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Online Retailers Set Up Shop In “Store of The Future” (#GotBitcoin?)

Online Retailers Set Up Shop In “Store of The Future” (#GotBitcoin?)
Customers Tried Out A Bed At Showfields, A New Pop-Up Mall In The NoHo Section Of Manhattan.

Showfields is an interactive market where consumers can shop for brands that previously only had sold products online. Online Retailers Set Up Shop In “Store of The Future” (#GotBitcoin?)

The first thing I did when visiting Showfields, the new, four-story, self-proclaimed “Most Interesting Store in the World,” in Manhattan was try a new toothbrush.

A sales rep selling electric toothbrush kits for dental care startup Quip donned plastic gloves, squirted paste onto a new brush head and waited patiently as I buzzed the device around in my mouth until its two-minute timer went off.

“How does it feel?” she asked.

“It feels like I brushed my teeth,” I said.

Cruising Showfields’ zigzag corridor, I also tried a rowing machine, sampled a face cream, voted on scents for a coffee-based body scrub and dozed under a 25-pound compression blanket meant to soothe anxiety.

Showfields’ founders, who say their interactive market is the store of the future, refer to the venue as a “retail gallery.” It feels like a cross between an art space and that weird pavilion at the county fair where sales reps demonstrate new floor cleaners. But it’s perhaps best described as a newfangled mall. Instead of Banana Republic and Cinnabon, however, Showfields mainly hosts startup brands that have only sold products online.

Co-founder and chief executive officer Tal Nathanel said he launched Showfields after realizing that the products he and his friends prefer were often only available online because most digital brands don’t have the resources to open a pop-up.

“If we can make the process of opening a physical store as easy as opening a website, boom! Problem solved!” Mr. Nathanel said.

At Showfields, brands rent small, enclosed spaces—typically 100 to 200 square feet—for a four-month period with an option to extend. Some sell products directly from their booths, others have customers place orders and ship products from a warehouse.

Showfields rents range from $6,000 to $20,000 a month, and include design and construction services, along with shared amenities such as a vegan cafe and events intended to draw visitors.

Showfields also trains and provides sales reps, which it refers to as brand hosts. Companies can have their booth tended by a floating host wandering the corridor in a black suit or by a dedicated host wearing their brand uniform. A well-trained staff is key to the experience, Mr. Nathanel said. “In the age of digital, we are more thirsty than ever for humans,” he said.

Online Retailers Set Up Shop In “Store of The Future” (#GotBitcoin?)
Co-Founder And CEO Tal Nathanel Said He Launched Showfields After Realizing That The Products He And His Friends Prefer Often Were Only Available Online Because Most Digital Brands Don’t Have The Resources To Open A Pop-Up.

On my second Showfields visit, host Bryce Collins introduced me to Function of Beauty, a line of customizable hair-care products.

Facing a large screen, he walked me through a digital quiz about my “hair goals,” had me choose a shampoo color and scent and asked me to type in the name I wanted printed on the bottle.

I tried to enter “ANNE!!!!” and was disappointed when the system limited me to lowercase letters and one exclamation point.

“That’s something I can give them feedback on,” Mr. Collins said. “We give qualitative feedback to the brand itself, and it’s directed to their marketing team.”

Visitor movements are recorded by dozens of cameras so Showfields can show partners how much time customers spend in the booths.

Partners say Showfields offers an easy alternative to opening their own storefront pop-up. Mike Grillo, co-founder and president of Gravity Blanket, said his company sold 170,000 weighted covers and surpassed $27 million in sales since launching in 2017, but had yet to open a store. “It was cost prohibitive, with New York real estate,” he said.

Mr. Grillo said his Showfields booth costs roughly a third what he would pay to open and staff a pop-up, and he’s pleased with the attention it is getting on social media.

“If you’re a brand focused solely on driving units off the shelf, it’s not the destination for you,” Mr. Grillo said. “But if it’s something the customer needs to experience to understand, it’s perfect.”

Visitors, meanwhile, said they had fun.

“It’s almost like a museum, but you can be interactive with the displays,” said Laura Acosta, a marketing coordinator who spent half an hour at Showfields last week sampling products and taking photos to post on Instagram.

Showfields, which is open daily, launched this past December with nine partners on the first floor. By March, the entire 14,700-square foot former women’s shelter on Bond Street in NoHo will open for business, hosting up to 40 brands, Mr. Nathanel said.

Online Retailers Set Up Shop In “Store of The Future” (#GotBitcoin?)
Showfields Is Located On The Corner Of Lafayette And Bond Streets In The NoHo Section Of Manhattan.

While Showfields will be the largest store of its kind in the city, it is not the first to try this strategy, said Melissa Gonzalez, founder of the Lion’esque Group, an agency of retail strategists and pop-up architects based in Manhattan.

The model, known in the industry as a “retail as a service platform,” is offered by an increasing number of mall operators looking to fill vacant space, for example, Ms. Gonzalez said.

Showfields shouldn’t have difficulty attracting tenants or foot traffic, she said. The challenge will be proving that visits translate to increased online sales.

So is it really the most interesting store in the world?

“I don’t know about the world,” said Sora Golob, a Manhattan resident visiting last week. “But we will come back.”

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