The Gathering Shops Provides A Retail Platform For Emerging Brands In A Busy Shopping Center
Even as e-commerce surges, the power of popular mall stores to captivate consumers can’t be beat. For most small brands, though, a prime location in a bustling shopping center is a fantasy.
Enter The Gathering Shops, a new retail concept proposing an avenue for emerging brands into Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus, N.J., the ninth most lucrative mall in the country. It’s housed in roughly 4,700 square feet at the shopping center that’s divided between 26 apparel, jewelry, beauty, wellness and home brands, which can merchandise so-called pods to present their wares to the customer crowds.
“We’ve been called a pop-up store and a couple of different things, but we’re more than that. We’re here to help you. This is a platform that you can take full advantage of for brick-and-mortar and e-commerce,” says Sal Martorano, who founded The Gathering Shops with Brandt Mandia, speaking to brands. “We are not just some pop-up where you send products, and we try to sell them. Can we do that? Yes, but we really raise the bar.”
The Gathering Shops provides staffing, marketing and event support to the brands in its midst. Martorano estimates it spends $15,000 to $30,000 monthly on marketing, and its location is regularly staffed by at least three salespeople and one to two managers. Fashion designer Christian Soriano stopped by The Gathering Shop’s recent launch party and generated press coverage startups typically can’t muster. In addition, brands at The Gathering Shops are sold on its e-commerce platform.
Rising brands occupy areas within The Gathering Shops that range mostly in size from 3-by-5 to 10-by-10. Every three months, the goal is to have 50% of the location change. For each period, The Gathering Shops features a theme to bring coherence to its diverse collection of brands. Holiday gifting is paramount currently, but body positivity and lifestyle with a strong male focus are slated to be upcoming themes. Quarterly fashion shows at Westfield Garden State Plaza are also in the plans.
“We’ve been called a pop-up store and a couple of different things, but we’re more than that. We’re here to help you. This is a platform that you can take full advantage of for brick-and-mortar and e-commerce.”
Beauty brands involved with The Gathering Shops include Verso, Elysian and Ölsüss. “Verso Skincare wanted to be part of this unique retail experience to engage with customers in an omnichannel retail experience,” says Karin Boman, U.S. national manager for Stockholm-based Verso. “Their ecommerce site is an extension of our brand and the social media around us creates more buzz, giving smaller niche brands such as ourselves more exposure.”
David Rodrigues, co-founder and CEO of Elysian, says, “Prior to this, our distribution has been limited to e-commerce and smaller specialty boutiques within New York state. Having our CONTINUUM Finishing Treatment available at one of the largest malls in the country gives us the opportunity to show face in front of a massive holiday audience that is still unique to the mall landscape this time of year.”
Rodrigues is under no illusion that sales will occur simply because Elysian has products at The Gathering Shops. The brand is holding weekly brand activations at the location, and Rodrigues or Elysian co-founder Michael Putnam will be on hand to meet with customers in-person on a weekly basis to encourage transactions.
“The store is offering the public a curation of brands that are independently-owned and unique to what the rest of the mall has to offer, so it’s up to the founders of these brands to really invest the time and energy to represent their company in-store to foster those interactions that are absolutely priceless to a young, emerging brand,” says Rodrigues, adding, “In our partnership with TGS, we are hoping for greater brand exposure and recognition.”
“The store is offering the public a curation of brands that are independently-owned and unique to what the rest of the mall has to offer, so it’s up to the founders of these brands to really invest the time and energy to represent their company in-store to foster those interactions that are absolutely priceless to a young, emerging brand.”
The financial arrangement between The Gathering Shops and the brands inside its space is evolving. Martorano says it inks licensing agreements with brands and receives a percentage of their sales. There are no upfront fees at the moment. Next year, there’s a possibility of à la carte fees along with the licensing agreement. Martorano emphasizes, “We are not looking to hurt designers.”
When a brand’s sales aren’t up to snuff, The Gathering Shops will commiserate with the brand about whether it should exit the location. Anna Maria Sandegren, director of talent acquisition, explains, “We would never throw someone out, but we look at the numbers from the previous month and both parties are able to say if it’s working or if it’s not. If they want more time, we will give them more time.”
The idea for The Gathering Shops arose out of an investment Martorano and Mandia made in apparel and accessories brand Digmi. Although Digmi scored retail successes – it’s carried by Bloomingdale’s, Lids and Tilly’s – Martorano’s experience with the brand demonstrated how difficult it is for emerging labels to become known and grow their distribution networks. Martorano was previously managing director of First New York Securities, where Mandia is CSO and on the executive management committee.
At The Gathering Shops, Martorano asserts, “You are not just buying a T-shirt, pocketbook or pair of jeans, you are helping these designers’ dreams to get to the next level. Hopefully, the designers get the traction and the consumers to become an everyday brand, and we would love to take partial credit for helping them get to the next level.”
In two to four years, he expects to open 10 to 15 The Gathering Shops locations. “I would like to have a Gathering Shop in every A-rated mall around the country,” says Martorano. “The key thing is how quickly in each individual mall we can we learn the price points that work and what the customer wants. We are not looking to force-feed products. We can curate our designers to the wants and needs of a local mall.”