Times are only getting tougher for brick-and-mortar stores. Forecasts by the Institute for Trade Research IFH show that 45,000 stationary traders in Germany alone will not survive the coming years until 2020. So it is clearly time to forge new paths. Society is completely saturated with the usual consumer goods so retailers must adapt and provide more entertainment and leisure offerings versus tangible products. In addition, the customer has become more demanding and therefore has shifted his or her consumption more toward the experience. And experience is exactly what retailer Erlebe Wigner! now provides. The family-owned retailer launched a completely new concept in 2010–and not in Berlin, Munich or Hamburg. No! Located in Zirndorf near Nuremberg, the Erlebe Wigner! store offers a unique experience world of fashion, home, accessories, presents, lifestyle products, shoes, books, gastronomy, workshops and live events. It is a courageous step, which shows how important it is to develop and change. And this is not hidden from the public. In June the store was awarded with a retail prize, the August-Blanke Award. Here, owner Eberhard Wigner explains why this was the only step he could take.
A couple years ago, your store moved from downtown to the outskirts. Why did you decide to take that courageous step?
We moved back in 2001 because our possibilities to further develop were limited at the old location. We wanted to reorganize ourselves and create a curated world of experiences and therefore provide customers the best accessibility and parking facilities possible. On our current location this is all given. We have a large-scale hybrid space concept and can repeatedly stage ourselves in new ways. The women’s section is our core business that helped us generate sales quickly after moving to the new location. Last year we have stocked up the existing space during ongoing business about another 1,000 sq. meters and strengthened our concept.
But isn’t it a great risk to open such a store not in a city but in a smaller town?
For sure it is. But in the beginning I didn’t ask myself that question. Thirty years ago I took over the company from my parents and it just happened to be located in Zirndorf. With the reopening in 2001 I stayed true to my hometown.
Parallel to moving you changed the store’s concept. What, in fact, do you offer your customers?
Our concept is experience. This is why we call ourselves a concept store. Not just because we present a selected offer which is on the same fashion level through all assortments and therefore enables the customer to successfully find something in every segment, but because the events, workshops and the bistro we choose to offer are also selected experiences. Our customer is the guest and we are the host. The products are presented by our staff in context of a curated experience concept. We offer our guests a home away from home–a third home that does not include any obligations compared to your first (the actual home) and second home (your workplace).
This sounds extensive. How do you realize those numerous offers?
In fact it is extensive as we organize more than 100 different events and workshops throughout the year. Our success factor is the person. Here at Erlebe Wigner! emotional experiences take the center stage–this applies to team members as it does to customers. Each team member has the possibility for personal development. We place high value on the permanent development of our staff in their personal, professional and methodical competence. Consequent experiences, the high level of service, an above-average communication ability–this is what we train with our team each week for 15 years now. Coach Andreas Nemeth professionally guides us during the seminar weeks we organize each half-year. Eight in-house coaches trained by him–this can be an ambitious trainee as well as a department manager–keep the training success at a high level throughout the year.
This also changes the value of staff in your company…
Our staff is our highest good. For that reason we invest an above-average amount of time and money in the personal and professional development of each person. Everybody is treated and appreciated as an independent personality. Joined outings, parties and workshops support a high identification with the own work and with the company. When we for example introduce new workshops such as folding books, hand lettering, making your own soap etc. our team members can first learn it with our financial help and then go through the workshop with their colleagues on a team night.
Since October 2016 you also offer a bistro. Which effects does that replenishment have on frequency and sales?
Since we offer a bistro frequency and residence times have increased. After having breakfast or lunch customers take time to stroll through our store. By now the bistro Käts Küche arrives to be profitable. It also profits from the events we organize as many visitors of the readings, concerts, cabaret nights etc. take the chance to eat at Käts Küche before the event. Assortmentwise also books and gift articles increase frequency. One can always find little bits and bobs like a nice greetings card for 99 cents. Profits of those articles are small but they are there. Fashion alone would not be sufficient.
What are the proportions of each segment on the total amount of sales?
With fashion we turn over about 60%, 12% comes from shoes, 24% from gift articles and 6% is made by Käts Küche. Our events currently turn over €200,000 of sales.
What does the fashion offer look like?
Our assortment is carefully curated and presented. We do not show basics on the floor but instead we present pieces and collections that are interesting and on the same level of fashionability. Our suppliers include brands such as Only, Shirtaporter, Street One, Opus, Marc O’Polo and Marc Cain. We also apply the same standards to the other segments that comprise books, gift articles, shoes, beauty articles, home articles, accessories and watches. The art is to select. It’s all about leaving things out, not on just gathering stuff.
You place the person in the center of attention. How important is the digitalization of the retail space nonetheless?
We do not use digital tools on the floors, and they are not planned for the near future. For us it’s all about the person and personal contact. This is our USP.
Did you ever feel anxious of your own courage and doubt your success? How did you cope with it?
My wife and I come from a long tradition of entrepreneurs. This leaves its mark on you from a very young age. Courage, a sense for responsibility, diligence and resilience help to go through highs and lows. Throughout many years I’ve made the experience that those qualities, combined with the conviction of having a unique concept, are what you need along the way. And specifically in my case: “You never walk alone.” It is a good feeling to know a couple of people will stay by your side that believe in the same project and invest the same enthusiasm that you do.
Your son is gradually taking over the management. What advice do you give him for the future? And how are you planning to spend your time? Will you stick to the fashion industry?
“Keep your story straight–stay true to the brand essence of Erlebe Wigner! and always go with time”: this is what I’ll tell him. We’ll take this path together for a while on from now and I’m sure that I will stay close to the industry. But then it’s time to follow my passion again which is skiing. For many years our store also had a large sports department including a ski school. As a certified ski instructor I offered ski trips to France and the USA. My wife takes responsibility for the marketing as well as all of the event marketing activities of our company. In this context we also have an art and culture club that currently numbers almost 900 members. You see, we won’t get bored.