Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW) is paving the way for emerging and digital brands’ entrance into physical spaces — particularly re-envisioned common areas of retail spaces. Through the company’s innovative approach toward holiday markets, URW brings new and exciting opportunities for digital brands to its centers.
With more than 30 years of industry experience, Amy Alyeshmerni, vice president of asset strategy and innovation – business development/brand ventures, recently looked back at how her mindset evolved as she began working closely with URW’s Digital Incubation programs. She shared her insights during a panel at the recent Ancillary Retail Expo in New Orleans.
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Alyeshmerni admitted that her “arsenal of knowledge” was challenged when URW colleagues began brainstorming new ideas about how to use the company’s real estate in innovative ways.
“The initial words out of my mouth were ‘no, no, no; you can’t do that, we have restrictions and length engagements,’” she recalls. “But in the two years that I’ve worked for the brand ventures teams, I’ve realized that ‘no’ is an answer and ‘yes’ is a question.”
When the company focuses on yes as a question, there is a lot of value available for brand and retail activations. The URW network includes 17 flagships with an average of 28 screens per property as well as management of five of the nation’s top 15 airports.
Launching Pop-up Holiday Markets
URW’s holiday markets have become iconic destinations at The Atrium in Westfield Century City in Los Angeles and Oculus at Westfield Trade Center in New York.
“These footprints are not like the typical corridor of a shopping center,” explains Matthew Diaz, vice president, specialty leasing, URW. “They are large open spaces that lend themselves to larger brand activations, concerts, events and are fully capable of housing full-blown productions with audio and video equipment, staging and rentals.”
URW is looking to build on the success of its holiday markets, which started three years ago at Oculus at Westfield World Trade Center. Last year, the company launched a slightly different model at Westfield Topanga & The Village in Canoga Park, California, and are hoping to use that model to scale the concept, with two new locations opening this holiday season: Galleria at Roseville in Roseville, California, and with eight dedicated spaces at Valley Fair in Santa Clara, California.
And, the team is also expanding beyond the holiday season with Fresh Spring Markets at World Trade Center, Century City and Topanga.
“These events have created something so dynamic and different from than anything we’ve done before, and we’re absolutely committed to the World Trade Center and Century Center model, as well as trying to identify event spaces for future markets in our centers,” Diaz says.
Collaboration to Overcome Challenges
With each market and pop-up space engagement, the URW team faces challenges that include quick turnarounds, digital-focused retailers switching to physical spaces, and more. However, through nationwide collaboration and careful handholding with new retailers, the markets and pop-up concepts are thriving in URW’s spaces.
According to Diaz, URW holds weekly sales calls that create accountability for the success of each market.
The sales teams work overtime to secure deals. Alyeshmerni explains that Diaz’s team hit the ground running in July 2019 and, within the span of two months, produced 26 deals at World Trade Center, 14 at Century City and 12 at Topanga. Following the markets, a number of retailers converted to permanent leases and URW saw follow-up from most of the other brands.
Because URW focused on digitally native brands, there was a learning curve for both the URW team and the retailers. From learning what successful performance indicators are for digital brands to teaching digital-focused retailers what is needed for a physical store, there is on-going collaboration between URW’s teams and retailers.
Experience has taught the URW team that many digitally focused brands are not prepared for pop-up stores, but the team is working closely with potential retailers to ensure the brands are aligned with URW’s values. URW has found they’re ready to play and really ready to engage.
The first questions the team focuses on are:
- Is this a brand or retail activation?
- What is the length of engagement?
- What’s the cost/value exchange of the engagement?
Having candid discussions with the potential brand is key to determining the right fit. If it’s a solid match, the next things to consider are staffing, marketing, visuals, operations and customer-facing employees — most of these are new to digital-only brands.
URW’s proactive management plan includes meeting with merchants periodically and to ensure they’re on track with their objectives, including halo effect and sales — digitally and physically.
This year, URW is launching the Capsule Collection, which is an expansion of its pop-up space program at The Atrium in Century City. The new inventory space will offer turnkey structures, with signage opportunities, purchase fixtures and traffic-counting technology. The Capsule Collection is slated to open at San Francisco Center, Topanga and UTC in San Diego in August 2020.
“The difference between our Capsule Collection locations and what I’ve seen in the rest of the world is that we’re dedicating space in our best runs,” Alyeshmerni explains. “We don’t want to fill vacancies with this type of opportunity; we want the brands to get in, thrive and hopefully convert to permanent.”
URW plans to look for more ways to push the dial with innovative markets and engagements and focus on elevating the common areas — taking them to Common Area 2.0 — by infusing programming, activations, media and entertainment.
“To stand in the middle of one of these markets and experience the energy, experience the customer’s perception and create successful retail activations, as a dealmaker in this business you can put your hand on your heart knowing that you’re making a difference and you’re actually moving the ball forward by offering something to the property that never existed before,” says Diaz.
— By Amy Works.