Perhaps New York City’s retail scene hasn’t seen anything as new and fresh as Showfields since the Story store opened on 10th Avenue back in 2011. The four-story Showfields is envisioned as an “immersive retail experience,” combining popup shops with art exhibitions, theatrical experiences, community events and food-drink hospitality.
Showfields is positioned as “the most interesting store in the world,” which is a big promise, but one that it may well live up to, if not only to its customers but most especially to those in the retailing community looking for ideas that help push the envelope in what a brick-and-mortar store can be.
Back in the day, Story’s retail visionary and founder Rachel Shechtman described Story as a destination with a “Point of view of a Magazine, Changes like a Gallery, Sells things like a Store.” People lined up around the block to experience the new Story stories introduced every six-to-eight weeks.
But since Story was acquired by Macy’s in Spring 2018 and launched in 36 Macy’s stores nationwide, it has faced growing pains in scaling the concept. Further, the incisive and evocative “magazine-gallery-store” description is gone, replaced by dull corporate-speak: “STORY at Macy’s is a narrative driven retail concept.” It’s lost its edge.
But I digress. Showfields is accurately described as edgy. It is powered by a crystal-clear vision of what it is, where it is going and what it aims to deliver. It offers a new model of what a department store can be. In other words, it may prove to be a scalable concept.
“Physical retail is a great place to make human connections. It is a great place to serve content in a way that is delightful and fun. Connecting it with commerce is an exciting opportunity. So we’re doubling-down on it because it works,” shares Showfield’s co-founder Tal Zvi Nathanel.
Joining him as founders in the venture are Katie Hunt, who as the third employee of Warby Parker understands what digitally-native brands need to crossover into the physical retail world, and Amir Zwickel, a serial entrepreneur in the hospitality and real-estate development space.
“Our mission is to stretch and explore ways to excite customers. We are trying to understand what things customers want today and to give brands better tools to engage with customers in a way not possible before,” Nathanel says.
“We arrived at our Showfields model by entirely focusing on the customer experience and the brands we show. We aim to become the leading platform for offline discovery,” he continues.
Others obviously believe in the mission, as the $9 million in initial seed funding raised from VC investors testifies.
Retail innovation and marketing are Showfield’s hallmarks
Peter Drucker defined the business of business very simply: “Because its purpose is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only these two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are ‘costs.’”
Nathanel and his Showfield’s co-founders are laser-focused on Drucker’s two basic business functions.
Innovation is evident throughout the Showfields’ space, especially on the second floor where the “House of Showfields” theatrical retail-as-performance-art installations take place. The entrance to the show is through a secret door on the third floor and accessed by way of a metal sliding board that transports the guest down stairs. Going down that slide let’s guests know in no uncertain terms they’re “not in Kansas anymore.”
As for marketing, Showfields provides a platform for digitally-native, emerging brands to meet customers in the real world. Popup partners pay a monthly membership fee in the range of $5k-$15k and get to keep all resulting sales revenues.
“It’s a plug-and-play model for brands. Our team gives the brand the whole experience from design and build and they get an opportunity to push forward and optimize their relationship with the customer walking in the door,” explains Nathanel.
The Showfield’s founders are committed to brick-and-mortar retail and see an opportunity to disrupt the transaction-oriented way retail is done in traditional department stores. “Go to the streets of Milan, Paris or New York. It’s all the same. There is little to get excited about. The short version is the customers have evolved, but physical retail has not,” he says.
Setting the stage
Showfields officially opened last December with its first-floor popup showroom. As renovations continued in its nearly 15,000 square foot building, selling space on floors two, three and four were added, culminating in the big reveal this past July of the House of Showfields theatrical experience.
“It is the first time that theater, content and commerce have merged into one immersive experience,” Nathanel explains.“The minute you go down the slide, you become an explorer where all the senses are engaged.”
The House of Showfields is staffed with actors, not sales people, who are trained to tell the story of the brands featured, where they came from and why they are important.
The actors also encourage guests to interact with the brands. “We invite people to explore and engage with these amazing, beautiful products with all their senses. It doesn’t feel like commerce,” Nathanel says.
Then at the end of their journey through the House of Showfields exhibit, the brands and products in the House of Showfields exhibit and others curated from the entire store are displayed for purchase in a space called “The Lab,” similar to a gift shop in a museum.
Like theater, guests are ticketed to enter the House of Showfields show, but unlike theater, there is no charge. At its opening in July the full 10,000 tickets allotted for the show “sold out” almost immediately. Based on the overwhelming response, the company extended the run of the first show from what was originally planned.
Already on the drawing board are two new Showfields locations. While Nathanel wouldn’t reveal those locations, he says one was in a big, East Coast city and that the concept will cross the ocean “very soon.” Once the new locations are up and running, the House of Showfields shows will open in one location, then move on for another run in the next city.
Rotating cast of characters
Showfield’s floors one and three are devoted to brand popup showrooms. Unlike traditional department store retail, where the same cast of brands are featured, Showfields offers a showcase for many different brands so guests are sure to experience something new every time they visit.
“We believe every brand should have a physical touch point. Our platform gives emerging brands a way to become part of a community where Showfields offers constantly evolving content that drives value to customers. It is a point of activation for a brand to create an emotional connection with customers in a vibrant, exciting, ever-new setting,” Nathanel shares.
Brands have the option to be in Showfields popup showroom spaces on floors one and three, in the theatrical House of Showfields space or a combination of both. Art installations are also scattered around the building to add another dimension to the guests’ experience.
“One touchpoint is having your own feel in a microstore, another is being part of the show. It all comes together in an environment where people can see, touch, experience and engage with products in ways they couldn’t do so before,” he continues. “We make physical retail as easy as possible for brands to activate in our building.”
Making Showfields a vital member of its local community is a value that its founders hold dear. To do that, the fourth floor, called The Loft, is dedicated to community events combining what is described as an “evolving array of art, food, drink and community programming.”
The Loft has a long community table as a shared work space, supported by a kitchen where snacks are on offer. The event space gives brands a place to teach and customers to learn. Exercise classes are a popular draw.
New show just opened
Recently upwards of 35 brands, including 12 new brands, took the stage in a new top-to-bottom installation, following a four-day closure to revamp the space. “Building on the company’s commitment to discovery and bringing new, exciting and forever evolving experiences to its customers, Showfields will be nearly unrecognizable to those who’ve visited in the past,” the company said in a statement.
The brands featured will be an interesting mash up of old (Book of the Month which will also take a star turn in the House of Showfields theater space and Treasures of NYC for curated vintage designer goods) and new (Feals CBD products promising health benefits, Almeda Labs wellness products and Skylar fragrances).
Popular hold-over brands include curated items from Man Repeller powered by Klarna payment solutions, Merual powered by Netgear offering 30,000 art images in a single smart frame, and Priori skincare.
Heavy on beauty and health, Showfields also features home essentials like Eight Sleep’s engineered bed, L’or de Seraphine home fragrance, and Skura smart sponge for household cleanup; personal tools, including Tap wearables, Quip electric toothbrush, and Baron Fig pens and notebooks; and fashion, such as Dagsmejan sleepwear, TeePublic designer t-shirts, and Creagh leather handbags from Brooklyn. Mr. Dog will also return serving customers’ four-legged pals.
And its not just consumer goods that have been attracted to the Showfields’ retail proposition. A new hospitality brand, Ethos, will introduce what is described as its four-star quality hotel rooms aimed at business travelers for a mere $120 per night.
The current show will run through the holiday season, with innovative gift ideas from brands that Nathanel describes as the “coolest brands people have probably never heard of before.”
With the new show opening and holiday shopping season fast approaching, the Showfields’ team is counting on a groundswell of curiosity-driven New Yorkers and visitors to come, see, explore and buy.
Though Nathanel didn’t share visitor counts, he did say that traffic has increased ~10% month-over-month since opening late last year. They hope that many of the holiday guests will want to come back next year to see what new they have in store.
Showfields should also be a must-see destination for curiosity-driven, inspiration-seeking members of the retail community as well. Enjoy the slide!