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The Rise of Experiential Retail in New York City

By Nathaniel Mallon – Verada

Experiential retail has been on the rise as consumers have demanded more in their shopping experience. Traditional brick and mortar locations have suffered, while retailers who have incorporated the new concept have thrived. As we move into the future, studies reveal that the demand for experiential retail is not slowing and retailers who want to remain prevalent must adopt this idea of “retailtainment.”

Paving the path in the industry are retailers in New York City, who have been integrating the concept into their locations since experiential retail was first recognized in the city when designers Rei Kawakubo and Adrian Joffe of Comme des Garçons launched Dover Street Market in Manhattan in 2013. Mimicking their original concept opened in London in 2004, Dover Street Market encompasses eight maze-like floors which include a restaurant, numerous fine art exhibits, and possibly the continent’s most overwhelming, complete collection of contemporary clothing.

Since then, individuals have leveraged this new demand to introduce new, creative concepts throughout the city. Retailtainment now uses available retail and office space to provide community experiences, bringing like minded individuals together who share a passion. This model has proven to improve the customer experience and increase sales for brands and businesses.

Notable Experiential Retail in New York City

Following pioneers such as Walt Disney, Nike, and Levi’s, who first incorporated experiential retail into their New York City stores, other brands and businesses—both large and small—are now following suit. These retailers are adopting new concepts that create an experience for the consumer, increasing their time spent in their locations, offering them the ability to create memories while making purchases.

Vital Climbing Gym

Indoor sports experiences are among the most popular in New York City as residents seek healthy outlets in the bustling city. One of the first introduced on the Williamsburg-Greenpoint border was Vital Climbing Gym. Opened in 2018, the San-Diego based company executed a lease to occupy a 31,000 square foot industrial property, with intent to build out the space to nearly 46,000 square feet.

Brendan Thrapp from Verada Retail led the landlord rep team through the transaction. Commenting on the transformation seen throughout the city, Thrapp shares, “there has been a big influx of experiential retail in the City, and I see it only growing. Coming out of Covid, I think people are looking for more connection, more of a full sensory experience.”

Today, Vital Climbing Gym is a 24-hour gym that offers climbing and training, as well as aerial, bouldering, fitness, cycle, and yoga classes and workshops. At the time of lease execution, Vital Climbing co-founder David Sacher shared, “The building is spectacularly underutilized.” He continued, “It’s really run down, and we can do something cool with it.” Now – in 2022 – Vital Climbing has transformed the warehouse, as well as opened a second location in Manhattan.

Five Iron Golf

Five Iron Golf recently executed a lease to open their newest location in Midtown. Occupying a 30,000 square foot space, Five Iron Golf will offer an experience for both advanced and novice golfers.

Five Iron Golf reports, “For the serious golfer, Five Iron hosts high-tech Trackman simulators, access to teaching professionals, practice time, leagues, club storage, showers, top-of-the-line clubs that are free to use during [their] booking, and in-house club fitting services. For the less-than-serious golfer … Five Iron offers flexible event spaces, a full-service bar, locally crafted food menus, table games like ping pong and shuffleboard, and widescreen TVs perfect for watching [their] favorite game.”

Founded in 2017, Five Iron Golf has expanded to over twenty locations across the US, with international locations in Singapore and India.

Padel Haus

In 2021, Santiago Gomez, co-founder of restaurants Cosme and ATLA, announced his newest concept, Padel Haus. Padel Haus is the first padel club in NYC and offers residents the opportunity to participate in this relatively new game. “Padel is a combination of squash and tennis and by some accounts is the fastest growing sport in the world … According to the International Padel Federation, eighteen million people now enjoy the sport in 90 countries.”

Padel Haus now occupies a 30,000 square foot space in Williamsburg and includes both a club and restaurant. This new concept classified as experiential retail meets the growing demand of Williamsburg residents, a community that has transformed over the last decade. What was previously a heavily industrial area is now home to luxury mixed-use condominiums and historical homes, with demographics including families, couples, and college students.

LEGO Group ‘Retailainment’

Not only are athletics making way in the experiential retail sector, but major brands, including LEGO, are as well. Following years in a pandemic environment, LEGO introduced their experiential retail NYC flagship store in 2021. The store features first-of-a-kind immersive digital and physical shopper experiences to inspire creativity and imagination.

Previously, Colette Burke, Chief Commercial Officer at LEGO reported: “While our existing store format has been very successful, we are evolving it to strengthen brand love and create memorable experiences people will talk about long after they leave. We want people to walk into our stores and feel immersed in a world of LEGO bricks. We’ve designed the spaces to fire up creativity and imagination and encourage hands-on play. Our talented designers have developed entirely new experiences that blend the very best of ground-breaking customization, technology and physical play allowing visitors to interact with the brand in exciting new ways.” Included in the location is the LEGO Brick Lab, a world-first retail experience that immerses people and their LEGO builds in an amazing virtual world; the awe-inspiring, interactive Tree of Discovery, which is made from 880,000 LEGO elements; an interactive Storytelling Table designed for adult fans, which brings to life the stories behind sets available in store; and much more.

The LEGO store occupies a 7,175 square foot, two-story store on Fifth Avenue, and is the first of the brand’s innovative new retail format.

Leveraging Artificial Intelligence to Improve the Retail Experience

Beyond experiential retail, retailers specializing in art, music, film, or even food are quickly realizing the potential of using artificial intelligence (AI) to create an immersive consumer experience. If current trends continue, those businesses that can tap into our desire to do and feel, rather than simply go somewhere, are more likely to capture our collective attention and increase profits. ArtsDistrict Brooklyn ArtsDistrict Brooklyn, also known as AD/BK, is a new immersive arts venue occupying 25,000 square feet at 25 Franklin Street in Greenpoint. This reclaimed warehouse, which overlooks the East River, has transformed into a massive art installation complex that features rotating installations. Marketed as “the place where innovation meets imagination,” AD/BK combines daring creativity and unrivaled originality to spark curiosity and invite exploration. In addition to its exhibit space, the venue includes a daytime café, a pre-show destination where visitors can enjoy free Wi-Fi and an open-air patio space with outdoor seating. It also features an NFT gallery where visitors can purchase works from main stage shows.

Hall des Lumières

Located in the previously vacant Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank, Hall des Lumières invites visitors of all ages to experience art and culture from a new perspective. The 33,000-square-foot space, which sits across from City Hall Park, currently features the work of Austrian painter Gustav Klimt.

Unlike other experiential pop-ups that have opened in NYC, the Hall is a permanent proprietor of the immersive arts, dedicated to featuring entirely new, custom-curated exhibitions every 10 to 12 months, based on the work of different world-renowned artists. Culturespaces, a leading private manager of museums and cultural heritage sites in France, is head of the project.

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt

Taking advantage of its unique location, height, and views, SUMMIT One Vanderbilt blends elements of art, technology, and architecture to take the concept of “observation deck” to a thrilling new level. At 1,401 feet, One Vanderbilt is the tallest commercial skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan and among the top thirty tallest buildings in the world. Inside, visitors access a multi-sensory art experience that compels them to question their perception of the built environment, the natural world around them, and their sensorial reality.

Ascending ninety-three floors via a mirror-enclosed elevator, visitors step into an immersive art experience, created and designed by Kenzo Digital. A state-of-the-art promontory offers jaw-dropping views of all five boroughs with a choreographed procession of connective social spaces – including hallways, escalators, and a skyline café.

Transforming the User Experience

Today’s consumers are becoming more selective about the brands and stores they choose to patronize, and 75 percent report that they prefer an experimental store versus non-experimental stores. This means they are looking for unique and seamless shopping experiences.

As a result, it is harder for retailers to grab and keep their attention. Experiential retail, including immersive commerce, aims to create an interactive experience that truly engages consumers in shopping instead of just briefly browsing, and this concept is forging a new pathway for retailers of the future.

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