Leveraging new talent to create unique retail spaces

May 16, 2019

GDR’s John O’Sullivan explores the experiential spaces that are constantly evolving to keep customers coming back for more.

During the last six months we’ve noticed a real spike in the number of new multi-brand retail stores whose propositions are centred around leasing short-term modular units to DNVBs and startups.


Showfields in New York


Earlier this year GDR’s SVP Global Innovation Alex Sbardella visited Showfields in New York (read his excellent blog here) which is a curated space that hosts pop-ups from startups and up-and-coming digital-first brands with little or no physical store footprint. It is a unique environment designed for exploration and product discovery, built in a flexible, modular format that makes it easy to refresh and update. Neighborhood Goods in Plano, Texas follows a similar format and has received a lot of media attention because of the way it builds a department store concept around locally-relevant pop-ups. Our research team is also keeping a close eye on Re:Store in San Francisco – set to open this summer – which promises to be a physical manifestation of an Instagram feed that merges retail and makers’ spaces.

My personal favourite in the multi-brand, modular retail category, though, is Nomad X in Singapore. Here, customers are invited to self-identify with one of four different shopping tribes and are then furnished with a different customer journey every time they visit the store, including bespoke product recommendations and a suggested route through the space.


Narrative stories

Story at Macy’s


It’s no coincidence that, at the same time these new concepts are launching, Macy’s started rolling out its Story shop-in-shops last month. A year after acquiring the narrative-driven retail format, which is arguably the precursor to many of the above ideas, Macy’s has introduced it to 36 stores across 15 US States. Launching with the theme of “Color”, the concept stores are an average of 1,500 square feet in size and host established brands like MAC Cosmetics, Crayola and Levi’s Kids alongside 70 up-and-coming businesses.

Story at Macy’s will change theme in June, while just around the corner from Macy’s New York flagship is another new retail concept based around a revolving theme. Camp is an experiential toy store designed to look like a summer camp that is reimagined every 8-12 weeks. Rachel Shechtman, the founder of Story and brand experience officer at Macy’s is an investor in Camp and on its board of directors.

All of these stores are a reaction to the changing tide in physical retail and are clear attempts to create experiential spaces that are constantly evolving to keep customers who crave newness coming back for more. Jeff Gennette, Macy’s, Inc. chairman and chief executive officer explicitly stated at the launch of Story at Macy’s: “The discovery-led, narrative experience of STORY gives new customers a fresh reason to visit our stores and gives the current Macy’s customer even more reason to come back again and again throughout the year.”


Moving beyond retail

The Smallman Galley


Recently I’ve noticed this trend spilling beyond physical retail into restaurants and hospitality. The Smallman Galley in Pittsburgh is an incubator-style restaurant where four budding chefs at any one time are given 18-month trials so they can test their mettle in a commercial environment. For the Galley Group – the food hall development, management, and advisory company behind Smallman – the location creates a constantly evolving and fresh environment where it can offer unique, one-of-a-kind food from talented new chefs.
Re:Dine in Tokyo takes this concept even further. Diners can vote for their favourite of six aspiring chefs, just like in a TV talent show. The most popular are given support in opening their own restaurants, while those at the bottom of the ranking are replaced.
What I think makes both of these executions so interesting is the way the companies behind them balance short-term and long-term success. In the short-term they benefit by creating fun and unique experiences, while in the longer term they tie themselves to the commercial success of their protégés.

If you’d like to talk to us about how you could improve your product or service offer by learning from or collaborating with DNVBs, startups and emerging talent, this is exactly the type of project we work with our clients on. Email our SVP Global Innovation Alex Sbardella at alex@gdruk.com

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