So you finally decided it’s time to buy a new sofa. You venture into a furniture store to sit, lie and lounge on anything that catches your eye; you play house by imagining watching television or snacking or napping or entertaining friends and family, and then leave, hopefully expecting a sofa delivery in a few weeks. Right? This scenario that has played out over and over again. But it might become a thing of the past, if retailers like RH (formally known as Restoration Hardware) have anything to say about it.
A better plan, the furniture brand thinks, is a bit more well-rounded and looks a little different. Let’s try this again: you need a new sofa. This time, upon arriving at the store, you realize you missed lunch and are encouraged to head up to an atrium rooftop that looks like it was plucked out of a Parisian mansion. Here, you’ll bask in the sunshine flooding through an expansive glass roof, indulge in truffle grilled cheese on sourdough and a cold brew as you sit in the shadows of olive trees and unwind to the sound of a flowing fountain. Oh, not that hungry? Just stroll over to the barista bar to grab an espresso (and maybe an artisanal doughnut) or stop by the wine room for a tasting. Then, after you’re all relaxed and satisfied (read, not hangry and impatient), it’s time to get to sofa sitting and testing.
This is the way the new RH West Palm, The Gallery at CityPlace was reimagined (from its former one-story traditional furniture boutique to an emporium spanning four floors and 80,000 square feet that showcases the scope of RH’s collection: RH Interiors, Modern, Outdoor, Baby & Child, TEEN, and RH’s interior design services). And it’s perhaps one way retail is heading—experiential-based shopping in a world that has gone digital. While conventional department stores are part of a dying breed, introducing luxury shopping amenities to lure shoppers away from their screens and into stores might just be what saves brick and mortars.
“I remember shopping when I was young being a tremendous experience, and that’s been abandoned,” says RH Chairman and CEO Gary Friedman, who believes that it’s a mistake for companies to underinvest in the retail experience in favor of online sales only. “The sense of humanity has been left behind in the physical retail world and we want to bring back that spirit of interaction, congregation and experience.”
Tiffany & Co. has figured it out, too. The extravagant jewelry store recently opened The Blue Box Café in its New York flagship location, making Breakfast at Tiffany’s a reality. Serving up a seasonal menu, the restaurant is awash in the brand’s signature robin’s egg hue and lives on the same floor as Tiffany’s home and accessories collection. It’s an excellent exercise in brand recognition and stays true to the company’s ethos despite expanding into new territory. After all, once enjoying a cup of coffee and a delicious croissant has instantly made you feel like Holly Golightly, you’re more likely to go home with a pearl necklace that looks just like Audrey Hepburn’s.
Another example of the food-meets-shopping formula: Tommy Bahama opened its first retail store-and-restaurant concept in Naples, Florida, in the 1990s as a way to better market their product than what their wholesale partners were doing and to lure in customers and sell them on the permanent-vacation Tommy Bahama lifestyle. It was an accidental experiment that has led to 18 combination restaurant-stores that generate more sales per square foot in comparison with its regular locations both nationally and abroad.
And of course there’s IKEA, the retail giant that lets you sit down to heaps of Swedish meatballs in between shopping or treat yourself to a congratulatory ice cream upon exiting the building because, let’s face it, you deserve a prize after conquering that maze.
But it’s about more than bringing just food into a retail space (although, if your goal is community and togetherness, what better way is there than food). The RH West Palm building, designed by James Gillam of Backen, Gillam & Kroeger Architects, features a gargantuan mural on the exterior by Los Angeles-based artist RETNA (aka Marquis Duriel Lewis), making the store a destination for art and culture, too. In other words, Friedman wants you to want to come to the store and stay for more than just the furniture. “What we’re trying to do is build something that is in keeping with where people want to linger,” he says. “It’s a place for people to come and dream and connect and inspire and aspire for a way to live.”
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