Being around people who think differently is refreshing.

Last month, Axis Display Group ventured to the Big Easy for the International Retail Design Conference presented by VMSD. The event, themed to celebrate the creation of “storied spaces,” drew in an eclectic group of individuals. Retailers, brands, merchandisers, designers, decorators, architects, agencies, tech companies, suppliers, and a slew of industry editors, publishers, and media reps all gathered together for one common goal: to study what the hell the retail industry is doing.

The event itself was set up to facilitate interaction. Nothing about it was forced. There wasn’t any division, perceived or actual, among the attendees. Though this was Axis’ first experience with IRDC, we by no means felt like we were fish out of water.



"There was an absolute vibe to the event and the underlying current seemed to focus on two BIG questions .... what is this thing we call retail, and what do we do with it? There were no Chicken Littles. No Henny Pennies. The fear of brick and mortar retail coming to an end never even broke into conversation… the collective brilliance was evident at every table, every session, and every discussion." - Neil Thomas



While we knew some of what we were getting into when we signed up, the true takeaway from the event can be summed up through one man’s keynote: Peter Kim, Founder and Vice Chairman, Hudson Jeans. Amidst discussions of technology, trends, data, paths to purchase, and all those other important, yet relatively tired, points of conversation, Kim came onto the scene challenging everyone to think about retail differently.

Rather than rattling off the Top 10 ways Hudson Jeans conquered the premium denim market, he instead challenged us to think deeply, venture inward, and consider the ramifications of our actions. He reminded us, through quite colorful language, how f’d up of a world we’ve created for ourselves, and that the only real, true hope for humanity is kindness and compassion.

He implored the audience to remember two things:
1. do only great - in everything, not just retail;
2. don’t be a dick.

Often, success can be attributed to one’s ability to read the lay of the land - to be proactive, rather than reactive - and to have an innate awareness of what needs to happen to make something better. This doesn’t apply to only logistical business decisions, design choices, or budgetary concerns; it’s applicable to the day-to-day interactions we have with our co-workers, vendors, consumers, friends, family, and strangers, too. There’s great value in the art of observation, in being present in the moment and remembering that what you say and do has a lasting effect on the environment around you.

In times of great turmoil, uncertainty, and unrest, holding strong to attributes of kindness, humility, and compassion carry great weight.

When thinking about the many forms and functions of retail, this message is crucial. In an age where the entire industry’s relevancy and significance are under constant scrutiny, it’s more important now than ever to design spaces and places that build a sense of community. Retailers and brands have an uncanny ability to bring people together. The way they convey their products and company, describe the values they believe in, and appeal to people who share their same mission, creates a sense of collective belonging. Great retail is compassionate retail. It’s empathetic and intuitive, respectful and well-intentioned, genuine and honest.

While it may seem far-reaching to equate retail design with social impact, at the end of the day, people are people. And retail exists to create a platform to which those people can acquire the things they need to enrich their lives, sustain their well-being, and express their individuality. If retail is rooted in compassion and kindness, would it be so far-fetched to say the output of all that effort could incite real change?

Wishful thinking or not, the future of retail is not only in technology, experiential design, and the conversion of digital with physical. The foundation of the future of retail is rooted in simplicity.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you...and then do even more, because you’re able and willing and determined to make a positive impact in this damn industry and world.