This week, a look at a Miami-based mall’s latest play to compete in the evolving luxury market. Scroll down to use Glossy+ Comments, giving the Glossy+ community the opportunity to join discussions around industry topics.
Luxury shopping center Bal Harbour Shops is taking Balmain and Tiffany & Co. on tour.
Kicking off this month in Raleigh, North Carolina, Bal Harbour Shops’ Access Pop-Up is a first-of-its-kind pop-up mall making eight-week stops in cities underserved by the luxury market. In late January, it will head to Greenville, South Carolina, before making stops in Floria’s Tequesta and South Walton County. Among the 10 brands that have signed on to sell via its traveling shipping containers are Balmain, Bonpoint, Tiffany & Co. and Assouline.
“There was a time when you had to seek out luxury goods. Now, luxury goods are all around you, with brands making themselves known in every city you visit and every airport you travel through,” said Benjamin Elias, chief operating officer of Bal Harbour Shops owner Whitman Family Development. “So we’ve been thinking about ways to differentiate ourselves and to continue to pioneer [innovative] luxury customer experiences.”
The luxury landscape has, indeed, evolved, including with leading brands becoming less precious about where they show up. The rise of e-commerce has expedited this change, and the acceleration of resale has no doubt played a part. Brands including Hermès and Chanel have had to get used to seeing their styles selling on Amazon and at off-price retailers including Century 21. That’s prompted many to take control of their image and sales by launching brand-official resale offerings and marketplace storefronts. At the same time, their marketing strategies have come to include influencers entrusted to tell their story. And, in the case of several brands participating in Bal Harbour’s Access Pop-Up, they’re now selling through temporary associates hired by a shopping center.
Fifty-eight-year-old Bal Harbour Shops has made a habit of carving out worthwhile opportunities and moving into valuable white space. As noted by Carolyn Travis, head of marketing at Whitman Family Development, it was the first luxury center with a focus on apparel and opened the first Neiman Marcus outside of Dallas. As the Miami retail market has increasingly boomed, fueled by mid-Covid migration, Bal Harbour Shops has further elevated the experience it provides beyond a unique brand creation. Travis defined the current state of the outdoor mall as a “botanical garden,” with palm trees and koi fish, designed to stir an emotional connection.
Providing a comparable experience to visitors of the Access Pop-Up is essential, she said. To achieve that, the 17,000-square-foot space will house features including an expansive landscaped courtyard and a fine-dining restaurant with seating for up to 150 people.
In keeping with the company’s strategic approach, Bal Harbour Shops is intentionally avoiding prime tourist destinations, which have become crowded with luxury brand pop-ups, Elias said. Instead, the focus is peak times in less obvious markets. Among cities being considered for upcoming legs of the tour are Kansas City, Louisville and Montgomery, AL, Elias said.
“Throughout the Southeast and Central U.S., there are places with pockets of affluence and people who want luxury experiences, but they have to travel to get to them,” Elias said.
Brands are increasingly coming to the same realization, which has sparked a trend in store openings in cities including Scottsdale, Nashville and Austin. At the same time, retailers and dedicated companies in secondary markets are tapping into new opportunities to partner with brands. St. Louis-based trunk show company Merch Mates hosted Khaite in September, while southern retailer Tootsie’s has a rotating lineup of in-store pop-ups with brands including NYC-based KZ Studio.
For Bal Harbour, the tour is not a means to test new markets for future developments, which is often the case with pop-ups. Instead, it’s a branding play at a time when the company is working to build a BTC side of the business. In 2021, it launched an online marketplace, and in October, it launched a line of branded merch. Other recent moves include bringing operations for its namesake print publication in-house, both to streamline digital content efforts and to “fuel customer connections, even when they’re not on the property,” Travis said. Next year, its number of magazine issues, which are distributed on-site and mailed to top customers — most of which are not based in Miami — will increase from two to three. Plus, Bal Harbour Shops will increase its production of editorial-driven e-newsletters to around 125 per year, up from 100.
As the Access Pop-Up’s name suggests, it will serve to promote Bal Harbour Shops’ Access membership and rewards program. Launched in 2020, the program promises “exclusive offerings, bespoke benefits and specialized luxury experiences.” The pop-up’s KPIs are largely centered on new member acquisitions, Elias said.
“We want to see whether those signups are sticky, and if [new members] visit our e-commerce channel, connect with our personal shoppers or visit the physical property when they’re in Miami,” he said, noting the anonymous tracking capabilities of the app-based program. “It really doesn’t matter anymore how someone is a client — it only matters that they do become our client.”
As noted by Elias, a traveling, multi-store pop-up “isn’t cheap to move around.” In fact, a whole team was hired to oversee the project. That includes a full-time gm, an assistant gm and an operations director, as well as “logistics people,” crane operators and truckers, Elias said. In addition, 20-30 part-time sales associates are being in each city with the help of local staffing companies.
Popping up in existing retail spaces, rather than repeatedly recreating the experience from scratch, was a consideration early on in the planning process, Elias said. But in the end, “We decided against spending all kinds of money to improve someone else’s real estate.”
Ten to 20 “modules,” or stores, sized 250-640 square feet, will be featured at each stop. And each will be occupied by one of the 100 brand tenants currently selling at Bal Harbour Shops. Elias declined to share specifics about the money between Bal Harbour Shops and the brands included in the project, only calling it “more of a partnership” than the usual setup of a brand paying the mall to lease space.
“In Miami, we engage one-on-one with our retailers. But in this [scenario], we’re engaging directly with the customer,” he said.
To promote the pop-up, Bal Harbour Shops will define local ambassadors from its membership program, as well as link with founding members of local charities, to host events and spread the word.
“At a time when brands and their products are becoming more accessible, we’re expanding our trade area, rather than sitting back and watching the [industry] expand around us,” Elias said. “We want to delight the customer who visits us, connect with them while they’re not here and connect with ones who didn’t even know we existed.”
Head of clienteling is an emerging brand agency role
Loughlin Joseph is a NYC-based consultancy specializing in commercial direction, media relations and creative for fashion brands including CDLP and Le Père. This week, it launched a clienteling and retail infrastructure division and announced the appointment of Carlin Rollenhagen, former head of personal shopping at Ssense USA, as its head of clienteling. Glossy asked Rollenhagen five questions about what his job entails and what it takes to win over today’s luxury consumers.
What customer data are you leveraging most, and how?
“Customer data and collection varies per company, and also per channel. But what matters most is [working with] a balance of qualitative and quantitative data, and [knowing] how to interpret and evaluate it, in order to inform tangible and actionable strategy. … It’s important to start by identifying client segments, which can be nuanced, blended and overlapping. This is never the same for two brands. Once this is clarified, we can begin to understand shopping behaviors. At the end of the day, we need to know how, why and when clients are shopping, which we can then leverage for sustainable long-term growth while strengthening relationships.”
How key are store workers to a brand’s success today?
“Retail personnel are foundational for a brand and a most valuable resource for first-hand customer feedback and opinion. Personnel are not only the face of the brand, but they’re also the active brand point-of-view that is compressed into fifteen seconds of a [customer’s] first impression. A considered team represents the everyday brand culture. We see it as more than just transactional- and commission-based; it is also curatorial and experiential.”
What’s crucial to recruiting and keeping associates who are successful, according to your standards?
“This is an incredibly interesting time in consumerism. With social media, multiple shopping platforms and channels to access, and expectations higher than ever, [associate] recruitment cannot operate one-dimensionally, seeking just ‘sellers’ or charisma. A team has to have dynamic personas that gel, hold deep intelligence and present a unified ceremony. Retention of seasoned talent is the key to how many brands and retailers maintain and grow consistent business. We like training to be immersive and combined with macro influences, such as emerging social media trends, and market landscape and competitor analyses. It has to be digestible and relatable, in order to educate and inspire and translate to sales.”
For a store to offer a brand the most bang for the buck, what capabilities or functions should it serve?
“To maximize a retail budget and facilitate sustainable growth, there has to be an elevated service base level, consistent for every guest who enters a store or [e-commerce site] — ideally, it’s harmonized between the two channels. However, we see brands skip investment in tech and the human process. We [take cues from] the hospitality sector. …. I can recall receiving stellar restaurant service, where [the server recalled] a past visit: ‘Would you like the Malbec that you enjoyed last time?’ We want to mirror that tactility in fashion retail.”
What does it take to retain a luxury consumer today?
“On an emotional level, it’s about making a client feel special. Whether digitally or in-person, the dialogue has to be authentic, personal and, basically, not be a bot. Contact has to be relevant, with a clear purpose and not a blanket approach. True connection, ease, an element of fun and elevated service go a long way. Sometimes, though, it’s just as simple as asking, ‘How are you?’ and the rest comes naturally.”