Observation | Monocle

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The next best thing to playing magazine is playing shop – especially when it’s a shop that’s a spin-off from a magazine and you have an office full of colleagues who love finding new ways to extend the Monocle brand. At the close of the last issue we were just about to move into the Lilliputian-size space and were in the process of deploying a crack team of design specialists to come up with a concept for the 9 sq m space. In less than two weeks the awning was up, the shelves hung, the floor stripped, the lighting rigged and the till humming.

I’ve always had a certain fondness for retail having once stocked shelves at a branch of WH Smith in Winnipeg at the age of 12. At the time I was paid the equivalent of CAN$3 an hour in magazines – my favourites were Look & Learn and Air International. I guess I’ve come full circle. Running a shop that also acts as a consulate for our readers (we’ve somehow become a beacon in the heart of London for restaurant tips, hotel reservations and even career advice) has been a rewarding exercise as it allows us to give the print element of our media brand the shelf space we feel it deserves. Newcomers to the brand can pop in to pore over back issues, fans can expand their collection of Porter x Monocle luggage and also offer suggestions for new additions to our series – the top requests are for a garment bag and “a bag that can deal with my diary, Blackberry, mobile, house-keys, pack of gum and business cards”.

The former is already gearing up for production but the latter is proving to be a bit problematic as it could quickly veer into middle-aged German man on a coach tour of Spain territory. You know the look. Indeed, the best part of having a shop floor is that you get instant feedback on all aspects of your brand – favourite covers, website design, most-read writers and best-selling issues. Moreover, you get to meet your readers face to face and have a proper conversation. At 9 sq m it’s rather difficult to have private or particularly heated discussions. However, perhaps this is a good thing.

As economies across the world have stumbled and stuttered, many have asked if it was wise for us to move into retail. Two years ago the question was whether it was wise to do a traditional print magazine rather than putting this venture exclusively online. To both questions, it’s a firm “yes”. On the retail side, nearly two months of trading have proven that there is a core of consumers who are looking for a more personal, hands-on approach to minding the shop. They want to be presented with products they’ve never seen before, they want to consume media in a different way and they’re even happy to wait to have their magazine gift-wrapped.

Our home market of the UK used to be dubbed the nation of shopkeepers but it’s increasingly become a landscape full of empty shops with few people excited or even willing to run them. Perhaps one of the best by-products from Japan’s lost decade was the rise of a new, super- talented merchant class that managed to keep the retail scene buoyant despite the dire state of the economy. Given the limp state of affairs for shoppers on both sides of the Atlantic, a new generation of shopkeepers would be one positive outcome from this economic nosedive. As you settle into this issue, we’ll be kicking off volume three. From issue 21 there’ll be a few tweaks and changes to the line-up, along with our first national survey spotlighting Mexico. If you have any comments or requests for our second anniversary issue please forward them to me at tb@monocle.com. From all of us in London, Tokyo, New York and Zürich, the very best regards for a healthy, fun and prosperous New Year.

For more from our editor-in-chief, read his column in the FT Weekend.

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