Boutiquiers

I’ve got a collection of choppy thoughts and notes after Laptops and Looms, but two themes stuck in my head. One was about scale and opportunity, the other about interaction and engagement.

The first bunch was triggered by Dan Hill’s talk, which plugged the decline of Britain’s manufacturing industry into Heaven 17 and ‘dark matter’ – the space occupied by governmental and corporate authority that offer us opportunities for exploration.

Dan described Napoleon I’s description of the English – “L’Angleterre est une nation de boutiquiers!” – as a point of opportunity; if we, the English, are a nation of shopkeepers then that means we’re well-versed in setting out our stall and marketing ourselves.

But what’s the nature of the future market? The French translation of ‘shopkeepers’ into ’boutiquiers’ resonated. Jerry Della Femina had a few things to say about the boutique in From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbour

Most of the loose nuts in town work for the boutique agencies, which is the derogatory term used when the large agencies want to put down the small agencies. As far as I’m concerned, boutique advertising is the new advertising. - p.148

By definition, a boutique is small. The establishment says that boutiques are cutsie-poo, very superficial, very flowery. Their idea of what a boutique is comes from what their wives tell them about the cute little boutique they found on Madison Avenue. The guy running this boutique might be standing behind the counter without a shirt on, maybe just some beads, and in the mind of the establishment this is no good. So they sat around and tried to come up with the worst name they could call this new type of agency, and boutique was it…
But think about the boutique for a moment. It means that when you go into the boutique to buy something you’re going to be dealing with the man who owns the store and you’re going to get a lot more service and a lot more attention from him. Second of all, the item you buy from a boutique has to be perfect, otherwise you would go to another store. It’s as simple as that. – p.149

[Like a department store] the object of a boutique is also to sell, but with a maximum of personalized service into the bargain. – p.150

A nation, then, of agile operators, tailoring solutions to personal demand and producing the highest quality work possible. That’s a motivating image.

Of course, Femina’s definition comes from a place where his agency – a boutique agency – is under attack from larger operators. To which he has this to say.

The small agencies are going to win, no matter what they call us… The establishment can’t change, it can’t give the people anything different, it can’t make the turn. – p.150

We’ve seen it in music, digital start-ups and holiday packages and we’re seeing it in publishing; niche products that target the demands of smaller groups, finding homes among tighter-knit communities and making a product that fits the quality demands of that group, and now we’ll see it in the manufacture of things.