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Metro Fails At Retailing

June 7, 2013 Downtown, Featured, Public Transit, Retail 25 Comments

Retailing isn’t easy, successful brick & mortar retailers hire consultants, question focus groups,  and study market trends, to get customers through the door. Store design is an important part of the equation.  Many firms specialize in retail design.

I covered this topic last August after a seeing the transit agency store in Dallas (see Transit Visibility: Metro vs DART). Metro’s MetroRide store on Washington Avenue is pathetic.

Last August I showed this pic to help illustrate the problem. Which entrance is the transit store?
ABOVE: It's obvious now, right?
Obviously this one, right?

Each time I visit the MetroRide store to buy transit passes I realize it is the result of a quasi-government agency that has zero competition. Where is the hungry merchant trying to drum up sales to cover the rent payment? It’s like the exclusive restaurant

I took this similar pic a few days ago, it was impossible  to even tell if the lights were on.
I took this similar pic a few days ago, it was impossible to even tell if the lights were on.

Sure, those of us who seek it out don’t need a big neon sign or even a simple “open” sign in the window, but it might help get the attention of others walking by. Tourists might inquire about the downtown trolley and what else they can see without a car.

I’d like to see Metro make it obvious to anyone walking, or driving, past the MetroRide store to know it is a place to buy transit passes and pick up  schedules.  As a fan of gift shops, I’d also like to see St. Louis transit-related merchandise: t-shirts, postcards, magnets, calendars, etc. I still have a puzzle of the Philly transit map I bought on vacation in 2001, but I have almost nothing for St. Louis. I’d love a toy MetroBus.

Step up your retail game Metro!

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "25 comments" on this Article:

  1. guest says:

    Is it really Metro’s job to do retail? They are a transit agency. They’re sort of the caboose on the real juggernaut of retailers and others that need to be driving that train anyway. I’d rather see Metro great at transit and let others drive retail.

    The question is, are they great at transit? Where are the BRT lines down streets like Gravois, Page, and Natural Bridge? That’s what I want from them, and the leaders that tout public transit for St. Louis.

    • Not my call, but they have the space and personnel to sell transit passes so they’re in the retail business, have been for nearly 20 years.

    • Scott Jones says:

      I think the two are related. There’s little drive to do better, to attract new riders, to entice more people out of their cars with better/greener alternatives. Part of that is selling the service and this retail outlet. The attitude seems to be: do the minimum necessary to keep things running for the least amount of money. That’s fine if you want to perpetuate the old “transit as welfare-transportation” model but not if you want to build a modern transit system from everyone.

      • JZ71 says:

        You’re pretty close – the board needs to decide if it’s “worth it” to invest, pick a number – $50,000, $100,000, $200,000 – to do “better” marketing. Will this sort of expenditure really be “worth it”? Especially since EVERY ride is already being subsidized by the taxpayers, so every dollar spent on an ad, graphic design or branded trinket is a dollar that is not being spent putting service on the street! Metro’s fundamental challenge is not attracting more / new riders, Metro’s fundamental challenge is meeting the needs of the riders it already has! Attracting more riders does not equal more profits – at its core, Metro is a service, not a product.

        • blah says:

          Sounds like a job for citizens for modern transit

        • Scott Jones says:

          Well yeah, that is their focus. I guess I’m saying that, given the current situation with global warming and peak oil, Metro’s focus should be changed.

  2. mark says:

    Metro unfortunately is not perfect and suffers from a lack
    of self questioning attitude. They would do well to bring in transit riders
    from elsewhere who have never rode the
    system and listen to what they have to say, because Metro like many businesses
    often fail to listen to what their customers have to say. For instance why does
    Metro not put bus route maps and route connections and times on all of the bus
    stops like other transit agencies? Metro has a scheduling office, what are they
    doing? Where’s their customer service?

  3. gmichaud says:

    How about Metro fails at transit?

  4. Kim says:

    Doesn’t STL-Style already have some Metro-related gear? If Metro doesn’t want to put the money into developing their own merch (seems reasonable right now), bring their stuff in. Couldn’t hurt in drumming up some civic pride.

    Also, Metro gave out foldable cardboard Metro trains at St Louis Earth Day, somebody is working on this stuff, maybe just not extensively.

  5. JZ71 says:

    The other way to look at this is what is Metro paying (if anything) to rent this space? And how much in revenue is it generating? If they’re actually paying rent, it may be better to look at creating an online store to sell trinkets instead of running a bricks and mortar operation – there really is no need for a dedicated store, with full-time staff, just to sell passes. Ticket Vending Machines (TVM’s) already do that more cost effectively at every Metrolink station, every bus operator can provide information on fares and their route, passes and trip planning information are available online and the same in-person services are available at Metro’s headquarters, 6-1/2 blocks away, on Laclede’s Landing. In addition, many non-government retailers sell passes, using no Metro staff, in multiple locations around the region (aka privatization): http://www.metrostlouis.org/FaresPasses/WhereToBuy.aspx

    Bigger picture, if we’re talking retail, why is the store even here, at the Convention Center?! How many Metro routes are nearby? Why not locate it at the Civic Center Multi-Modal Facility? Where Metro already has many riders and where the users of other modes would be prime candidates? But if you really want to get more tourists to use Metro’s services, the first thing we need to do is quit screwing them by charging them double fares to ride Metrolink at Lambert Airport! This all gets back to what is Metro’s primary mission? To provide a way for tourists to see our fair city or to provide a way for local residents to (primarily) commute to work? (The “old ‘transit as welfare-transportation’ model” is pretty a given with any system.) Personally, I don’t see tourists as either a major market or a big priority – serving local residents better is/should be a much bigger priority.

    • wump says:

      I love that they screw the tourists @ the airport, and its still a deal compared to a cab. They don’t sell trinkets at the store. Just passes, and they give out scheduals. It is also next to a visitor center, so the local makes sense. I am sure the cvc give them the space rent free.

      • JZ71 says:

        Steve apparently wants trinkets . . . my point is that it makes little sense to have one or more full-time staff at the convention center dedicated primarily to selling a few passes to tourists, just because Metro gets “free” rent. To better serve local riders, the information component should be at the busiest station(s) – Civic Center, CWE, Forest Park – while pass sales could be done just as well, if not better, at the customer service desk at Culinaria.

        • No, I want Metro to act like a responsible agency. I don’t think they’re maximizing the space and personnel.

        • wump says:

          They don’t sell passes @ culinaria. I buy my monthly @ this place, locals seem to be the primary customers there.

          • JZ71 says:

            With wages and benefits, It’s costing Metro at least $50,000, and probably closer to $100,000, to operate this remote location, one that’s just 6-1/2 blocks from their main offices. Metro ain’t Starbucks, they don’t need to be on every street corner just to make it convenient for the “locals”! The big reason they don’t sell passes at Culinaria is because this location exists; passes ARE sold at most other Schnuck’s. It would be way cheaper to contract with Schnuck’s to sell passes at Culinaria than it would be keep this location open. If anything, Metro needs to open the Information Center they closed at the Metrolink station in Clayton and shut down this one . . .

          • I disagree, I don’t think it would be good to shut it down. This space is connected to America’s Center (the convention center) and the CVC Visitor’s Center space at 7th & Washington. I also think there are controls for equipment located in the MetroLink tunnel that are accessed here. I’d just like to see Metro evaluate the effort.

            The local AIA Chapter is a good example, I recall when it was in a smaller space on an upper floor in the same building. Once it moved to street level and sold additional items beyond AIA forms, it became better known to the community beyond AIA members. Metro could do the same thing.

          • moe says:

            I disagree also. This should be one of Metro’s core areas….unlike the Arch Trams which I think should be a Interior Dept. duty and in this particular location, especially to help the tourist. For this location, we can’t think as a local, but as a tourist since it is right at the Convention Center. We want the tourist to know where/when/and how easy it is to access the local modes of transportation. What us locals think is 2nd…..this is a marketing tool. We want the tourist to rave about all aspects of St. Louis when they go home. I do think they could learn a thing or two from City Museum though…I could see a partial bus sticking out of the wall as an attention grabber.

          • JZ71 says:

            Which gets back to how many tourists are coming to St Louis for a convention versus how many are coming to see the Cardinals, visit the Arch, go to the Zoo, coming to shop or to use our medical facilities? I agree, having tourist information available where tourists are visiting makes sense, I’m just not sure how visible, findable or useful either the Metro store or the CVC Visitor’s Center is in the bigger scheme of things?

          • moe says:

            That’s what I mean by the post I made under another issue…Metro needs to reevaluate and determine what are core competencies and what other areas should they be in? maybe move out of? or maybe expand? Businesses do it all the time with 5 year plans and such.

          • wump says:

            Clayton station is a joke, much more deman for metro info downtown

    • Passes can be purchased online, I think the staff here processes and mails those orders.

      • dempster holland says:

        I think in order to get the elderly discount pass you have to go to the downtown location.
        which seems sort of silly.


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