I have an incredibly acute sense of smell. It’s a gift I recognized at a young age, and one that incites an intense emotional connection with me still as an adult. For better or for worse, scents waft in and waft out, and either brighten or ruin my day in the meantime. Coffee brewing in the house? I smell it and am awake before my head lifts off the pillow. Brown paper lunch bags? I’m back in the third grade, eating a PBJ and drinking from a plastic Thermos. Burnt popcorn in the office break room? Don’t get me started.
One of the most powerful scents that resonates with me instantly is the smell in the air before it is about to snow. I’m sure it has something to do with dropping barometric pressure and humidity in the air, but the resulting olfactory awareness is intense. You know that smell—it’s a crisp, wet, brisk sensation that enters through your sinuses and echoes down into your toes. It’s a smell that triggers an automatic body response: you squeeze your coat lapel a little tighter, wrap your scarf an extra length and mentally think about your grocery list for the way home from work (are milk and bread really the best choice?!). But, it’s also tied to an innate excitement—the snow is coming!
The Northeast recently got blanketed with several feet of snow. Seeing photos on Facebook of parks, streets and driveways completely painted with a layer of pure, white snow instantly triggered that recognizable smell for me. In all honesty, I longed to be there with it, making snow angels and catching flakes on my tongue. (Editor’s note: It should be noted that I was miles away from said snow-pocalypse. I live in Atlanta, where we get nothing but rain and tornadoes. No fun.)
That change in the air—and temperature—not only sparked my senses, it also sparked my emotional response to those affected by the storm. How fast did people respond to the news that the great Nemo was coming to a town near them? How quickly did they prepare their homes, stock their cabinets and brace for the coming storm? And how quickly did they recover once the snow and ice had melted away? The answer: very. Very, very quickly.
There is a change in the air of retail, as well. A walk through my local mall presents several new retailers and a few fresh facelifts, and it appears to have happened overnight. Retailers not only are building anew, they are renovating at a feverish pace. They are remodeling not only their flagship stores, but also their smaller stores in suburban and secondary markets. We’re hearing through the grapevine that retailers are not just prototyping new concepts, but rolling them out—and en masse. Design and architecture firms can’t hire fast enough to fill the workload, and some manufacturers have told us they are having to turn down clients, because they can’t keep up with demand (a problem that surely will be rectified quickly as the supplier side of the industry comes back to full strength as well).
In our “Retail’s Expansion Explosion” article (page 26), Gensler’s Kathleen Jordan, principal and retail practice leader, emphasizes that the severe slowdown in retail expansion that began in 2007 and 2008 is finally becoming a thing of the past. “The awakening began in earnest about a year ago with programs to refresh the marketing and the brand, retool product offerings, and capitalize on technology and innovation—and are all now in the process of gearing up to expand and renovate,” she says.
The retail storm is coming. I can smell it in the air, and feel it in my toes. Let’s all be prepared for that pure, white blanket of snow heading retail’s way.