Revamping the Hotel Shop to Benefit Retailers and Hoteliers
By David Ashen Principal and Founder, dash design
This article was published originally on Hotel Executive June 17, 2018
A short while ago I received panicky emails from the general manager of two hotels I am working on in Scottsdale, Arizona. The retail shops on each resort property were closing. These relatively large properties were owned and operated by one company, although under two different brands. Each property had a substantial retail space of at least 2,000 square feet and followed a standard-and outdated-business formula, where the space was leased by a local company for a minimal rent, thereby allowing the hotel to provide its guests with the amenity and convenience of having an on-site store.
In both stores, the goods for sale were like those of hotel retailers at other similar properties, including all the things a guest might have unintentionally left at home, like hair and body products and over-the-counter medicines such as aspirin (to help cure, no doubt, headaches from one-too-many pool-side cocktail indulgences of the previous evening), plus novelty T-shirts and sweatshirts with "Scottsdale" emblazoned across the front, along with an assortment of bathing suits and hats, and a refrigerated display containing a variety of Coke and Pepsi products, among other chilled beverages and snacks.
In visiting these properties during the past several years, I've noticed fewer folks inside them, a likely indication of a decline in the store's paying customers and, perhaps, the stores' relevance. I suppose that reality has set in and the retailers are cutting their losses and moving out, leaving property owners with the question of what to do with their newly emptied spaces and whether a reimagined retail operation would better serve its guests.
Perhaps more now than in the past, for hotel retail, the poser is how to complement and enhance the hotel experience by creating sales venues that connect to the property's brand and the local culture, while being meaningful to the guest. That means rethinking not only the merchandise for sale and how it's presented, but also the standard model of the retail food experience-including that refrigerator with soft drinks and potato chip display-for a market that services the guest's tastes.
In the 4- to 5-star category, hoteliers are ahead of the game. Their properties feature elevated retail enterprises, where the venues are treated in the same way as the rest of their resorts' offerings are. Here, the brands have moved from a sea of sameness and expected experiences to an ever-evolving landscape of lifestyle and boutique properties that deliver curated and local experiences, including at the property's on-site retail operations. By keying into the property's brand, along with personal sensibilities and the region's cultural offerings, these hotels' retail shops go beyond needs-based merchandise, which people buy, anyway, to connecting with guests and visitors on emotional levels. And once that happens, wallets open.
Another point is with the advent of Amazon and other online shopping venues, hotel guests that forget to pack essential items can order the goods online and have them delivered to the hotel they've checked into, with the merchandise arriving that day or the following one, in some cases. Why then, would a resort guest spend his or her time searching out a suitable shampoo in an uninspired hotel gift shop when the blue-green waters and silky sands of the beach beckon? More often than not, guests willing to take the time to shop in a hotel's retail store need more of reason to do so than to pick up toiletries or tired novelties. Better, is to intrigue guests with distinctive pieces artfully presented in inspired settings. By giving the guest an opportunity to veer from the exit door and back into the property for a better look at that intriguing artisan vase sitting on a beautifully lit display pedestal, hoteliers can key into the guest's imagination. Providing guests with a reason to slow down and imagine that locally crafted vase in their living room; an incentive to bring a bit of their vacation back home with them, hands them a way to connect their vacation with their home, including the hotel's role in that memorable trip. From there, who knows? Perhaps the visitor will come back for another stay. Or talk about where the vase came from among his or her friends back home.
Always, during my past trips to Miami, I've carved out time for visits to the trendy lifestyle retail shop, BASE. Its original location on Lincoln Road was a must-see destination for me to explore the shop's ever-revolving and amazingly curated collection of fashion, art and objects. It was like the Miami version of Collette in Paris. But with the retailer's relocation to The Miami Beach EDITION hotel as its Limited EDITION store, the shop has become more than a stand-alone spot. Now it does double-duty as a beacon of Schraeger's EDITION brand, while bringing the most unique retail in Miami directly to the hotel guest. Genius.
The hasn't been lost on me. At one of my visits to the hotel store, I bought two pieces of Hershal luggage, dropping almost $1,000 for the pair, just because I didn't know where else to find it. Besides, it was displayed beautifully and chosen for me by the folks at the EDITION. I wanted almost everything in the store but needed nothing. That is the magic about great retail and they got it…and hooked me.
Back in Scottsdale, Arizona, is the Andaz Hotel. It's one of my favorites in the area, not only because of its great design, but also how its lobby welcomes guests into a reception area. More than a desk, the reception space is set directly adjacent to a retail gallery featuring art and crafts from local artists, many of whom are featured on the property. The layout creates a seamless transition between the lobby lounge and retail gallery, which is a small version of a well-curated museum shop. I am so fascinated by this shop that I make sure to have a drink at the hotel every time I visit as an excuse to see what's new. During a past visit I came across such an unusual collection of glazed pottery plates and mugs that I hunted down the artist, visited her studio, and packed up a collection of her drinking vessels. Not only does the retail at the Andaz present a collection of wonderfully curated objects, but it also focuses on the local sensibility, allowing me to dig deeper and learn more about the local arts community and the city of Scottsdale in general. This is not, and cannot be, an online experience.
As the want for hotel-shop bathing suits, T-shirts, and banal branded souvenirs has waned, so, too are stocked mini bars becoming rare. With more food choices in higher demand, some brands, such as Hilton, have created innovative market places to fill the void. Hilton has two quick serve/grab-and-go concepts-Herb n' Kitchen for its full-service Hilton hotels, and Made Market for its Doubletree brand.
We recently completed a Made Market at the Doubletree Paradise Valley in a space adjacent to the property's retail shop and where the lobby bar, which was relocated to a better area of the lobby, previously stood. The market presents a fresh-face to an open grab-and-go market. Think of Pret A Manger crossed with Starbucks, including open refrigeration that's nicely camouflaged by carefully detailed millwork and offers freshly made sandwiches, salads, yogurts, and other items, as well as counter service with an array of pastries, coffees and teas. This venue replaced both the beverage cooler in the retail store and a corner "hole in the wall" coffee counter. The result is a lively retail market that doubled the food and beverage revenue for the property in the first year. In a neighboring property we now are looking at eliminating the traditional retail altogether in favor of a similar food/retail market.
The future of hotel retail is sure to be fascinating. With many retail brands limited in their ability to build emotional connections to their consumers without brick-and-mortar shops (because they are disappearing), and hotels looking to evolve their pre-historic retail spaces for a more distinct guest experience, hotels with a modern take on retail like the EDITION and the Andaz are at the beginning of a revolution. Currently, the guest has the ability to purchase a limited set of "experiential" products such as the Westin Bed, including the mattress, linen, pillows and duvet. In the near future, hotels will offer a carefully designed experience that will be co-curated by retail brands, local galleries, and savvy stylists, in which everything will be for sale. Guest that like the local feeling of the Andaz in Scottsdale can bring it home with them.
In a step-up from how people that frequent a Crate and Barrel or Restoration Hardware buy a collection of goods, hotels have the opportunity to create highly individualized design expressions that go beyond the sameness of the retailers mentioned above. The future is almost here with brands like West Elm about to open its first hotel. It will be interesting to see how the brands play this one out and move the needle.