commitment to consider these markets, and shopping center owners must commit to investing in these markets to offer a homestead for those brands willing to make the investment to have meaningful impact in these communities.
We welcome retailers and shopping center owners to reconsider underserved communities as a part of their inclusive marketing strategy to successfully grow their respective brands and places and capitalize on this opportunity.