Professor Keith Murray read my post on flagship stores the other day, and he offers this insightful commentary expanding upon my earlier analysis. In this post, Keith explains how retailers can make the most use of their flagship locations. If you like what you read, check out Keith's own blog at: keithmurrayonbiz.com
Corporate flagship, or“boutique,” stores provide something better than simple profitability! Let’s count the ways!
A day or so ago, Mike Roberto spoke to the need for and importance of company “flagship” stores—say, like The Apple Store, or The Brookstone Store—in major urban locations to be measured on different terms that just profitability. And, he’s exactly right: they are special, they do “cost” a great deal, and—the important point of his blog—don’t typically show much in the way of profitability.
However, that does not mean that they are devoid of other attributes of high value, indeed, they are unique in many ways and should be exploited for exactly those kinds of benefits. Here are some of those factors that speak to this POV that come to mind:
 Use the boutique store as a place to gauge customer feedback. Trained [i.e., trained in subtlety, and under-the-radar interview techniques] personnel should routinely be seeking out customers—and particularly new shoppers and brand adopters--to see what attracts them to a product or product feature as naïve prospects. Even though most any brand or product line “owns” a relatively small market share, product and brand managers nonetheless become jaded into believing that they understanding their buyers and prospects; however, that is never quite the case. New market segments are appealed to over time and refining the product/brand relationship as well as the “position” is necessary—a boutique company store is a perfect place to do exactly that.
 Video capture of new customer experiences is a great way to exploit the location. Shoppers are usually in a carefree mood and, thus, in a mental state to take the time and to demonstrably react to what sometimes amounts to their first encounter with the product/brand/firm. Videography can be done up-front and formally as well as with hidden cameras—and, with proper authorizations by shoppers—provide the basis for future product or promotion planning by corporate staff somewhere else in the world; also, it could provide a reservoir of actual footage for testimonial ads/commercials in the future for research, planning, and promotion.
 Testing lab for future pricing or promotional evaluation. Boutique stores are perfect places—in large part because they are staffed with above-average corporate staff/managers/representatives—to try out promising price breaks or deals, point of purchase signage and offers, etc. While the results of such tests would not be perfectly projectable from a national perspective—data should be pretty promising in terms of what one might want to test more rigorously with a more representative sample of interest; after all, boutique stores in NYC or convention centers in major cities would, by their very location and crowd-draw [e.g., at the very places regional and national meetings are taking place] provide a sample that is fairly heterogenous and geographically distributed.
 Stage for major news events, new product launches, etc. Because boutique stores are generally “busy” with shopper traffic, they provide a ready-made, interested, and interesting audience that can serve as a back-drop to key media events and press-conferences. The realness, the frequent excitement that’s “in the air” at such a boutique store is just the right place to make an announcement that is considerably more promising, media-wise, than a sterile, stogy corporate press room in Stamford, CT, or Mountain View, CA.
Clearly, this is not necessarily a complete list of all of the positive attributes associated with a corporate boutique store, but is a start. Can you think of any others that were not mentioned? It’d be great to learn what they might be in a follow-up comment from savvy readers of this blog!