Top 10 Retail Center Experiences

BY Al Urbanski

The Electric Daisy Carnival drew 130,000 young people to Las Vegas on its final day last year. This summer, Billy Joel will sell out his 43rd concert at Madison Square Garden, where floor tickets sell in the $200 range. No matter the age or inclination, people still want to leave the house and be with other people. They just need a really good reason to do so. Here are 10 retail centers that have some of the best reasons:

1 Mall of America

The Bible says the last shall be first, but on this list, the first shall be first. Can you believe it’s been 25 years since the Ghermezian family erected a multimillion-sq.-ft. mall/amusement park in one of the coldest cities in America, and, in the process, threw down the gauntlet for experiential retail? Attractions today include Sea Life Aquarium, Flyover America Crayola Experience, and Rick Bronson’s House of Comedy. The latest innovation at MOA is a testament to owner Triple Five Group’s maturity as a retail experience provider. The property’s got the traffic – some 40 million visitors a year. Now Triple Five’s working on getting them to spend more time in shops with the Enhanced Service Portal. Initial results on the directory app find it has a user dwell time of just 40 seconds, versus three minutes for physical directories. That means more time to make purchases at its 500-plus stores, and isn’t that the experience retail tenants desire?

2 Brickell City’s Climate Ribbon

In one of America’s hottest towns, Swire Properties christened a new Miami neighborhood with the opening of its billion-dollar Brickell City Centre. It also set a standard for 21st-century retail center design. The literal high point of this open-air luxury marketplace is the Climate Ribbon, a sculpted, undulating canopy that catches breezes from nearby Biscayne Bay and circulates them to cool shoppers. The $30 million Ribbon – a joint project from a Paris design firm, Carnegie Mellon University, and Cardiff University – collects five million gallons of rainwater a year to aid the cooling process, making it a paradigm for green construction that combines both beauty and functionality.

3 Easton’s Fashion’s Night Out

Retailers know that if something works, keep doing it until it doesn’t. That’s why – even though the Council of Fashion Designers of America phased out its Fashion’s Night Out Event in 2014 – the party still rages on at Easton. “It’s been such a hit that we kept on going,” said Easton Town Center chief executive Jennifer Peterson, a lifelong retailer who launched the Pink brand at L Brands. “On Fashion Night, we’ll have upwards of 50 retailers hosting people and pouring drinks in their spaces.” The former retail tenant singled Easton out as one of the few venues that puts the “town” in Town Center. “Easton never closes,” Peterson said. “People are still leaving the bars at 3 a.m., and by 5 a.m. a hundred-plus mall walkers arrive.”

4 Woodbury Commons

Its bus station shuttles passengers back and forth from Manhattan’s Port Authority Terminal several times a day. Its visitor center staff can direct shoppers in 14 different languages. And now it has a 65,000-sq.-ft. Market Hall and themed sections celebrating New York State regions. The flagship of Simon Premium Outlets is a destination for residents of the Upper East Side as well as the Far East, but it recently completed a wide-scale, three-year project designed to keep a sharp edge on its world-class experience. “We have a mission – value, fashion, and experience,” Simon Premium Outlets CEO Stephen Yalof said. “And I don’t think it plays out any more clearly than it does at Woodbury.”

5 The Grove and Uber

With average sales per square foot of $2,200, the luxe retail site is No. 2 on Fortune’s list of top-grossing shopping centers. But the center’s owner, Caruso, is always improving the experience. Getting on the freeway in L.A. can be a bad scene, so Caruso partnered with Uber to remove driving from the equation. It created a permanent pick-up/drop-off location at The Grove, now Uber’s top L.A. destination with more than 2,000 drop-offs daily. Know thy customer is the lesson, Caruso EVP of leasing Kloe Colacarro said: “We have a deep belief in developing centers only in places where we know the consumer. And we know the SoCal consumer very, very well.”

6 Waterside, a Conscious Place

Trademark Property has so much faith in its new-age experiential concept that it’s branded it. Conscious Place is defined as an “experiential center of commerce, community, and meaning that seeks to host, inspire, educate, and connect community stakeholders.” Design and leasing at Waterside were driven by local input. Local artisans created furniture, games, and art on the grounds. A 6,600-gallon cistern collects rainwater used for irrigating the project’s green space, shaded by heritage oaks and housing a Community Pavilion. “We believe the bar has been raised and developers must deliver much more in the future,” Trademark CEO Terry Montesi said.

7 Taste of Turkey Creek/Battle of Bristol

Down South, football and motor sports put up a fight with the Lord Almighty for attention. Add down-home cooking and you’ve got a retail event that drew a mob to Pinnacle at Turkey Creek, Bayer Properties’ 657,000-sq.-ft. center in Knoxville, Tenn. Bayer hitched its wagon to another event, the Battle at Bristol – a matchup between the University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway that drew 159,990. Some 1,200 showed up at “Taste” to sample food from two dozen Turkey Creek restaurants and watch the game on huge screens. The event raised $20,000 for The Pat Summitt Foundation, named for the Lady Vols legendary basketball coach.

8 Starwood’s Live 360

A free ukulele class is part of Starwood Retail Partner’s Live 360 program, a community outreach initiative that spread from two malls last year to 10 this year and is now moving portfoliowide. Lots of malls have community programs, but Starwood’s are run by actual community members. “We have community input meetings and there’s always one individual who seems to be involved in everything. We hire that person to direct the Live 360 program,” Starwood Retail SVP Laurie Paquette said. Two of them are now in place, bringing locals to the mall for yoga classes, Mom’s Club stroller workouts, and mall-walking clubs.

9 Outlets of Little Rock’s Food Truck Fest

Outlet centers came into being to feed people’s appetites for luscious bargains on luxury goods, not food. Most are now feverishly adding restaurants, but we applaud the ingenuity used by New England Development in speeding food to their outlet centers with food truck festivals. The Arkansas Food Truck & Craft Beer Festival at Outlets of Little Rock was a sellout, attracting 6,000 people. Center traffic went up 112%. “Blew numbers away, awesome day,” was one retailer’s message to NED marketing VP Debbie Black, who told us social media was a key ingredient to event success. Three-quarters of festival-goers said they’d found out about it on Facebook.

10 Avalon’s Noon to Night

Forget that “Experience Avalon” is the name of its website. Avalon made this list for two reasons: (1) Staff at the North American Properties center started working on Noon to Night when doors opened in 2014; and (2) they executed a deft new take on the well-worn fashion show theme. Noon to Night is held during New York Fashion Week, but among the models on its runways are terminally ill children. The inaugural 2015 event raised $10,000 for Bert’s Big Adventure, which sends the kids to Disneyland. Last year, that blossomed to $60,000. “It ended up being the perfect blend of business and charity,” said Carla Toro, Avalon’s marketing director.


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TreeHouse Branches Out

BY Marianne Wilson

A start-up home improvement retailer with a green conscience has expanded out of its Austin, Texas, home with a first-of-its-kind store that’s generating lots of buzz.

TreeHouse has opened the nation’s first home improvement “energy positive” (meaning it will generate more energy than it uses) store, at The Hill, a shopping center in Dallas. It’s the start-up retailer’s second location — but not for long. An additional store, planned for the Plano, Texas, area, is due to open this fall.

TreeHouse wears its heart on its sleeve — and does so proudly. Its mission statement is painted on the wall: “We exist to make homes beautiful, healthy and sustainable. For everyone.”

The 35,000-sq.-ft store is bright and inviting, accented with light woods and plants. It offers a carefully curated selection of products, materials and technologies — some not available elsewhere — designed to promote healthy and sustainable dwellings, with an emphasis on performance and design. An outdoor section emphasizes “water-wise” native plants.

TreeHouse also offers an array of design and turnkey services, along with in-store classes on topics that range from composting to solar power.

“TreeHouse is reinventing home improvement with the twin goals of ecological and human health,” the company explains on its website. “Our core principles are applied to everything in the store. From thoughtful and innovative products to comprehensive, high-quality services — every element is designed to build a better home.”


TreeHouse practices what it preaches. In designing the store, San Antonio-based architectural firm Lake Flato used TreeHouse’s approach to products and materials selection, with the principles of health and sustainability in mind.

The firm tracked the energy use of TreeHouse Austin, using the location as a guide to model the expected energy use of the new store. It then quantified how much electricity could be saved through the use of daylight, LED lighting and heat-load reduction tactics.

The Dallas outpost features a unique, south-facing saw-tooth roof that is positioned to maximize the effectiveness of its giant, ultra high-efficiency solar array, which is composed of more than 500 solar panels. The position generates the most solar energy possible while blocking the sun from directly entering the interior and creating more heat.

North-facing clerestory windows bring daylight inside the space to allow minimal use of electric fixtures and to provide excellent interior light quality. With this tactic, the store is able to run on daylight until sunset each day.

A Tesla Powerpack (a rechargeable battery storage system for utility and commercial applications) is on display at the center of the store. It stores the power produced by the rooftop solar array, deploying it for evening use and allowing the building to return excess renewable energy to the city’s grid.

The building was also designed around a large legacy oak tree that stands on the property. The tree presented challenges during the nearly yearlong construction cycle. But it was left in place, showcasing TreeHouse’s commitment to design integrated with nature.


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Smarter Data Management Helps Retailers Compete


Chain Store Age recently spoke with Hiro Yoshikawa, CEO and co-founder of Treasure Data. He discussed how a new level of customer data analysis can improve the customer experience.

How has unified commerce and digitally influenced retail stepped up the game on data management?

The vision for a unified commerce platform opens up a fire hydrant of data from so many different channels — online, mobile, offline, first-party, partnered data — that it forces retailers to get much smarter about finding out which pieces of data are the most symbolic of their customers’ choices. Now the challenge is performing that customer data analysis at the speed of e-commerce — and making a relevant recommendation before the consumer’s attention is stolen away.

What needs to be in place for retailers to harness — and learn from — incoming big data?

Learning from the data and capitalizing on it are two different things, of course.

Most data analytics platforms still require a data scientist, or even an entire data science team, to separate signal from noise, make sense of all the customer data, and turn that into decisions. These can be everything from design changes on the e-commerce site to what products are displayed together in physical store planograms. We designed the Treasure Data platform so the most useful data bubbles up to the top, giving any decision maker in the organization real-time access to that meaningful information.

For retailers to survive and thrive in a given market, they must be able to nimbly interpret customer data and use it to innovate the customer experience. Physical retailers need to come up with novel ways to reinvent the shopping experience through faster delivery, special deals, unique services, greater personalization, and creative digital marketing strategies. They need the mechanisms in place to drive action at the corporate level, and implement quickly, uniformly, and on brand, at the store level.

“Learning from the data and capitalizing on it are two different things, of course. […] For a retailer to survive and thrive in a given market, they must be able to nimbly interpret customer data and use it to innovate the customer experience.”

Where do retailers still struggle when it comes to data management?

Large, legacy retailers are all struggling to adapt to the challenge of Amazon and companies born in the digital age. Shopping habits have changed, and the new breed of retailer manages large volumes of data over a robust online infrastructure to innovate even in unseen parts of the organization, like delivery staging and supply chain.

What role does artificial intelligence (AI) play in helping retailers compete?

Using Treasure Data’s Customer Data Platform, retailers can combine online browsing data and in-store purchase history to develop a complete, anonymous customer profile. Joined with real-time store inventory data, they could use AI and machine learning to make personalized, predictive algorithms around purchase intent. AI could then automatically execute data-driven incentives like personalized coupons and timely, well-targeted in-app push notifications, at the moment when the customer is considering buying a specific item, and where to get it.

How can Treasure Data help retailers achieve their data management goals in this new digitally driven landscape?

Treasure Data can help retailers reposition themselves, even internally, as a modern, data savvy organization. We can process more than 8 million web and mobile events per day and analyze more than 3 billion transactions per year. By delving into processes like browsing behavior and app usage, we can help retailers bridge the gap and find out what their customers truly want.

We can help increase sales revenue by unifying customer data from any number of channels, and performing deep analysis of that data. For example, we’ve helped a 650-plus-store global retailer push the frontiers of innovation with strong growth in core retail operations, including bedrock key performance indicators like same-store sales. This brand has proven that in-store traffic and revenue can increase with a strong understanding and use of customer data.

Treasure Data’s Customer Data Platform gives retailers the ability to obtain data instantly and use this understanding of online consumer behavior to drive offline shopping purchases.


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What will your company do with the tax-reform windfall?