TreeHouse: Going beyond net-zero
Start-up retailer TreeHouse practices what it preaches. In June 2017, the eco-friendly home improvement retailer broke new ground when it opened a store that will generate more energy than it uses.
Aaron Moulton, the company’s VP of creative and design, and Jenny LaBarge, head of store design and construction, discussed how the nation’s first energy-positive big-box store came together at the SPECS session, “TreeHouse: The Future of Energy is Here.”
Moulton started off the session by giving a brief overview of TreeHouse, which was founded by Jason Ballard in 2011 with a store in Austin, Texas. Specializing in curated products and services that promote healthy and sustainable spaces, the 25,000-sq.-ft. store was designed as a hub for everything tied to smart, thoughtful building. It featured lots of displays, product vignettes and graphics that explain how things work and touted the benefits of non-toxic paint and the like.
But with time, the retailer has shifted to a more experiential, service-oriented model.
“We sell more turnkey projects,” Moulton said. “There is a bigger emphasis on service. We have consultants who will come to your home.”
TreeHouse is focused on smart home upgrades done with eco-responsible products. Its goal is to make the home healthy and sustainable.
In July 2016, TreeHouse broke ground on its second location, at The Hill in Dallas, with the idea of making the building energy-positive. The retailer knew that in order to do so, it would have to, among other things, lower the energy use for the entire building.
“We did a review of the annual energy use of our Austin store, using it to model the expected energy use of the new location,” Moulton said.
The retailer (with Lake|Flato Architects) quantified how much electricity could be saved through the use of daylight, LED lighting and heat load reduction tactics.
The store’s architecture is crucial to its energy efficiency. It boasts saw-tooth roofs that are positioned in such a way to maximize the effectiveness of its giant, ultra high-efficiency solar rooftop array, which comprises 530 panels. (This feature solved the need for extra space for solar panels.)
“The store was designed so well from the beginning,” LaBarge said. “We didn’t need as many solar panels as we initially thought, which resulted in a quicker payback.” (The panels are from SunPower and are expected to last 25-to-30 years.)
North-facing clerestory windows allow for indirect sunlight to effectively illuminate the interior without the impact of direct heat. This allows for a cooler baseline temperature in the store and a minimized use of electricity. The standing-seam metal roof collects rainwater and reflects heat.
High-bay LEDs supply overall light. Focused display light is used when needed. The lighting is sensor operated.
“The temperature on the sales floor ranges from 68 degrees to 70 degrees,” LaBarge said. A big fan array helps keep the store comfortable and minimizes the use of the air conditioning.
A Tesla Powerpack (a rechargeable battery storage system for utility and commercial applications) is located 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.
On-site solar energy and Tesla battery storage systems were then designed to support the new store’s needs.
The new TreeHouse didn’t perform out of the gate to what was expected. Two months after opening, it was only generating four hours of positive energy a day.
“It took us about six months to get up to speed,” Moulton said.
In other features, the store boasts a living wall on the left past the entrance. It does double duty, reflecting the company’s commitment to sustainable living and also serving as an active air purification system.
As for the lessons learned from the Dallas store, Moulton said there are a few:
- Plan for solar for each location;
- Have abundant daylight; and
- Use fans and LED lighting in every store (“that’s a given,” he added).
“We also learned to have an intense vetting system for electrical systems going forward,” Moulton said.
In early 2018, TreeHouse opened its third location, in Plano, Texas. Going forward, the retailer expects to open four stores in 2019.
Pop-up shops get social
As brands use pop-up stores to create new retail experiences, more companies are leveraging social media to advertise these spaces and build customer excitement before and during the shops’ tenures.
“Retail is all about experiences, so companies need to find ways to keep customers thinking about their brand or product before they arrive, and after they leave your retail space,” Jeffrey Baker, president and creative director of experiential and environmental design firm Image 4, said at the SPECS session, “What’s Popping in Pop-Ups.”
“Social media is often driven by visualization, which makes it a great fit for pop-ups,” Baker said. “Customers want to be engaged. It’s up to the brand to learn the best place to interact with its audience, and create the messages that will drive them to the pop-up.”
Footwear brand Ecco used its social media presence to promote its pop-up store tour this past fall.
The pop-up, used to introduce Ecco’s new Shape line of women’s shoes, highlighted the footwear on a lighted wall. It also featured video content, a runway show and a four-surface walkway for customers to try on and experience the fit of the shoes. All customers received a discount to purchase the shoes online or in stores. The store tour visited locations in Atlanta, Dallas, Las Vegas, San Francisco and King of Prussia, Pa. Each location was open for only 48 hours.
To ensure it would drive customers to the pop-up spaces, Ecco posted pictures and videos on Snapchat “to promote the product and upcoming runway shows.
It also gave followers the ability to share and tag the brand and merchandise,” Baker said.
Once the pop-up launched, the company localized messages on its Facebook page to drive attendance to each store, and to extend conversation once the tour moved on to the next city.
“Imagery creates the experience,” Baker said. “These images made the merchandise and pop-up more visible, and the discounts delivered at the event drove in-store traffic after the tour.”
Lids also leveraged the power of its social media community when it launched Super Bowl-related venues. The company’s first shop, called the Lids Locker Room Fan Experience, coincided with the 2012 Super Bowl. The 23,000-sq.-ft. pop-up set up shop for 10 days in an empty Nordstrom department store that was located in the game’s hosting city of Indianapolis.
In addition to game-related merchandise, the space featured a mock football field with bleachers and a football-shaped sculpture created with white baseball caps hung from the second floor ceiling. The shop also featured tailgating-inspired games, as well as seats to play the latest Madden NFL video game.
Lids used Facebook to get the word out.
“This was the early days of social media, but Lids still knew Facebook was valuable,” Baker said. “They used Facebook to post images of what was happening in the space, in hopes of encouraging shoppers to visit the store and join the experience.”
Social media efforts helped drive store traffic, which hit approximately 70% of the space’s physical capacity for 70% of its operating hours, he added.
Lids hosted two more Super Bowl pop-ups in 2013 and 2014. Both relied on social media to tell the story. For example, the two pop-ups featured monitors that had Twitter and Facebook feeds of online trivia games. Winners received digital coupons that could be redeemed for prizes in their local store.
“The use of social media has matured greatly since then, but the goal remains the same,” Baker said. “There needs to be a fusion of actual and virtual retailing, and social media helps bring them together.”
A panel of retailers whose innovative brands are helping set the path for the future of the industry were the star attraction at the SPECS “Trailblazers” session. Executives from Lowe’s, Samsung, Shinola, Warby Parker and Wisteria participated in the Q&A session.
Michael Koch, Samsung’s senior director of store development, discussed the consumer electronic giant’s untraditional approach to brick-and-mortar with Samsung 837, located in Manhattan’s trendy Meatpacking District.
“We have 56,000 sq. ft. of showroom, but all we really sell is coffee,” Koch said.
He explained that the store’s mission is to get people interacting with Samsung products. It draws crowds with VR experiences, interactive art installations, workshops and live music performances.
It also has a support station where customers can get expert help to get the most out of their Samsung devices, from setting up a new phone to dealing with a cracked screen.
At home improvement retailer Lowe’s, where the living is more suburban, tech solutions are being experimented with and used to augment personal interaction.
“We’ve used robots in some stores to help people locate products,” said Ruth Crowley, Lowe’s VP of customer experience design. “Customers like it, but we find they still value human connection. It’s a more personal experience for the customer.”
Do-it-yourself retail is a hands-on business, and Crowley pointed out that while some customers shop at Lowes.com or start their research online, 13 million people visit the stores each week.
“We do a lot of customer research and we consistently find that, at Lowe’s, it’s a serious imperative to be part of the communities we serve,” Crowley said. “We’re creating moments that resonate with customers on a personal basis.”
For panelist Andrew Newsom, president of home décor and furniture retailer Wisteria, brick-and-mortar represents the full flowering of the company’s web retail business. The inspiration for Wisteria, which was founded in 2001, sprang from Newsom’s and his wife’s passion for travel and unique furnishings.
“We do it all—catalogs, online, and retail,” Newsom said. “But we find the physical store more exciting. There’s so much you can do there that you can’t do online. The way we serve the customer is completely different.”
Kelly Radford, VP of real estate and development for Warby Parker, told attendees that the brick-and-mortar volume of the one-time pure-play eyeglass seller has begun to outpace its online business. The single biggest reason for the company’s brick-and-mortar growth is the difficulty of selling prescription glasses online to people in need of eye exams.
“We want to have space to do prescription checks and examinations, and we’ve found the perfect-sized store for that is around 1,200 sq. ft.,” Radford said.
Asked by session moderator and Trademark Property CEO Terry Montesi if Warby Parker would be considering more mall locations, Radford said the company preferred to have its stores on the street.
“We’re focusing on top MSAs [metropolitan statistical areas], and want four-wall stores,” she said. “We want to drive traffic from the local commuter going to and from work. As we grow, we’ll need to expand into places like lifestyle centers that offer the right co-tenancy.”
Panelist Chris Delusky, head of store development for Shinola, said that web sales remain dominant for the Detroit-based maker of watches, bicycles, leather goods and accessories.
“We’re about 70% online and 30% brick-and-mortar, but I’m a huge fan of brick-and-mortar,” Delusky said. “Our brand message is best served in the retail environment. You have the ability to put a product in a person’s hand.”
Delusky reported that Shinola was poised to expand its brand in a big way, real estate-wise, with the first Shinola Hotel, opening in Detroit later this year.