On a memorable holiday a few years ago, I stumbled across a small town while camping in the foothills behind St Tropez. All week my partner and I had been sampling local food and travelling the twisty roads through cork plantations, the smell of Mediterranean pine drifting on the breeze.

Travellers I think are a bit like shoppers. Both aim to try to get a handle on something, be it a place or a product. They try to make sense of things and to understand. They want a story that will explain what they are seeing. A good story that will justify their purchase or their trip. A story they can tell their friends about.

We came to a small hilltop town, with a bustling market in full swing. Here, the whole region came together for us. The people, the local food stalls, shops tucked into basements that flanked a small square, artists painting portraits, and a happy mix of residents and outsiders. To all of this was a backdrop of the towns buildings old and new that tracked the journey of this place over time.

This was a normal weekend for the locals, but for us, with images of the sterilised corporate highstreets of home in our heads, it was a revelation. Trade and commerce did more than just make money. It brought a whole community of people together.

The village described how selling and shopping, trade in essence was part of a bigger picture for this place. The landscape, produce, products, people and district came together. It was an experience of ‘totality’ (1) that any corporate retailer would be desperate to bottle. A seamless story without any awkward gaps.

This is a fanciful example right? This was small scale economic activity. Not the sort of trade that supports a scalable retail business. That’s not important here yet though. I know it doesn’t paint the full picture of food retailing in France, or anywhere near it. I use this example because its a powerful piece of storytelling and it hooked me.

The village of Ramatuelle did an amazing job of ‘marketing’ the St Tropez peninsula and its way of life. So did its shops, restaurants and stall holders. Everything about it was a perfect ‘fit’.

‘Marketing’ then is what your store should be about. Your goods might not be locally made but their design, their manufacture, and the story of how you brought them to market can be just as compelling, provided you have a genuine tale, that isn’t fabricated.

Ramatuelle was remarkable, at least to me. It stood out as different. The experience resonated because it told a truth, at least one that I wanted to hear. That local food production was still alive and well in Southern France. Never mind evidence to the contrary. The story was right for me at that time. The challenge for your business is to be amazing enough that you too can tell a story.

What’s the genuine purpose that drives your company? What’s your big idea, your amazing product, your revolutionary service? It might not be radical, but its got to be a ‘talkable innovation’ (2). This should be driving your store design and everything you do in it. Ideally this point of difference ‘is’ your store design.

If your company has a real ‘purpose idea’ (3) the story you tell will be real and authentic. It will help your potential customer get a handle on what you do. It will help them make sense of you. If you haven’t got a ‘purpose idea’ you need one.

Picture Above – I bought this bottle of olive oil in Ramatuelle. The shop was entirely devoted to the sale of olive oil. The owner spent 5 minutes with you, one on one. You went through the different types, like you would at a wine tasting. Not only did you come out with a bottle of your favourite, but you learn’t something about Olive oil. What was the higher purpose of this business? For me it was a sense of being educated. That was the free prize.


1 – International Retail Marketing – A Case Study Approach – 2004 Edited by Margaret Burce, Christopher Moore, Grete Birtwistle

2 – Jon Jantsch – The Referral Engine

3 – Welcome to the Creative Age – Banana’s, Business and the Death of Marketing – 2002 – Mark Earls

Leave a Comment

Error: Please check your entries!