Entertainment Retail Takes Center Stage at InterFace’s ‘EEE’ Conference in Los Angeles

by Scott Reid

Los Angeles — The spotlight is shining brightly on those who can successfully execute entertainment retail — essentially, a full-circle experience that provides shoppers with more than just a physical item. That’s the consensus of panelists at InterFace’s “Entertainment Experience Evolution” conference, held Feb. 18-20, at LA Live in downtown Los Angeles.

While certain material items will always be highly prized commodities among the crowd with discretionary spending, today’s consumers have come to expect more than just a cash register when they hit the popular shopping destinations.

“In a few years, you’ll be able to buy almost anything online,” said Howard Samuels, president of Samuels & Co. and a speaker on the “Retailers Who Are Thinking Ahead” panel. “But you can’t get an entertainment experience. It’s something unique you have to invest in at your property. One thing people talk about with entertainment is emotions. Sometimes you have to think outside the dollars and cents and pro formas. Entertainment retail is like a motion picture — you have to grab emotion.”

Many of today’s hottest concepts do this by capitalizing on nostalgia, fun and what’s become known as the “lifestyle.”

“Many consumers, like Millennials, have become hard to please,” said Brent Brown, founder, CEO and chairman of the Board for Latitude 360 and a speaker on the panel titled “Curating a Food Offering for Today’s Consumer.”

“They have a short attention span and they know what they want: they want value, they want options, they want a lifestyle brand,” added Brown.

Brown noted Latitude 360, which bills itself as a “dining, entertainment and party destination,” tries to give today’s customer what it wants by offering concierge services and club memberships, in addition to the comedy show, bowling alleys, dine-in cinema, cigar lounge, interactive game room, nightclub and sports theater you can find at most of its locations.

All these entertainment and “party” amenities make it easy to forget that, at the core, this East Coast concept is still a restaurant serving nachos, buffalo wings and burgers.

“People want to be entertained while they eat,” said Brown. “You have to perform. It’s a tough market. We have an advantage because we strive to be a lifestyle brand. By providing that type of VIP service, you definitely win them over.”

Child Stars

Many of the new entertainment retail concepts referenced at the conference target children. This demographic group has a short attention span, knows what it wants and doesn’t mind a little preferential treatment.

“As the next generation enters its child-bearing years, many are gravitating toward kid-friendly spots, especially if they offer innovative experiences,” said Chris Simms, CEO and founder of Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar, who appeared on the food panel with Brown. “These guys do a lot with their kids. They don’t leave them at home nearly as much.”

Simms has seen firsthand how many younger parents bring their children with them when they’re out enjoying themselves.

“They like kid-friendly places where they can also get experimental dishes, bolder flavors, craft beers and cocktails,” he said.

Lazy Dog not only offers a kids’ menu broken down by age, but novelty items like the licorice and Fruit Loop dog collar and entertaining challenges like creating a solar oven out of pizza boxes.

While theme parks and movie theaters are obvious entertainment providers for children, today’s marketplace has moved way beyond all-day park admissions and matinee movies.

American Girl stores, for example, have become one of the hottest destinations for holiday events and birthday parties. Activities throughout the store, such as getting a doll’s hair done or having a tea party, cost money. Still, like Latitude 360, the American Girl store is a retail store at its core.

“The difference with American Girl is it doesn’t charge to get in,” said Susan Kurland, executive vice president of CBRE and a “Retailers Who Are Thinking Ahead” panelist.

“We keep it fresh by always adding newer concepts to the store. We walk through and say, ‘What if we do this? What if we add that?’ The dolls can be expensive, as are the lunches or having the doll’s hair done. But the minimum stay in these stores is two-and-a-half hours, and it’s hard to get a reservation for the activities.”

Kurland has worked with some of the nation’s biggest retailers, including American Girl, in their efforts to locate suitable premises in some of the country’s most prestigious retail sectors.

Fellow panelist Victoria Lozano, vice president of corporate strategy and development for Crayola, agreed that an experience doesn’t necessarily need to be ticketed (like an amusement park, water park or theme park where there is a price of admission), if you’re executing properly in the right location.

The company is opening its first Crayola Experience in Orlando, Fla., this summer with “25 exciting, hands-on attractions for a day of family fun.”

“It’s first and foremost about a fit,” said Lozano. “It’s the right location, the right box. It needs to be a fit for Mom. The key part is whether you’re delivering a good experience and value. Are people likely to come back? You have to reinvest significant amounts annually for new attractions and to refresh the facility. It’s the sophomore effect: It’s not that hard to bring people in one time, but are they coming back?”

Kurland noticed a phenomenon taking place over a period of time at American Girl’s two big urban locations, one in Chicago, the other in New York.

“What we realized were moms were driving 200 to 300 miles to bring their daughters to American Girl,” she said. “This is because the retail experience is in such demand. So, we target malls with 8,000-square-foot to 15,000-square-foot spaces. I stopped looking at those urban A-centers.”

Adult-Friendly Attractions Proliferate

While a few food & beverage concepts and American Girl stores have clearly proven themselves to be early success stories for retail entertainment, there are plenty of adult-friendly attractions getting in on the action as well.

These include everything from iFLY/Indoor Skydiving to 4-D cinemas and even more retail-based experiences like pop-up shops and restaurants, or showrooms for e-commerce apparel company Bonobos and Bass Pro Shops.

“There’s been a revolution of sorts in the retail world, due in part to the bifurcation of retail formats and the increasing role of entertainment formats, spaces and places, particularly within the shopping center format,” said development consultant Roy Higgs, president of Roy Higgs International and a speaker on the panel titled “Creating the Experience.“

“These shopping centers must deliver optional purchases that can be made with discretionary funds and discretionary time,” explained Higgs. “Shoppers need to be motivated to go there — to stay, spend, engage, and remain excited and energized. Fundamentally, you have to evoke an emotional response.”

Higgs noted the centers that have achieved this response typically find the ideal balance between retail tenants, entertainment tenants, retail entertainment tenants, non-retail features, attractive design elements, compelling programming and smart leasing decisions.

“They all combine to create a great place,” he said. “We have to weave them all together.”

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