The unwritten contract between customer and retailer is fairly straightforward: A store will have merchandise, salespeople, and a somewhat orderly checkout process. If everyone's feeling classy, there might even be clean floors and a not-terrible scent.
Brookfield, Wisconsin, is one of three towns in the greater Milwaukee area that might soon have a store that forgoes one of those agreed-upon features. Operated by the owners of a local chain of furniture stores called Penny Mustard, the proposed venue would have an array of mattresses for prodding and testing, but it won't have any staff. The stores would open and close electronically, and would be presided over only by security cameras and a lone computer. (Applications for the stores have been submitted to Brookfield's zoning administrator, and it was recently reported that officials would be moving forward with the plans.)
A store without a staff is an idea that, at least at its core, might have some merit: “I think that their concept, that people only want help when they’re ready for help, and don’t want to be hovered over, is absolutely true,” says Kevin Mullaney, president of the retail consulting firm The Grayson Company, which helped Tempur-Pedic launch its own retail stores. The appeal of the new Penny Mustard store would in part come from its simulation of the pressure-free home-shopping experience many have come to prefer.