Luxury’s New Leap
How do you capitalize on a temporary retail concept that fits the aesthetic of your center while delivering luxury retailers what they want? The Shops at Columbus Circle might have hit upon the answer.
The Shops at Columbus Circle inside The Time Warner Center in New York City attract a wide mix of visitors to its expansive, glass-walled shopping center. The center, at the ground level of a massive Manhattan high-rise, gets a lot of foot traffic and is the front door for the offices and apartments situated above. It also acts as a destination for tourists, diners and patrons of the nearby Lincoln Center theater complex.
The center’s management company, Related, was looking to complement the stellar line up of inline retail stores by delivering new, unique retail concepts to remain cutting-edge. While traditional kiosks were a poss- ibility, management didn’t find that any of the concepts con- sidered elevated the center’s upscale branding. Traditional carts, kiosks, or pop-up installations just did not fit right in the center, says Weber Hudson, Executive Vice President of Related. They experimented with solutions that would fit their special environment and in the process invented a whole new pop-up retail concept. The result is a set of five Luxury Merchandising Units, launched in October 2016, defined by Related as “permanent retail pop-ups that empower brands to thoughtfully engage consumers and elegantly display a wide range of merchandise.”
The team at Related reached out to a handful of different designers to design the LMUs. Of the final four companies considered, UXUS based in Amsterdam won the bid. UXUS’s design was leading-edge with a contemporary look and provided revolutionary physical flexibility to enable the LMUs to accommodate just about any retailer.
Each of the five shops is totally modular and can be deployed in countless different ways so that each retailer, depending on how they want to display their products, can change the layout of the 200-square-foot space. The LMUs were designed specifically for the center, inspired by the expansive glass and openness of the building; they fit the look and feel of the mall. All the LMUs are constructed of glass, stainless steel and warm woods to mirror the aesthetics of the rest of Time Warner Center.
Because the LMUS are modular and customizable to showcase the upscale brands that they house, they turn the temporary retail concept on its head. Each LMU is completely transparent and has unique flexibility that allows retailers to showcase their brand and their products while blending well with the rest of the center. Just about any retailer could move into one of the units and make it their own.
Hudson says that Related is excited about the LMUs because not only do they facilitate the presentation of a more unique retail mix, they also allow experimentation with products that the center may not have traditionally housed in the past. Related thinks of the LMUs as a way of incubating new brands and retailers, using the LMUs as a proof point for the shopping center and retailer, according to Hudson.
Great expectations met
Bergdorf Goodman. Rod Kosann, company CEO says their LMU at Time Warner Center is their first free-standing shop; it was something he’d never considered launching in New York, until he was introduced by chance to the team from Related and saw their concept. Kosann describes the LMUs as perfect. “They are modern, neutral architecture that does not impinge on the brand. Other temporary retail structures make you feel like you’re fighting the architecture,” Kosann says. He fell in love with the design and made the space look like a jewelry box when it’s open (for additional branding) and hired well-known window designers to grab the attention of passers-by. Kosann enjoys seeing visitors discover the window displays and appreciating them enough to take pictures.
Monica Rich Kosann is using the pop-up shop to sell jewelry in a high-traffic environment. The price points at the pop-up range from $100 to $3,000. He says the store has been a smashing success with a high customer return rate and sales that are right on target for what they expected. “We’re in it for the long term,” says Kosann, who has signed a five-year lease on his unit.
Sugarfina, a luxury candy boutique, is a relatively young company based in Los Angeles and is in the process of branching out with retail locations around the country, including in the New York market. A LMU at Time Warner Center allows them to test and prove their retail concept in a new way, with less risk than signing a long-term lease on an inline space.
Moleskine, a Milan, Italy-based retailer of reading and writing accessories, is traditionally an inline retailer is also an LMU tenant at the Time Warner Center. Moleskine opened their retail outlet here three or four years ago, says Richard Seligman, Moleskine’s U.S. representative. Since moving into a new LMU in October 2016, they’ve had a positive experience and sales have lived up to expectations.
“It’s a perfect storm of consumers with the tourist market, strong office market, large quantity of foot traffic, and cultural and art patrons,” Seligman says. This LMU format has allowed the brand an opportunity to understand and experience the American market in a new way without a prohibitive commitment.
Richard Seligman credits Related for the success of the design and build out of the LMUs as well as their installation and execution. He describes the management company as “enlightened about retailers and selective about the LMU occupants.” Without the right tenants, he says, the execution wouldn’t be as effective.
The Shops have installed five of these mini-stores and according to Hudson, will be keeping it at that number for the foreseeable future despite being at full capacity and receiving calls regularly from retailers looking to lease space. The shopping center is known for its expansive glass, open space with gorgeous views of the Manhattan skyline, all features that Hudson says management will not allow to be changed or cluttered by including too many LMUs. Seligman sees that this type of smaller, temporary retail is the future of the industry, that different concepts, varied products, and innovative offerings in new places will continue to evolve. “Smaller square footage allows for expanded possibilities,” he says.
Currently, all five LMUs are occupied and each installation is built out in a different way. The retailers include Sugarfina, Monica Rich Kosann, and Moleskine, as discussed earlier and La Maison du Chocolat, a luxury French chocolatier and Etienne Aigner, the iconic retailer of handbags, shoes, clothing and accessories.
The LMUs at Time Warner are a physical manifestation of Hudson’s vision that large retail centers need to continue to incubate ideas and help bring them to market. He sees that many large centers have slipped toward mediocrity, lost their special touch and suffered as a result. Time Warner Center, he says, has sought to resist mediocrity by taking more risks and investing in new merchants and retail concepts.
Being ahead of the curve has its challenges though, says Hudson. It’s a constant effort to be out there finding new concepts and discovering what visitors want. “We feel responsible to our visitors to be out there curating interesting products, spaces, to continually establish ourselves as a destination.” he says, “We want to keep sales growing and we remain committed to the upscale art, culture, and culinary offerings that surround us.”