Commercial Real Estate, Capital, Insurance, Leasing & Management

From Tampa’s new Restoration Hardware to Publix, the future of retail is all about experience

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"The real successful retailers today, they’re communities," said Brian Bern, senior director with Franklin Street in Tampa.

There will be more to the Restoration Hardware rising at International Plaza than salvaged-wood furniture priced in the high four-figures. The company’s new stores feature wine bars, courtyards and rooftop spaces, in addition to fully staged furniture displays and showrooms.

The multistory design gallery under construction in Tampa is slated to open by the end of the year, though the retailer (NYSE: RH) hasn’t commented on the location beyond confirming the new store in an earnings call in late 2014. ( Click through the photo gallery for a tour of the construction site.)

But it represents more than an opulent new store: Restoration Hardware is trying to create an experience, like retailers from Lakeland-based Publix Super Markets Inc. to Sephora.

Beauty retailers Ulta and Sephora, The Washington Post reports, have succeeded by ” offering an in-store experience that is distinct in the beauty marketplace.” The Apple store experience has made Apple Inc.’s retail experience enough of a draw that it receives a rent break in most malls, similar to the types of deals that department stores — traditional mall anchors — are able to land, according to Business Insider.

Publix and its competitors are trying to set themselves up as culinary destinations, offering everything from cooking classes to take-out. Sur La Table, which will open its first Tampa Bay location at Hyde Park Village this fall, is as much a cooking school as it as purveyor of cake stands, cookbooks and wine glasses — giving people a reason to come in the door beyond just buying things.

“The real successful retailers today, they’re communities,” said Brian Bern, senior director with Franklin Street in Tampa. “People into Apple products, they’re their own community — their own world. It’s incredible. I feel like that’s where retailers are, looking at themselves and coming up with ways to do that.”

Competition from ecommerce sites is forcing the focus on retail and brick-and-mortar developments — look no further than the amenities offered at Sarasota’s $315 million Mall at University Town Center, which opened in October with a number of restaurants, free Wi-Fi and touchscreen directories.

The new paradigm is shaping not only the retailers themselves, but also the real estate they occupy. Retail landlords are highly conscious of the fact that they need to turn their properties into destinations, Bern said — think “cool public space, cool restaurants.”

“They need to give people a reason to come to their property to not only shop for what they need,” he said. “The more people spend time at your property, the more they’re going to spend their dollars.”

That’s because retailers that ring up the highest sales are willing to pay the highest rents just to be in that area. And while International Plaza is already a destination of its own, the new Restoration Hardware should be a boon to that property, at least temporarily, Bern said.

“It does bring a whole new twist,” he said. “For a good year to two years, it increases traffic.”

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