Does North Face’s new concept point the chain in the right direction?

Discussion
Photo: The North Face
Aug 12, 2019
Matthew Stern

The North Face has opened a store in SoHo with a new look and experiential bent, and it’s already planning to expand the new layout into the rest of its locations nationwide.

The North Face’s new store, which opened in early August, was constructed to better represent the meaning of the brand rather than merely being a place where transactions are made, according to Footwear News. The retailer has incorporated a “museum” in the 8,000-square-foot location dedicated to athletic expeditions and classic products, with in-store staff to be known as “guides.” Elements of the store are constructed using reclaimed and sustainable materials with an eye toward longevity. The North Face plans to have the new format rolled out in all of its locations by 2024.

A press release confirms that the move is part of a global retail strategy that will extend beyond the U.S. to its locations in Europe. 

Store concepts that reflect the feel of a brand, rather than acting strictly as repositories for product, have grown in popularity as consumers have started to demand more out of the shopping experience. This is especially true in areas of specialty retail that enjoy dedicated fans.

Athletic shoe store Foot Locker, for instance, has begun to build out standalone locations featuring lifestyle-adjacent products, activities and media events tailored towards its “sneakerhead” shopping base. In athleisure wear, Lululemon recently announced the launch of larger stores featuring cafes, yoga studios, meditation spaces and the like.

Does North Face’s new concept point the chain in the right direction?
Photo: The North Face

Particularly in the outdoor gear space, retailers have made creative sustainability initiatives part of their branding. In 2018, REI announced the implementation of enhanced sustainability standards governing all of the products that it sells. Patagonia has made moves like publicly donating its Black Friday profits to environmental charities.

Does North Face’s new concept point the chain in the right direction?
Photo: The North Face

The use of sustainable materials to build out the store recalls another recent initiative by The North Face, its “Clothes the Loop” program.

“Clothes the Loop,” initially piloted in 2013 and given a broad rollout in 2015, according to Recycling Today, allows customers to bring in clothing and footwear from any brand, which The North Face then recycles or reuses to produce new product. 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think The North Face is making a smart move by going “experiential” in all of its locations nationwide? Are features like in-store museums worth the investment in areas outside of flagship stores such as the one in SoHo?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I like everything The North Face is doing to take the sales floor beyond a place where transactions are made - but it can’t lose sight of the product sold on the sales floor."
"I’m not sure it makes sense if you have north of (guessing) 20-30 stores. it takes away from the experience of going to the “flagship” itself."
"Either way, the use of the word “museum” implies “static” or “forever,” which I do not believe represents what The North Face is testing at a single store in Soho."

Join the Discussion!

15 Comments on "Does North Face’s new concept point the chain in the right direction?"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

The North Face is a well regarded brand and it is sensible for stores to showcase its heritage and uniqueness. That said, as much as I think stores in large cities – often with lots of tourists – will benefit from features like museums, stores in more average locations arguably need less of this and more focus on showcasing product benefits and attributes.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Before we started talking about experiential retail, we talked about the customer’s emotional connection with brands. That is precisely what The North Face is doing here. They are reinforcing the emotions customers feel about their connection with the outdoors. People feel faster than they think. And The North Face is doing everything possible to tap into the customer’s emotions and feelings. They are making it as real as they can by executing all this in real life, in brick-and-mortar stores. This isn’t just marketing on billboards and internet ads.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

What shoppers want is authentic interactions with people in stores. The idea that they want diversions from actually considering products comes from where exactly? On top of that, many retailers today already seem like museums where jaded employees wait for someone to ask them about a product. I can see this working once when you first walk in but I doubt it leads to repeat viewings or a compelling reason to return. While I understand the concept – having a space that doesn’t really try to sell merchandise is not a store. Call it something else if it’s not primarily there to sell products to consumers.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

I guess I would have said shoppers want authentic interaction with the brand promise in stores. That’s people + product + presentation. Presentation that supports and reinforces the brand promise is not a diversion. It’s emotional support and reinforcement.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

This is what retail transformation is all about. What The North Face is accomplishing with their new flagship store in SoHo, is providing their loyal customers with a place to connect, engage, experience and forge a stronger emotional connection with the lifestyle brand, well beyond their actual products. In concert with what Doug Stephens has shared, there is no better media format in retail, other than the physical store.

A museum-like experience will resonate very well across many cosmopolitan cities for lifestyle-driven brands such as The North Face.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I like everything The North Face is doing to take the sales floor beyond a place where transactions are made – but it can’t lose sight of the product sold on the sales floor.

We get so excited about materials and museums and new names for sales associates but, at the end of the day, The North Face is still a store that sells product. How many times will core customers stop and look at the museum? It will be a draw at a flagship store that’s populated with tourists, but at the local mall — not so much.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

A brand like The North Face with fairly broad distribution can become commoditized if it’s not careful. So “experiential retail” is a perfect fit. This has worked for REI for years — although with a more limited footprint — and should work for The North Face too, especially in flagship locations.

Rob Gallo
BrainTrust

A smart move by The North Face. They are a lifestyle brand and in a prime position to build on the emotional connection they can create with their customers. There are plenty of moves into rentals, services, expeditions that they could make to further this connection. The key will be to have the trained staff and consistency to keep it going. Retailers like Galyan’s (now part of Dick’s) had climbing walls and ponds for customers to test out everything from climbing gear to kayaks. However, these features slowly faded into nothing more than some attractive merchandising as it required a specialized staff to monitor and execute. Having a feature that customers cannot use is worse than not having it at all. I believe The North Face is better positioned to not let this happen.

Shikha Jain
BrainTrust

The most successful brands put their customers at the forefront and allow customers to fully engage with the brand. It’s moving towards relationships vs. transactions. Towards services over products. REI does a great job of this – they know that their core segment is the nature-lover or someone that is passionate about the outdoors. Not only do they sell the equipment needed to pursue these activities but the experience around it – workshops and sessions for things like rope knots, camping for beginners and also nature trips all around the world. If we think about pure vertically-integrated apparel, L.L.Bean does this to a certain degree as well through their in-store classes. So if anything, going beyond transactions is not necessarily “new” in the space that The North Face is in but in fact something that they need to play catch-up on so their new format should be a success.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

Emotions. We are stimulated to dream when our emotions rise. And this creates a wonderful sales environment. I think this will pay great sales dividends supported by great associate interactions.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

This seems like a poorly considered strategy. First, from what is described and from what I can see they are “Orvis”ing The North Face stores. I’ve written how, as an avid fly fisherman, I’ve never bought anything in an Orvis store. So there is a danger here that The North Face will alienate their passionate customers.

Second, a “museum” is not an experience — or at least not one likely to create that sense of the outdoors created by the climbing wall at REI.

Retailers need to take care not to merely create experiences “because they should” (as many would tell them) but because what they do increases sales. For that reason, I’d recommend not following The North Face’s store changes — it seems like a poor example.

Zach Zalowitz
BrainTrust

Yes, it’s a smart move going “experiential,” specifically for a brand like The North Face where, outside of a standard winter jacket, you use the products for your “not so everyday” use. The move closes the gap in the consumer’s mind and brings them closer to the actual use.

As for making it chain-wide: it works for The North Face. Maybe an Eddie Bauer too, along the same lines. Canada Goose has freezers you can walk into to try on the jackets. For The North Face, I’m not sure it makes sense if you have north of (guessing) 20-30 stores. it takes away from the experience of going to the “flagship” itself.

Brent Biddulph
BrainTrust

My assumption with this Soho store is that like so many other retailers, this represents creativity and concept “testing” at the highest level, but does not suggest this is a cookie cutter approach for all other locations.

For large urban/destination cities, elements of this storytelling are fantastic for being incorporated and perpetuating the brand image. In suburban locations, adapting elements (not static museums) for windows or departmental season themes tied to merchandising and marketing activities makes a lot of sense.

Either way, the use of the word “museum” implies “static” or “forever,” which I do not believe represents what The North Face is testing at a single store in Soho. In regard to a potential chain-wide rollout of the same to all stores (urban and suburban), The North Face is likely to tailor and adapt as circumstances demand, driven by local customer insights and analytics that will also evolve over time.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
As a brand, The North Face has a story to tell, and this new store format will provide a great why to tell that story and allow their customers and fans to fully experience it. Will this result in increased sales? It may depend on where these stores are located. Location is everything after all! In large population centers, I have no doubt this format will play well, not just with tourists, but with consumers that seek out the brand. Shoppers that merely buy The North Face products because they find them on the rack, will continue to do so at the numerous other stores that sell The North Face merchandise, most likely at a discount. There is no shortage of those stores, and in less populated areas, it’s quite likely that will remain as the sales mainstay for the brand. Their self-branded stores will serve a different purpose — tell the story of the brand and turn basic shoppers into loyal brand-loving customers. One key element of this to watch — the sales associates,… Read more »
Josh Clouser
Guest

The North Face is connecting with the consumer via story, which will always be a powerful tool in engaging a person. By providing historic evidence of their product meeting the needs of exceptional explorers, the consumer will assume trust that the same product/brand will be able to meet their own needs. This is a clever way of engaging the emotion of the consumer at the POS.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I like everything The North Face is doing to take the sales floor beyond a place where transactions are made - but it can’t lose sight of the product sold on the sales floor."
"I’m not sure it makes sense if you have north of (guessing) 20-30 stores. it takes away from the experience of going to the “flagship” itself."
"Either way, the use of the word “museum” implies “static” or “forever,” which I do not believe represents what The North Face is testing at a single store in Soho."

Take Our Instant Poll

How likely is The North Face to achieve a positive ROI on its new store concept?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...