Village Squared

There’s a decent chance you’ve purchased a shoe online without ever having tried it on. Something caught your eye, you were okay with the price, and it arrived at your doorstep less than a week later. There was no interaction with a brand ambassador, no possible way for affinity to be built. This is the brave new world, and we never have to leave our couches.

So how are brands supposed to get customers into stores when technology has made it so easy for people to never leave the house? By offering an experience. Today, we’re seeing more and more companies forgoing sales shelves and inventory space in order to provide consumers with the room to try out a product in action, to interact with fellow consumers, to really be a part of something. This is Village Squared.

Photo credit The North Face/Sasha Turrentine

Last month, The North Face signalled an overhaul of its retail strategy when it opened an 8,000 square-foot store in some of the most expensive real estate on earth. The store, in Soho, Manhattan, features spaces for communal events (like employee-led tutorials on proper tent-pitching), room to test products (go ahead and crawl inside that tent) and a museum-like history of the brand itself, including artifacts used during historic climbs. The company is clearly cultivating an experience that simply can’t be had on one’s couch. Even giving the store an evocative moniker—“basecamp for exploration”—The North Face has made it a must-visit destination for outdoors enthusiasts passing through the glass and steel peaks of Manhattan.

Skateboarding shoe company Vans has been doing something similar for years. Its House of Vans locations, located in Chicago and London, offer art installations, workshops, a full-on skate park and, of course, a spot to buy a new pair of Vans. A concert series featuring indie artists from all genres makes House of Vans a nightlife destination over summer weekends, extending the brand to groups of people who might not normally wear Vans. And with pop-up House of Vans experiences in Asia and South America, the company continues to grow its global presence.

As anyone reading this well knows, brands are more than a business; they’re a collection of lived values and people’s perceptions of those values. Along with serving up a product, they serve up the idea of a lifestyle. It’s hard to get a taste of a lifestyle while in your apartment, or for a brand to show online how it lives its values. So give people a reason to visit. And maybe they’ll visit again and again and again.

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