Sachse Retail Summit: Conversations on the Future of Retail

Photo Courtesy - Sachse Construction

Detroit-based Sachse Construction recently hosted its 2022 New York Retail Summit at Rockefeller Center. The event covered a range of topics including pop-ups, the new retailer and landlord relationships and how experiential shopping is shaping the future of retail.

Founded in 1991, Sachse Construction established itself by building high-profile commercial and institutional spaces across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Apart from a hiatus during the pandemic quarantine, the company has been holding the summit annually since 2014, said CEO Todd Sachse, as a way of fostering a community among its stellar clients.

Sachse Construction held its first summit at its home base in Detroit — but quickly realized it would more convenient to subsequently hold the summet in New York where most of their clients had offices.

Formatted as a small-scale convention exclusive to the company’s clients, the summit is a combination of formal presentations routinely front-loaded with guest speakers from different industries and informal mixers throughout the day. The speakers cover topical concerns to brands and retailers, but it can be argued that the worthiest insights may be gleaned during the breaks in between panels.

Among the guests who mingled to exchange industry chatter at this year’s event were representatives from major brands including Hermès, Max Mara, Ermenegildo Zegna, Estée Lauder, Amazon, Christian Louboutin, Salvatore Ferragamo, Versace, Giorgio Armani, Tumi, Tiffany & Co. and Tourneau.

Spirited conversations were held by panel members and attendees as everyone posited their respective views on the current state and future of retail as the world enters the post-COVID-19 era. This year’s summit was well attended, as those present seemed eager to learn how everyone else has been coping with emerging from quarantine and managing the ongoing supply chain issues. Noteworthy insights were provided by panelists such as Chanel U.S. Director of Visual Merchandising Robert Fuller; Bloomingdale’s Director of Window Design Leigh Ann Tischler; Showfields CEO Tal Zvi Nathanel; Exclusible CEO Olivier Moingeon and Business of Fashion Senior Correspondent Sheena Butler-Young.

Photo Courtesy – Sachse Construction

While considerable arguments were made on behalf of new technology as a way of engaging consumers, equally persuasive cases were also advanced in support of good old fashion human interaction. Nathanel, for instance, touted his company’s ability to track in-store customer traffic to determine engagement and conversions, although he made it clear this was done within the bounds of privacy concerns. But independent stories from Fuller and Tischler emphasize personalized approaches, such as tailoring Chanel initiatives on a regional level and the market-specific Pride events at Bloomingdale’s that are meant to inspire traditional brand loyalty. In this regard, conceiving and creating “experiential” installations and interactive visual displays illustrated the importance of such tools to merchandisers across all market categories.

Despite all the enthusiasm accorded to a sundry of advancements from data gathering and analytics to buzzy subjects like NFTs and the metaverse, everything still seems to lead toward the importance of brick-and-mortar presence as the best way to connect to end consumers. For instance, at a panel called “Power of the Pop-Up,” little was done to suggest that a pop-up space was in any way a better alternative to a flagship location. At best, it’s an entry point for unknown brands or, in the case of sustainable furniture line Model No., a vital way of tangibly presenting products in a physical space. There was talk of pop-ups being a means of measuring a brand’s appeal in certain markets during certain seasons or determining maximum foot traffic in specific neighborhoods.

But, as Butler-Young implied with a question, is securing a “permanent” retail space the endgame of any pop-up? The matter was very easily summed up by Model No. CEO Phillip Raub as a question of the current costs of commercial rents and overhead expenses versus temporary selling spaces. At this point, there’s little doubt that the omni-channel strategy is the most sensible course in reaching even the staunchest of Gen Z’s tech savvy shoppers.

The day closed with one last panel on the critical question of how landlords are making it appealing (or prohibitive) to open a brick-and-mortar store, especially in light of skyrocketing rents in key cities like New York, London and Paris. As confirmed earlier that afternoon by Nathanel, these are still at the top of the wish lists of any brand seeking to gain maximum exposure to their customers. But companies such as Sachse are in the business of working with clients to build spaces of long-term value that can offset the cost of such investments.

Following the discussion, Sachse Retail Summit attendees convened for cocktails and then dinner to further Sachse’s aim of establishing community, yet again proving that as much as there is a continued reliance on technology to create digital rapport with customers, in the end, nothing can beat building relationships face to face.