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Redefining the store as a community space

Lululemon’s Regent Street store also serves as a hub for its community

Turning stores into community hubs works for both brands and their customers. Director of Brand Environments, Keith Ware, explains why.

To thrive in today’s retail landscape, brands are transforming their brick-and-mortar stores. They’ve gone from purely being places of transaction to spaces for brand storytelling, learning and enjoying. Consumer behaviour is also changing – we now live in the ‘experience economy’ where people prefer to do more, not buy more. As a result, brands are finding ways to up the experience, making stores interactive, engaging, and bringing in more things to do and better ways to connect through things like cafes and workshops. Brands aiming for even greater engagement are also using their stores as community spaces for loyal customers.

Certain brands accumulate dedicated followers. It can happen organically or strategically – usually it’s through a mixture of both. These communities often exist online where customers worldwide chat to each other. Brands can listen in, speak to fans and even bring them on board on certain occasions. Digital native beauty brand Glossier has long been focused on community. Launching off the back of online beauty platform Into the Gloss, the website already had a large amount of followers as potential customers. Now, its most dedicated fans are in a Slack channel where they discuss the brand and give Glossier insight into the types of products they’d like to see next.

Building communities online is a great way to create a network of fans that keep each other engaged. However, brands should also consider building and catering to communities in person where they can offer different experiences. Meet-ups, discussions and workshops are all ways to connect customers to the brand and to each other and retail spaces can be the perfect place to facilitate them.

For activewear brand Lululemon’s flagship store on Regent Street, we designed the space so it would also function as a hub for the community. The first floor houses a curated community space, with a wellness kitchen full of healthy food and drinks to hang out in and a flexi-space for yoga practise and other classes. Here, fans of the brand can meet each other and work out together – which also serves as great motivation to keep up a fitness routine.

Premium cycling apparel brand Rapha has a membership program where those signed up can take part in regular rides or training. Its retail stores are known as clubhouses and members and non-members alike can get together in the café, watch cycling events, view exhibitions or attend workshops. The clubhouses also host member-only events and are often starting points for rides, giving members reasons to visit regularly.

Having an engaged brand community is a huge advantage as it leads to more customer loyalty and retention. Hosting the community regularly in stores gives fans a chance to share their interests with other people and their frequent visits may drive more sales. It also means the brand becomes a significant part of people’s lifestyles. These events are likely to be seen by casual customers too who might want to join in, meaning the community grows organically.

To cater to communities in-store, the space needs to be able to facilitate them. Flexible spaces work well, particularly if there isn’t much room, as it means the brand can host a variety of events or display merchandise when no scheduled activities are taking place. Cafes or lounge spaces can serve as a meeting point. Another important consideration is event programming. Events need to be relevant to the brand and its fans, catering to their interests and lifestyles.

We created Marie’s Baby Circle, a parent-focused baby brand in South Korea which has one of the world’s lowest birth rates. The brand answers the need for knowledge and reassurance for new parents, building a supportive community. A studio space hosts pre-natal classes, product demos and wellbeing activities such as yoga, and transforms into a children’s play area on the weekend when more families visit. The Baby Canteen also offers a space to get together, eat and relax.

Marie's Baby Circle
Marie’s Baby Circle is designed to build a supportive community for new parents

Nike has also developed a new store concept, Nike Live, to cater to its NikePlus members. The first opened in Melrose, LA last year and acts as both a store and service hub for the brand’s local community. City-specific products are stocked according to data on things like local buying patterns, app usage and engagement. Nike also gives members reasons to keep coming back. There’s a vending machine where members can redeem rewards, a lounge to relax in and various other services.

When a community forms around a brand, the brand becomes more meaningful to its most loyal customers. In return, brands should facilitate these communities where they can. Turning stores into community hubs means they can keep customers engaged through regular activities, events and by creating a sense of belonging in the space. All of this works to create deeper connections with customers and form long-lasting relationships.

This article originally appeared in the July Edition of VM&RD Magazine

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