Experiential retail connections

Business News

20th August 2018.

Cheese wheels and smallgoods produce hang from the ceiling, art and apparel adorn the walls, and a busker entertains passers- by as they wander through a retail space that has done away with the traditional shopping centre format.

Such a scene of open and borderless tenancies will greet visitors to Fremantle’s new FOMO precinct, which is set to deliver an experience unlike that of a typical shopping mall.

Anticipated for completion in 2020, construction work on FOMO is under way on the site previously home to the Myer and Queensgate buildings.

FOMO forms part of the town’s $270 million Kings Square revitalisation project, a joint venture between local developer Sirona Capital and the City of Fremantle that also involves a commercial office component and the creation of a new civic centre.

Designed by HASSELL and international consultants HDR, FOMO will sit beneath the three levels of office space with several zones – the Daily, Street Alley, Tidal Lane, Newman Court and The Emporium – spread across more than 5,500 square metres, providing a marketplace-type mix of food and dining, arts, apparel and homewares.

From the precinct’s name (Freo On My Own) to its design, FOMO was developed with strong input from the local community, according to Kristi Dempster, founder of marketing consultancy Assembly + Co.

Founded in 2016, Assembly + Co has worked on a range of retail and destination marketing campaigns, including with Mirvac and Investa Property Group in revamping their retail offerings at CBD office towers, Allendale Square and QV1.

Ms Dempster and her team were engaged by Sirona Capital two years ago to develop a market strategy for the mixeduse project, as well as to curate and commission research, branding and architecture to inform design and product.

“What I’ve seen, particularly in the last two years, is this emerging understanding that retail property must embrace the surrounding community,” Ms Dempster told Business News.

“It’s become more about finding the connection and interaction with the community and how that translates to attracting customers through an experience relative to them and their value set.

“For FOMO, it was really important to unearth the value set of the community and what makes Freo Freo.

“I think this will put Fremantle back on the map as a day-trip destination.”

Ms Dempster said beyond market research and workshop sessions, the community would continue to be engaged throughout the development and would be invited to contribute to the project in different ways, with an activation campaign to be launched later this year.

Local artists David Spencer and Anya Brock have been commissioned to produce Fremantle- inspired artworks, which will be used across all promotional material, and will also work on a series of live public paintings once the project is closer to completion.

Assembly + Co is also currently working with the Perth Airport and Vicinity Centre’s new Direct Factory Outlet, with opening anticipated in the coming months.

While she was unable to disclose details ahead of launch, Ms Dempster said inventive experiential campaigns and brand experiences would come to market.

“We’re seeing people shy away from being bombarded with marketing messaging,” she said.

“Now it’s about authenticity and engagement, which extends to experiential campaigns; whether a brand or dining experience, the narrative (of retail) needs to be original and authentic.

“And so it’s really important to consider consumers and creatives being part of the narrative rather than being talked at.

“It’s refreshing to have clients that have that appetite to push the boundaries, completely change a retail paradigm and appreciate that’s what has to happen for retail to work.”

Experiential

Further north, retailer Beyond Skate is shaking up the status quo, opening a new store in Westfield Whitford City late last year.

Besides the usual skateboard products and apparel, the shop features its own mini-skate park, visible from the front of the store and designed to catch the eye of shoppers passing by.

The store opened around the same time Westfield Whitford City completed the $75 million redevelopment of its dining and entertainment hub, featuring microbrewery Whitfords Brewing Co as well as iPlay, an arcade games area complete with bowling alley.

Owner Scentre Group has adopted a similar strategy at its $350 million Westfield Carousel development, comprising a new dining and entertainment precinct as well as an extended fashion mall anchored by David Jones.

Set to open August 30, David Jones will roll out a range of experiential offerings, including a concierge service, beauty suites, and complementary personal styling services.

Interior design firm Ohlo Studio founder Jen Lowe, who has worked on a range of retail design projects, said experiential retail was the latest trend.

“As customers can pick any products they like from around the world online, retail spaces have had to become much more than presentation of products,” Ms Lowe told Business News.

“They provide an opportunity for people to engage in immersive, emotional or communal experiences; places for people to see, feel and touch their way to discovering a brand or a product.

“The design of all our projects aims to enhance the experience of the end user.

“Experiential shopping is developed by considering brand values in every decision. If successful, it can really add to your appeal.”

Ms Lowe’s work with Bombay Talkies, one of the hospitality operators at Westfield Whitfords’ new dining precinct, is one example of this.

Inspired by the street side stalls of old Bombay and early Indian cinematic history, Bombay Talkies’ canteen-style layout allows the charcoal burner to be at the front of the venue so cooking smells can permeate the space and create street-food theatre to attract custom.

Ohlo Studio has also worked with Northbridge-based Chicho Gelato, which Ms Lowe said had a strong, playful and inventive brand she sought to reflect in its store design. Ms Lowe designed the benchtop to sit lower than the standard ice cream counter, with gelato concealed within Pozetti (storage containers in the counter) to allow for more interaction with staff, and to make customers read through the flavours rather than choosing instinctively by sight.

“Designed stores and restaurants are now the norm, not the exception, and throwing some money at a fitout is not necessarily enough. People want more originality or authenticity from shopping,” Ms Lowe said.

“Physical retail will remain but what will change is the relationship between online and bricks and mortar.

“I think they will become far more linked than at present and managing the two well together will be where retailers can get an edge.”