How I Got Kicked Out Of The Most Expensive Store In The World

Don’t Check Boxes

“I’ve gotta check this place out” I tell my wife while handing her the leash guiding our 7 month old Havanese puppy. Searching for a deeper understanding of the stories that we tell ourselves, I B line it for a mysterious store with a checkmark as its only sign.

Lately, I’ve been heavily researching luxury branding and its ability to create a new defendable market spaces. Last weekend, this “research” got me kicked out of Bijan who’s claim to fame is that they are the most expensive store in the world.

You can tell what a brand thinks about themselves from what they put in the shop windows.

Bijan has photos of the founder with Bill Clinton, GW Bush, and the like. Parked 10 feet from the door on the curb is a hideously painted Bugatti, which sets a hell of a frame — these guys are killing it so hard they have a million dollar car as a prop. Something is working though, in 2001 they had an estimate of $2b in sales.

A $2 million dollar prop

Upon opening the door to Bijan I was able to get a feel for the full experience for a grand total of 30 second before I was kicked out.

“Sorry sir, as the sign says, appointment only”

It probably didn't help that I had a 2 week “build beard” and was wearing FUBU sweatpants. Yes, most of time I walk around looking homeless with a distant look in my eye that only other entrepreneurs will recognize. Although, my look screamed vagrant, my mind was chewing on the data that I received from the interaction.

The thing is, after being kicked out, I found myself more interested in the brand. There is something about their strategy that is inherently attractive.

It turns out that “something” referenced above is the “Loss Aversion”. This phenomenon was studied in depth by Daniel Kahneman who found that people feel loss far more then they feel gains. Basically, if I give you $100 dollars and take away $10 you would have a higher cognitive reaction then if I just gave you $90 to begin with.

“The take”, as my friend Tom Alexander calls it, is when your strategy is to deliberately play hard to get. In the case of Bijon there is a strong psychological effect.

Back in Santa Monica, staring at the red sign with the check mark, wife in tow, I was looking for what makes us want, but I found what makes us not want.

Walking through the door, I had the exact opposite experience I did in Bijan. Within seconds, I realized it was a Verizon store. The place was a blatant ripoff of Nike’s beautiful execution even down to the checkmark sign.

Rather than using Apple as a design comp, they soullessly ripped off what made the Apple store the Apple store. There was at least a dozen of employees, all sporting a hip black t-shirt/jeans combo equipped with tablets ostensibly to help me buy things. One or two greeted me, but the store had no customers.

“Dan, did you want to go on break”

Is something that I heard as one employee, rather than walking to the front of the store, yelled to his colleague. My thought instantly was “if these people don’t give a fuck about their company, why should I”.

I always tell team members to imagine that every customer is a jar and in that jar there are jelly beans. With every interaction a bean is either put into that jar or pulled out of that jar. If enough beans leave the jar we are fired. If we can’t put beans in the jar, we will never be hired.

Companies who are iconic, really work hard to make sure that they keep putting beans in and fight like hell to keep them there. Verizon just isn’t one of them. I may have had 0.0001% of a bean in the jar before walking into the Verizon store and the moment that I heard that person yelling, the bean count went into the negative.

The problem is that Verizon was checking a box. It was obvious.

Rather than digging deep into the core of who Verizon was as a company and creating their store based on who they are, they looked outside of the company. Verizon took a little bit of this, a little bit of that, applied some stitching, and voila, they had something that was soulless.

They had Dr Frankenstein’s creation.

I spent nearly a decade in advertising so I’ve been in the type of meetings that made this monster. Their thought, no doubt, was “if it works for Nike it will work for us” or “if it works for Apple, why cant we do it?”

This, however, never works.

The reason why is because to execute something like this effectively you can’t be safe. And ripping off other brands is completely safe. That’s not to say that companies shouldn’t look outside for inspiration. Stealing as a starting point is great but please go through the effort to make something special.

Bijan isn't playing it safe. Nor is Apple, Nike, or any other great brand you can think of. These company’s determined their essence and committed fully to it. They didn't dip their toe, they jumped right in and that commitment to who and what they are is what resonates with customers.

That commitment is what separates companies who are defending their marketshare from the ones that maintain initiative.

So ask yourself.

Am I checking boxes?