Upon entry, shoppers see an art installation featuring cast resin models of signature Mack Weldon styles. If they walk a bit farther, they’ll encounter the “Mack Man” custom game console, modeled after Pac Man, where they can enter monthly contests for free product. For an Instagram moment, they can hit the fitting room, featuring elements of the artwork and prompts to post hash-tagged photos. And, assuming they’re a typical online shopper of the brand, they can ease into the browsing experience — merchandise is organized for convenience based on customers’ online activity. An “endless aisle” offering is planned for a summer rollout.
With its first physical store, opening on Friday as part of Hudson Yards’ anticipated unveiling of The Shops & Restaurants, men’s underwear brand Mack Weldon is checking every box on the “trending in experiential retail” list. The company, launched in 2011, is one of many digitally native brands that has set up shop on the second floor of The Shops, dubbed the Floor of Discovery. Some are opening their first NYC-based store, others are tackling permanent retail for the first time — and all are under pressure to offer shoppers an experience that will keep them coming back.
The brands are in competition with the other featured brands, with many making big investments in window displays to earn more moments of discovery. But at the same time, the shared feeling is: A rising tide lifts all boats. Success of neighboring stores means more foot traffic. (Hudson Yards developer Related Companies is promising 65,000 visitors a day.) With physical retail in a state of flux, even opening a store in a buzzy lifestyle center is a risk.
“The extra effort going into the store experiences and displays is what’s going to make [Hudson Yards] different and stand out from other malls,” said Cheryl Kaplan, president of direct-to-consumer shoe brand M.Gemi, which is opening its first permanent NYC store on the Floor of Discovery.
Retailers’ approach to designing a standout Hudson Yards store experience ran the gamut, with results touching on themes including convenience, next-level product testing and nice perks, like in-store cafes.
Considering their online-exclusive backgrounds, not to mention current consumer expectations, it makes sense that many brands on the Floor of Discovery prioritized an omnichannel shopping experience.
Pop-up greeting card company Lovepop, opening its first-ever brick-and-mortar store, is featuring a touchscreen mirror that works as a digital catalog, said Colin Spillane, Lovepop’s retail general manager. It allows customers to shop the company’s full product range beyond what’s in-store and have purchases sent to their home at no cost. Likewise, 19-year-old AG, which is opening its third NYC store a stone’s throw away, will feature digital screens in its fitting rooms, facilitating the browsing of styles outside of the 300 on the racks, said Sid Dey, the brand’s vp of retail.
Located on levels three and four, Zara has set up an integrated stock management system, making it possible for store inventory to fulfill local online orders, expediting the shipping process. In addition, customers can choose to pick up and return online orders in-store.
“We call them thrivers,” said Webber Hudson, evp of Related, of the non-DNVBs that have signed on. (Fifteen percent of the shopping center’s stores are still vacant, he said.) “They’ve come through the retail shakedown, and they’re tweaking their own retail model, trying new retail concepts and embracing the digital realm. It’s not a matter of online versus retail; they’ve figured out how to merge those worlds together.”
Doing so is a matter of offering customers convenience, a task retailers like Uniqlo are tackling through their floor displays. Suzanne Seymour, marketing director of Uniqlo USA, said the brand’s Hudson Yards store — which marks its fourth Manhattan location — is designed like its apparel, to be simple. It’s easy to navigate, with the inventory catered to the expected shoppers: a wide variety or workwear for those with offices in Hudson Yards and an expanded section of NYC-themed T-shirts for tourists. On the same note, 5-year-old men’s activewear brand Rhone grouped its products according to the five activities it makes products for, including running, recovering and commuting.
Also catering to Hudson Yards employees — tenants include Tapestry Group and L’Oréal, among many others — is L’Oréal’s concept store. Workers can order a lipstick from their desk, for example, and have it delivered to their office on the same day.
And anyone can now pull up restaurant reservation app Resy to make a VIP styling appointment at M.Gemi’s Hudson Yards store, complete with champagne.
“Service and technology are the best examples of experience here, for sure,” said Esty Ottensoser, retail specialist at Related.
Among Rhone’s experiential efforts is creating an immersive trial space near the fitting room. To start, there’s a pull-up bar, and Nate Checketts, Rhone’s co-founder & CEO, said he plans to build out the space with additional fitness equipment. It’s another convenience play, as giving shoppers the full effect makes for more confident purchases and fewer returns. And like the store itself, it’s a way for Rhone to prove it’s not just an expensive form of Nike.
“Men are such tactile shoppers, and we put a high investment into fabrics,” said Checketts. “If they don’t feel it and try it first, they don’t get it.”
Batch, on the Floor of Discovery at Hudson Yards
Other brands creating brand-immersive store environments include UK-based luxury swimwear brand Heidi Klein — it set up is first U.S. store to read like a beach retreat, with whitewashed wood features, decorative palm leaves and a coconut scent. And like its original store in San Francisco, the retail floor of home goods concept shop Batch mimics a staged home. “We want it to feel like you’re going into a friend’s house and shopping what you want,” said founder and CEO Lindsay Meyer.
That aim at a welcoming environment is the same reason Rhone reserved a space for men to go “to just sit and hang,” said Checketts. Rather than happy hours, it’s hosting healthy hours, when men partake in snacks and protein shakes by brand partners like Eboost. M.Gemi also has an in-store coffee bar, for those who pass on champagne.
Of course, the question remains as to whether modern shoppers actually want to spend their time hanging, discovering and sweating in a mall — ahem, lifestyle center.
3den founder and CEO Ben Silver is betting that they do — in fact, he thinks they’ll pay to do so. Within The Shops, he’s launching the first location of his “third space” concept (four more will open in Manhattan this year), intended for in-between moments of one’s day. It features bathrooms and showers with products by Hello and L’Oréal’s Seed Phytonutrients, nap pods by Casper, a meditation and yoga area, work-lounge areas, and phone booths. Booked through the app, anyone can spend 30 minutes there for $6. There’s a corporate membership available for Hudson Yards employees.
“Hudson Yards is a city within a city, like a self-enclosed town,” said Silver. (According to Related, Hudson Yards houses 75,000 workers.) “Even if there were no tourists and no one came from other parts of New York, you have this abundance of traffic already there. It’s the perfect place to test something completely new.”
Additional reporting by Danny Parisi.