Updated Jan 12, 2019 - Economy & Business

Deep Dive: How vanity will save retail

If Main Street is going to be saved, enduring American vanity will be among the primary reasons.

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Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

What's happening: Nail and waxing salons — in addition to pet grooming shops, cosmetics stores, tattoo parlors and gyms — stand out as improbable avatars of the future of retail, surviving and thriving amid the decades-long annihilation of mom-and-pop apparel, book and hardware stores.

By the numbers:

  • Between 1990 and 2017, the number of nail salons for every 100,000 Americans nearly tripled, from fewer than 2 to nearly 7.
  • Pet grooming surged by one-and-a-half-times, and cosmetics almost doubled.

A common theme among the victors: The offerings can't be easily replicated online.

The big picture: The mainstays of retail — the mall and Main Street — have been picked apart by Walmart, discount chains like Dollar General, and, of course, Amazon. Now brick-and-mortar stores are stabilizing, and the industry is climbing out of the rubble to survey what has worked.

They are aggressively curating inventory, meticulously upgrading existing shops, adding entertainment features like trampoline parks, free food and drink and, of course, providing hair, nail and cosmetic services.

"The stores that will do well are the ones that know how to get you to leave your house.”
— Natalie Bruss, partner at Fifth Wall Ventures, a retail investment firm

On the ground:

  • Nordstrom Local, a new concept by the Los Angeles department store, has no inventory — you shop online and just pick up in store — but draws clients with free beer, wine, and consultations with personal stylists.
  • Kellogg’s has opened a pop-up cereal bar in New York City.
  • Away, the new luggage brand, puts up elaborate sets that serve as the perfect backdrops for Instagram photos.

Noteworthy: The boom in nail salons has been accompanied by labor abuses and human trafficking.

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