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Hudson Yards Features Digital Brands, In Group

Hudson Yards Floor of Discovery features a grouped selection of digital native brands, among them are b8ta, Mack Weldon, and M.Gemi.

Sanford Stein

In a recent trip to New York, I made it a point to investigate Manhattan’s newest destination for tourists and locals alike, the $25 billion Hudson Yards development. Besides the requisite selfie with The Vessel, I was specifically drawn to the second level of the 720,000 sq. ft. shopping mall, entitled “Floor of Discovery.” This area is dedicated to new-to-New York shops and digitally native brands. Direct to consumer (DTC) and digital-first brands are being sought by all the leading malls and centers to compensate for the dearth of national specialty retailers. What’s unique here, is the featured assembly of these DTC brands. Among the stores I visited during my “swat-audit” were b8ta, Mack Weldon, M. Gemi, AG by Adriano Goldschmied and Rhone.

Highly Edited and Impeccably Merchandised

Not surprisingly, there were a number of commonalities that these retailers shared. Each is built on a well-developed, and refined product niche; there are no generalists here. Additionally, each of these brands had created a strong and loyal following long before committing to real estate. Finally, they each have a unique “story-to-tell”, and they all tell it well, online and off. Perhaps the most unifying characteristic of these retailers was their careful integration of product, store design and visual merchandising, resulting in a cohesive brand statement. This is essential in making the product story compelling, understandable and intuitive to the shopper, regardless of their past experience with the brand. This was true with the fashion concepts and the unique b8ta tech concept.

b8ta introduces the concept of retail as a service (RaaS) with the retailer searching out the latest new tech items, often from small entrepreneurial developers.

Sanford Stein

B8ta Pioneers RaaS

For those unfamiliar with b8ta, they refer to themselves as a Retail-as-a-Service (RaaS) model. They seek out the newest and most innovative tech products and provide these companies with a platform in which to introduce their products. It’s Brookstone meets Apple, with a strong MoMA vibe. And to add a sense of urgency (as in FOMO), 30 to 50 percent of the products are rotated out, and replaced every month.

The success of b8ta, besides the constantly changing unique tech items, can be linked to two key elements. One is that every product has its “own zone”; no product-overwhelm here. Each solo item is well displayed, with a devoted iPad tablet that provides product demonstration as well as key features and benefits. It’s consumer empowerment meets brand management. A second factor in b8ta’s success is attributed to their emphasis on identifying and training quality brand ambassadors that contribute to a great customer experience.

Digital first men’s essential retailer Mack Weldon and AG Jeans both demonstrate an understanding of unified commerce in this, their first and sixteenth respective stores.

Sanford Stein

Unified Commerce

Digital native Mack Weldon, which has been referred to as the “Apple of underwear” has chosen the Hudson Yards venue to launch its first physical store. At the center of the store is a jungle-gym-like, white enameled sculpture, depicting a unique array of sports and lifestyle “found objects”. This art-meets-commerce statement brilliantly positions the brand.

I was informed that the store is exceeding expectations, and that about half of the walk-ins are already familiar with the digital-first brand. Like b8ta, the store provides clear links to the brand’s full offering through digital tablets that are integrated into the store fixtures. Complimenting the digital info is an analog graphic system that provides top-line product information, which assists customers along their path to purchase. Cohesiveness, and attention to detail link the brands online and offline embodiment, hallmarks of a great unified brand.

Another brand being represented in this group is AG Jeans by Adriano Goldschmied. While hardly new, the established brand emphasizes its unified brand status in this ultra-modern store. Hudson Yard’s became AG’s 16th store, incorporating huge video walls, and changing room mirrors, linked to online content.

Rhone takes a minimalist approach to the high-quality men’s athleisure market.

Sanford Stein

Carefully Articulated and Understated

A 2015 Forbes article entitled “Move Over Lululemon, Rhone Is About to Take Over the Men’s Activewear Market”, was my introduction Rhone. Since its launch in 2013, the athleisure brand had successfully experimented with pop-up shops, before making Hudson Yards its first permanent location. The name comes from the beautiful river in Europe, once a highly valued trade route. It further connotes the brands gym to the office aesthetic. The quality, attention to detail, and pricing, suggests that its fans may well be redirecting past suit budgets toward a more flexible and comfortable wardrobe.

Like Mach Weldon, Rhone takes a decidedly minimalist approach to the store’s design and merchandising; it’s more Nordstrom than Nike. They want you to shop by activity, rather than by article. Hence, both the store and website are organized around the categories – Train, Run, Commuter, Recover, and Recreation. Product bays are articulated and back lit; and like Mack Weldon, a simple graphic system provides top-line information. Online and offline cohesiveness prevails.

M.Gemi offers handmade Italian footwear in limited quantities, with weekly drops.

Sanford Stein

Hand-Burnished in Tuscany

Growing up in Sicily, M.Gemi’s founder Maria Gangemi remembers going to nearby shops every week to see the new shoes that the local artisans had crafted; such was the impetus for the brand’s inception. And like Bonobos, M.Gemi introduced the showroom model, in a DTC play that offers in-store try-on and ship-to-home sales. This reduces the problem of inventory management. Weekly drops, limited offerings and an active social media presence has conspired to create a very hot brand of hand-made Italian footwear.

Hudson Yards is M.Gemi’s first permanent New York City location. The brands authenticity, and craftsmanship are nicely depicted through prominently placed artisan photos featured among the carefully staged products. And like the other “story stores” on the Floor of Discovery, the product’s visual merchandising boarders on art installation. All these unique brands have fused storytelling, with innovation and personalization, suggesting that they are well-positioned for success in the new era of unified commerce.

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