Meatpacking makeover

Bearing coffee and spaces to hang out, companies come to a hot neighborhood with the goal of reinventing themselves

In the Samsung 837 store on Washington Street in the Meatpacking District, customers can play with a virtual reality headset, watch a video on a three-story screen and enjoy digital art installations.

What they can’t do is buy anything. Well, at least not any tech; there is a café that offers “specialty coffees from the world’s best roasters.”

While this may seem to be a strange — and extremely expensive — investment for Samsung (The Real Deal reported Samsung’s lease comes out to almost $12 million a year), the technology company is not the only brand in the neighborhood engaging in this kind of experiential retail. This summer, Lexus is opening a similar creative space on 14th Street. Called Intersect by Lexus, the 16,500-square-foot storefront will offer a lounge area, gallery and new Danny Meyer restaurant. All the ingredients you need for a nice day — sponsored by Lexus.

Why open a space but not sell any of your products? It’s all about marketing. At a time when brick-and-mortar stores face stiff competition from online shopping, these spaces provide a unique, branded experience to bring customers in the doors. And these retailers say the Meatpacking District, the city’s vibrant cultural destination, is the perfect place to locate their new ventures.

“People are open to it because it’s not something they can get online, and it’s not something they can get at any other Samsung store,” said Lauren Danziger, executive director of the Meatpacking Business Improvement District.

This summer, Lexus is opening
a space with a lounge, gallery and new
Danny Meyer restaurant.

Experiential retail can also help brands enter new markets. Restoration Hardware, for example, is opening a 14-room hotel at 55 Gansevoort Street with a restaurant; Starbucks has plans for a 20,000-square-foot, high-end “roastery” at 860 Washington Street, which will also be a restaurant, lounge and café; and, in what is perhaps the most daring departure of all, Pepsi opened a high-end restaurant and event space at 408 West 15th Street, called Kola House, with a menu inspired by the kola nut.

“Our collective goal, when opening Kola House, was to build not just a physical space for people to eat, but to provide a backdrop to make memories,” Kola House co-owners Lisle Richards and Eric Marx wrote in an email to LLNYC. “The Meatpacking District has become a cultural destination, it’s about fashion, museums, restaurants, and commerce.”

According to Jared Epstein, vice president and principal for the developer Aurora Capital Associates and a board member of the Meatpacking BID, the neighborhood has become such a hotbed of experiential retail because of its combination of unique architecture, technology offices like Google, photogenic landscape and moneyed neighbors in the West Village and Chelsea.

“You couldn’t dream up better synergies to create the optimal neighborhood for experiential retail,” said Epstein.

In addition to permanent storefronts, the district also has hosted notable pop-up experiences, like Hulu’s re-creation of the “Seinfeld” set in 2015, which attracted three-hour lines, and the Museum of Ice Cream — whose two-month run sold out in five days.

That museum was perhaps a perfect example of experiential marketing, because while it provided very little to no information about ice cream, it did provide an immersive experience for visitors. It was sponsored by a number of brands, including Dove and Tinder.

“Did I leave knowing anything about ice cream? Literally no,” Danziger said, “But I had a fun experience, and they capitalized on something everyone loves.”