By Kristi Rooks, Partner at Revel, LLC
There has been a lot written about the new direction of retail. Experience is in; quick, in-and-out commerce is out. Experiential retail is focused on creating gathering places on opportunities to spend time with friends and family and connect with the community. Food and beverage are king, dubbed the new anchor tenant. Defining the components of experiential retail may be easier to describe as tangible examples continue to pop up and thrive. Those of us in Atlanta can easily point to Krog Street Market or Ponce City Market to see perfect examples of how it’s done. But what does experiential retail look like? Is there a feeling that comes along with it?
The word authentic seems to come up when answering these questions. A quality retail experience should be well crafted. It should be unique, uncommon and compelling; somewhere you want to come back to time and time again. But what is authenticity in retail and what does it look like?
Both Krog and Ponce City Market have an advantage in achieving authenticity by way of repurposing existing structures. But does that mean that authenticity can only be found in adaptive reuse projects? Can a ground-up, new-construction development have the same feel?
Authenticity arises when there is a sense of place; that the experience is local and unique to the qualities of the area. It’s about a lasting, memorable experience tailored to the local community. Authentic experiential retail is successful because it relates to its surroundings. Adaptive reuse projects clearly get a head start by utilizing what is original to the area. However, it’s also about making sure that the entire project is within that same context. Concrete floors and exposed ceilings work in an old factory building where it was (or could have been) original to the structure. Attempting that same aesthetic in shop space in a strip center built in the ‘90s may not work – the result feels contrived. Many have a difficult time defining authenticity, but most know immediately when something feels contrived.
Authenticity also comes from originality. By simple definition, authenticity is genuine, real, not counterfeit or copied. So can it be replicated over and over again? Are there design elements that can be implemented no matter the location? Is authenticity replicable? I think the answer is “no” in each case. Something feels authentic when it feels like it’s a part of the community. It makes sense architecturally, having the same look and feel of its surroundings. Instead of trying to work in elements that are thought to be authentic, quality experiential retail should focus on good design and context to the area. (Not to mention, if authenticity is based on originality, then, by virtue of duplicity, does that make it no longer authentic?)
Authentic retail environments are for everyone. They should draw consumers back time-and-time again, and should be unique, original and memorable. Their design should reflect those goals. I would argue that there are too many examples of the market trying to simplify into a one-size-fits-all solution. I think authenticity comes from a focus on good design and good use of space. I would challenge the Atlanta community to find ways to continue to be authentic. Be creative, be original and create places where YOU want to be – not just today, but long into the future.
Kristi Rooks is a partner at Revel and a twenty-year veteran of the retail real estate industry. Kristi’s experience ranges from working as a principal for several development firms across the country to real estate manager at both The Home Depot and Kohl’s Department Stores. Most recently, Kristi was involved in the anticipated redevelopment of Underground Atlanta, focusing on creating a food + beverage and entertainment destination in Downtown Atlanta. Kristi has both an Undergraduate and Master’s degree in Urban Planning and has a passion for creating great places through thoughtful design and innovative, unique ideas.
Revel is a multi-faceted real estate service company that puts all of the creative and strategic components of experiential retail development under one roof. Doing retail in a whole new way, we are drivers of fresh, iconic, and uncommon ideas. We understand creativity. We understand strategy. We know how to craft an original experience. We make places where people want to be.
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