I recently spent the weekend in Austin, where I passed an evening watching the city’s nightly urban bat migration — and observing one of the best executions of an experimental retail strategy that I’ve seen in a while.
Just before sunset, my group found a bar close to the Ann W. Richards Congress Bridge, where Austin’s million-plus bat colony spends its days, and waited with a couple of hundred other observers for the bats to emerge to grab their own dinner at the nearby Lady Bird Lake.
The bar, known by locals as the Bat Bar, offered snacks and ice cold beers from high-end Yeti coolers. If you haven’t come across Yeti, it’s a premium cooler company that recently opened its flagship store on the south side of the bridge.
Yeti’s products are not cheap – if you’ve ever dreamed of spending $1,000 on a cooler, this is where you go. And the store was packed at 7 p.m. on a Saturday. Many of our fellow bar-mates were also waiting for the bats to emerge, but a few were also toting Yeti-branded shopping bags.
Once I took a look inside, I noticed that the brand had embraced the experiential concepts that many other owner/operators are trying to incorporate into their properties. A stage sat in the middle of the store in front of a drop-down movie screen. The floor was arranged like a showroom, with each product positioned in a scenario where you could imagine using it. A chalkboard by the register listed community events for the month. Eight people stood in line at the checkout counter. Some of them were holding smaller ticket items, like water bottles, but at least one man had his arms wrapped around a $300 cooler.
What lessons does this hold for other CRE pros trying to reposition their retail properties? Location helps, but experiential authenticity is key. Drinking beer, live music performances on the porch, film screenings – these are activities that feel authentic within the Yeti brand while also aligning with activities where a customer might use those products. The experiential component felt natural, whether it was coolers as bar seating or the bartender pouring glasses of water out of a Yeti-branded water jug.
As e-commerce plays a bigger role in the U.S. retail economy, it will be more important for traditional retailers to incorporate some of these concepts into their business plans. Plus, a few drinks at the branded bar might even be the push your next customer needs to buy that $1,000 cooler.