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Why Pop Up a Store When You Could Pop Up a Luxury Shopping Center?

April 1, 2024

Bal Harbour Shops has a long history as a destination for luxury fashion in the Miami Beach area and has become a brand in its own right. Now, its owner is taking the shopping center and a selection of its prestigious tenants on the road.

The new Bal Harbour Shops Access Pop-up isn’t your typical pop-up. It’s more akin to a traveling mini-mall with a curated collection of luxury shops that spans 17,000 square feet. After its debut at North Hills in Raleigh last November, it opened March 8 for an eight-week run next to the The Mall at University Town Center in Sarasota, Florida. The pop-up is home to 10 luxury boutique­ — including Tiffany & Co., Dolce & Gabbana, Christofle and Etro — as well as a 150-seat restaurant called The Whitman.

The 150-seat Whitman restaurant at the eight-week Bal Harbour Shops Access Pop-up is named for the original Bal Harbour Shops’ developer, Stanley Whitman.

The pop-up will head to Walton County, Florida, in May, and it will appear in Greenville, South Carolina, in August. The ideal is to minimize downtime, which could create the opportunity to extend the run time at any given location beyond the standard eight to 10 weeks and to grow beyond four or five pop-ups each year.

The idea behind the pop-up started with a question with which many shopping center owners have been wrestling, said Whitman Family Development chair Matthew Whitman Lazenby: “Was there a way to make balharbourshops.com a viable source for folks who wanted to buy luxury goods online?” Luxury retail brands have been developing their own online platforms, but what is missing is the ability to find that collection of luxury retailers online in one spot. “The name Bal Harbour had its own strength,” added Lazenby. “Was there a way that we could leverage that into a more direct-to-consumer model that would start to deliver the mission through e-commerce?”

The result is the Bal Harbour Shops Access Pop-up, which combines high-tech showroom e-commerce and high-touch luxury. It also brings luxury fashion retail to markets that don’t have a selection of luxury stores while promoting online shopping at Bal Harbour Shops’ website.

The challenge, beyond designing a luxury pop-up, was developing a pop-up that could be assembled, disassembled and moved. “As a real estate developer, the idea of improving someone else’s real estate and then leaving it behind makes us want to cry,” said Lazenby. Whitman Family Development found its solution in the form of 30 shipping containers. Though shipping containers don’t seem to fit with the luxury aesthetic, it hired LOT-EK Architecture & Design, which has a track record for designing shipping container projects around the globe.

LOT-EK Architecture & Design came up with a simple black-and-white design for the shipping container storefronts, which would surround a tropical center court filled with palm trees, lush landscaping, koi ponds and waterfall features. The design needed to be something of which Stanley Whitman would be proud, said Whitman Family Development chair Matthew Whitman Lazenby, and it needed to feel like “home.”

The Access Pop-up shops surround a lush outdoor garden designed to replicate the center court at Bal Harbour Shops. “The buildings themselves are really meant to melt away so all you really should experience are the stores, merchandising and the serpent garden atmosphere that we’ve created,” added Lazenby. Photo credit: Juan Moreno Bianchi

“I think the concept is great. It gives you an experience and it just shows you how retail is evolving,” said Taubman Co. vice president of specialty leasing Lori McGhee-Curtis. Although luxury brands have used pop-ups to test new markets or debut new lines, this is different in that a collection of luxury brands are traveling together as a branded experience, she added. The Mall at University Town Center, which is a joint venture between Taubman and Benderson Development, welcomed the pop-up as a complement to its existing retail offering. McGhee-Curtis expects the mall to benefit from cross-shopping, and she hopes to convince some luxury brands that Sarasota has a strong base of luxury customers and warrants a permanent location.

The Customer Experience

Whitman Family Development hopes Bal Harbour Shops Access Pop-up will strengthen Bal Harbour Shops’ brand, expand its reach into new markets and acquire new customers. “It was very much about customer acquisition, and as we had these conversations with our tenants, many of them felt similarly,” said Lazenby. The company is bringing the pop-up to markets where there are prospective customers, high-net-worth individuals who have no easy access to luxury.

Sarasota residents who want to shop luxury stores like Gucci and Tiffany have to drive to Tampa or Naples. “It’s those types of markets where there’s untapped potential to welcome new customers into the ecosphere a) for Bal Harbour Shops and b) for all of the participating brands,” said Lazenby. “So for many of them, it’s as much about how many customers they acquire as it is how much they sell.”

The pop-up is open to the public, but to enter, people must join the loyalty club and download the Access app to enter. They then earn rewards for their spending. Whitman Family Development also recognized the need to pair high-tech with high touch. When each customer arrives, they are paired with a personal shopper. Most of the merchandise is for display and thus would be shipped, but retailers carry select items for take-home purchase.

Brands provide their own merchandise usually for display and fulfillment by shipping. They can use their own teams to operate their stores, or Whitman Family Development can arrange on-site sales teams.

“We expected most of our participating brands to be most excited about this idea of acquiring new customers in new markets — and most of them were — but many of them were equally excited about trying to do this as a way to delight existing highly valued customers,” said Lazenby. The pop-up allows the retailer to interact with its VIP customers with an in-person experience. It also hosts almost daily events, from live music to private parties to charity fundraisers.

The Access Pop-up serves not only the traditional luxury shopper but also the aspirational shopper. “We’ve seen that aspirational shopper growth since COVID,” said McGhee-Curtis. “This gives the young teen who maybe wants some Golden Goose shoes that opportunity to go in and make that big purchase.” Consumers also are mixing and matching luxury and value. They might have a luxury handbag or luxury shoes, and then they pair that with a T-shirt from H&M or jeans from Zara.

Whitman Family Development analyzes how many loyalty members sign up at a location and tracks their ongoing spend. “We hope to continue to service these customers in these markets after we’ve left,” said Lazenby.

Another positive is that the pop-up’s retailers aren’t just the household-name luxury brands that most people have heard of, such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton. “It gives a little bit more of a destination feel to it because they have such different types of luxury retailers, even some that we don’t have at our International Plaza property in Tampa,” said McGhee-Curtis. In addition to some of the traditional brands, Bal Harbour Shops has Golden Goose, Orlebar Brown, Gianvito Rossi and Balmain Paris.

Bal Harbour Shops has household-name luxury brands like Dolce & Gabbana, as well as names like Balmain Paris that may be new to customers who don’t have easy access to luxury shops. Both feature in Bal Harbour Shops Access Pop-up.

“We also have over 110 stores back at Bal Harbour, and all of those stores and all of the product within them is available to customers here in Sarasota or wherever the pop-up goes,” said Lazenby. “We want to make sure that they’re aware that just because a particular brand that we have at Bal Harbour isn’t here, we can still get [customers] what they want there.”

The Retailer Experience

The Access Pop-up can accommodate 10 participating retailers at a time. After four weeks, a majority rotate out and a new group comes in for the second half of the run. The refresh gives customers a reason to come back. Tiffany & Co. is one brand that has signed on for each location for the full eight weeks.

Brands participate in the pop-up via sponsorship agreements. Some choose to operate with their own managers and sales teams. In other cases, retailers supply their own visual merchandising specialists to set up the store, and Whitman Family Development provides the on-site sales team that interacts with customers.

The Landlord Experience

Bal Harbour Shops wants to work with landlords who view the pop-up not as a competitor but as a complement to their existing retail offerings. “We have been working to bring luxury to [Sarasota], so this will give the customers a taste of it,” said McGhee-Curtis. It also allows luxury brands to test each market. She noted that the Sarasota location creates an opportunity for The Mall at University Town Center’s leasing team to go talk to the brands about opening permanent stores there, she added.

“I really think that we’re onto something here with this idea of trying to unlock the potential of e-commerce and seeing it as an amenity to bricks-and-mortar and not a competitive threat,” said Lazenby. “There’s a solution there that we’re still fine-tuning, but it’s really exciting and I think the future is bright for these types of concepts.”

By Beth Mattson-Teig

Contributor, Commerce + Communities Today


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