This month, Microsoft throws its hat into the flagship ring with a 22,000+ square foot store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan — a Windows counterpoint to the Apple Store glass cube, one of the most successful retail locations in the world, just a few blocks away.
The reason for both is the same: It doesn’t make a splash to simply open stores in suburban shopping malls and city centers, so companies are finding ways to embody their brand and lure in customers through immersive retail experiences. Notable successes include the original L.L. Bean, famously open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in Freeport, Maine, and the original Bass Pro Outdoor World in Springfield, Missouri, which features, among its many other attractions over 500,000 square feet, a live alligator pit.
When well executed, these superstores become tourist destinations. Witness The Yankee Candle Company’s South Deerfield location, which offers candlemaking, a Bavarian Christmas village with real falling snow, many holiday family events, and which may be Massachusetts’ second biggest tourist attraction.
And so: a look at recent ways some companies across different categories are working hard to distinguish themselves with unique retail experiences.
Restoration Hardware – Chicago and Elsewhere
Over the past four years, the luxury lifestyle retailer Restoration Hardware has been building new spaces over 20,000 square feet and also converting historic buildings into design galleries. Each gallery in cities including Greenwich, CT (in the neoclassical former post office) and Boston (in the former Museum of Natural History), is unique but all have an emphasis on natural light and most have elevated gardens. The West Hollywood location’s rooftop park has a century-old heritage olive tree grove. Both indoor and outdoor spaces are set up like residences to allow visitors to experience the furnishings.
The newest launch, RH Chicago, The Gallery is set in the restored Three Arts Building, once a residence for women studying music and the arts, and the Gold Coast location is the first to feature new RH concepts RH Modern and RH Teen. It has a cafe, wine vault and tasting room, and pantry and espresso bar developed in collaboration with Brendan Sodikoff. The space has an enclosed courtyard and rooftop park and conservatory, restored fountain, rococo chandelier, frescoes, mosaics, sculpture, and a lounge with a stage. All of the spaces, of course, showcase RH furnishings and fixtures. RH Denver opened this week, and coming up next is the first RH Modern freestanding gallery in L.A..
LUSH – London
In April, LUSH Fresh Handmade Cosmetics opened its three-story flagship store on Oxford Street in London. LUSH stores are already immersive experiences, defying customers not to pick up unwrapped (“naked” in the eco-minded company’s parlance for their packaging-free products) products, or open up recycled plastic jars and sniff them. The flagship has those opportunities to smell and play plus a Hair Lab to try out products before purchasing, a LUSH Spa with four treatment rooms, oversize fountain sinks to aid with experiencing the products (many which involve fizzing or sudsing dramatically in bath water), and an event room hosting talks, workshops, and activities.
Because this location is over 9,500 square feet, it’s about 13 times larger than the average LUSH shop, and they needed more products to fill the space. So over a span of 100 days, the company developed 240 new products to fill those London shelves, which created a snowball effect. Now the U.S. stores need more space to include the new products, so the company says some stateside shops will be expanding as well.
Converse – Boston and Elsewhere
In May, Converse opened its new world headquarters in a restored once-vacant warehouse space at Boston’s Lovejoy Wharf, which includes a 3,500-square foot flagship store and the second Rubber Tracks recording studio (a space for local and touring musicians to record, free of charge). This flagship offers exclusive limited-edition Boston-themed shoes. Visitors to this store also have two options for designing their own custom-made pairs of the iconic Chuck Taylor All-Star shoe. In the Workshop, pictured here, customers can choose their textiles, components, and signature details only available at this location. The other option is InkBar, which allows shoppers to customize sneakers they buy in the store using one of 150 graphics or their own artwork .
New York’s Converse store in SoHo is double the size, has a customization lab as well and offers New York-themed shoes and apparel. The largest of the flagships in San Francisco is more than double the size at 16,000 square feet and also offers customization and exclusive locally themed limited edition sneakers.
Ralph Lauren – New York and Elsewhere
Ralph Lauren’s newest flagship on Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, Polo Ralph Lauren, launched last fall. It’s the first dedicated to the label’s preppy Americana line and was among the first to sell the women’s Polo line. Earlier this year it drew crowds using holographic boxers to model new activewear in the windows. The location also offers branded coffee at Ralph’s Coffee, as well as The Polo Bar, a first Lauren-branded restaurant, around the corner.
Two more flagship locations called the Madison Avenue Mansions preside on Manhattan’s Upper East Side across the avenue from each other embodying wealth and taste. The older location houses Men’s collections in the Rhinelander mansion, a circa-1898 French Renaissance Revival limestone building and offers made-to-measure suits as well as haberdashery, timepieces, and formalwear in a masculine, wood-paneled, old-money atmosphere. The newer one houses the home and women’s collections. These settings and the other global locations position Lauren clothing and products in a story, aligning them with the label’s implied mansion-dwelling, fox-hunting/horse racing lifestyle.
Microsoft – New York and Sydney
Microsoft’s Midtown Manhattan flagship, its first in America, will open October 26, and its first international flagship opens on Sydney’s Pitt Street Mall on November 12.
For the New York location, new products will be available to try and buy on opening day– Lumia phones, a Surface Pro 4, and a Microsoft Band 2. The company announced plans to give back to the local communities for both locations, to the tune of $5 million in software and technology grants. In New York, some of those organizations receiving grants include All Star Code in Manhattan, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Staten Island MakerSpace.