Wednesday, October 6, 2010

XIXth century retail in the heart of Madrid or the lack of (interest for) innovation in Spain

Very close to Plaza Mayor some business are still devoted to the traditional needs of the population of the city since the past centuries.

Nowadays people still buy textiles or fabrics for curtains, sofas, or simple cotton string to tailor anything, and this particular area in the very heart of the city is ideal to find all this items and more, linked to traditional straw hats or baskets. It has been like this for centuries and apparently in the era of Ikea there's still a demand for this stores in the best retail locations in Madrid...

So far so good, I pass by some of these stores almost everyday when I leave / go back home but I have never stepped in, simply because I don't need any of the things they sell in there...until last week when I decided to get in not one but two of them to look for a specific item.

The outcome couldn't have been more depressing but it was also a travel-in-time experience...

As soon as I stepped in, a million square meter of fabrics rolled and spread randomly all over the poorly illuminated place, which by the way appeared to be a nice interior if one could be able to remove the rotten and falling paint of the wall. No less than 3 people waiting to the hours to go by behind the counter, not even asking me what I wanted or how could they help me. I asked for the price/sqm of one of the fabrics that I liked, which I find by moving by myself a pile of other rolls of fabrics. A bored fifty-something employee looking offended for me daring to interrupt his boredom, answers to me and starts cutting the dimensions I asked him to cut.

While he was doing so, some thoughts came to my mind and they are the core idea of this post:

First of all, I have nothing against these traditional business, but I can't skip the fact that some of the prime locations of the most expensive city in Spain are occupied by business that have been equally run for ages, no matter how the customers have evolved in their behavior or the changing needs of the people even within an specific sector like the textile industry...and for me that's not just an anecdote but another sign of the lack of innovation of a part of the small industry in Spain.

I was asking the employee when was this store open, and he came to say that almost a century although before there was a similar store run by another family. Something must they have done right during all these years, I thought...but I also thought that such an inertia had also a pernicious effect...who will dare to change something that has more or less (definitely not with flamboyant outcomes) worked for 100 Years? My Spanish readers surely know this: "virgencita que me quede como estoy" (Virgin Mary, let me remain as I am now). Well, this is a very paradigmatic sentence that represents pretty well the lack of flexibility/ambition/interest for challenge that characterizes Spaniards sometimes...

I am not saying that these business should be closed down, but I am sure there are ways to adapt them to the needs of the new population of the neighborhood: young people, tourist (a relatively new phenomena) and, specially, make an attractive layout that invites people to step in these stores, not in a fashion or top end design way, I don't mean that, but at least in a way that facilitates people to find things, choose what they want easily and feel they're welcome to enter rather than a necessary inconvenient.

I may be asking too much, and the critic to this post is very obvious: I'm no one to blame the structure of the business, I don't know the no recommendations today, but I am afraid that one day there will be a Bershka or Starbucks or H&M in a wonderfully located place where a nice textiles shop with colorful samples and also complements for home and decoration and great personnel in an inviting environment to step in and buy could have continued to exist...

Today´s song is posted just to celebrate that I have tickets to watch MGMT playing live in Madrid in December...


  1. For the time I been in Spain and everything I learned form it, I can only agree with you. The lack of innovation will unfortunately, sooner or later, bring down this amazing country. You can not enjoy of an European lifestyle in the current global and competitive world sustained just from tourism and an economy based on consumer goods consumption.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Guerson,

    You touched the whole point: this lifestyle can´t be sustained for a long time if we don´t change...and i don´t see any sign for a change.

    listening to politicians and mediocrity all over is not inviting to be optimistic.