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Touchdown!

As the majors fumble with events-based, experiential retailing, a Twin Cities independent picks up the loose ball and takes it into the end zone

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A reported 125,000 out-of-towners flocked to Minneapolis last weekend  for Super Bowl LII. I’ve never been to a Super Bowl, but I did attend an NCAA Final Four basketball championship in April 2001, coincidentally in the same city. As I’m sure was the case last weekend,  Minneapolis was packed that weekend 17 years ago with tens of thousands filling the city, milling around.

What I remember about the 2001 event was a lot of free time, and a lot of looking for things to do. Even in April, but especially in February, Minnesota weather usually keeps crowds inside, which becomes a huge opportunity for retailers to play host.

I live in Louisville, Ky., where the city fills up every May in the same way for the Kentucky Derby. During that period, special events occupy a lot of that free time. But Louisville doesn’t have the major national retail brands that Minneapolis has.

Certainly, for the biggest sporting event of the American year, Minneapolis’ bellwether industry leaders – Target, Best Buy, Mall of America – were ready for the crowds descending on the city. But many feel the best Super Bowl experience was provided by a single-store specialty retailer in the city’s trendy North Loop neighborhood.

MartinPatrick3 offers an ultra-high-end assortment of men’s apparel and furnishings, plus furniture and interior decor.

On the web site TwinCities.com, local jewelry designer Stephanie Lake described MartinPatrick3 as “the most glamorous warren of rooms in the city … a men’s store that also offers jaw-dropping gifts, provocative art, a barber shop, gumball machines filled with chocolate-covered raisins and a sense of delight at every turn.”

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The store seems worth visiting purely on its own merits, but this retailer wasn’t going to rest on those merits. Leading up to the Super Bowl, MartinPatrick3 hosted a Lululemon pop-up shop called The Back Room, where customers could take yoga and exercise classes. In addition, many of the store’s brands – such as Boglioli, Theory, Vince, Bogner and Jack Mason – were on site for special events. And Grey Goose vodka hosted an Ice Bar. Finally, the retailer put on a tailgate party on Super Bowl Sunday itself.

I don’t know how successful the initiative was for MartinPatrick3. But what I’m calling attention to here is less about the outcome, and more about the effort. The thought. The creativity. The initiative. Bill Belichick’s preparation and game plan weren’t necessarily diminished just because the Patriots lost.

Way back in the early days of this century, when I joined VMSD as editor-in-chief, we had a front-of-the-book feature called “Portfolio” (not to be confused with the current “Portfolio” feature). The point back then was that there was much to be learned from local independent retailers who didn’t have to navigate the bigger bodies of water that the large national chains were sailing in. They could be creative, reactive, timely, responsive to the moments at hand. And, as the feature told the tale, they were.

The idea was not to tell national chains what they ought to do. Often, those actions were impractical for them. It was to show them examples of what creativity looked like.

Of course, the challenges were much different then. Amazon and the whole dot.com revolution were still blips on the radar. Today, retailers have to be more energetic in getting people into their stores. But now, as then, they could learn some lessons from the one-offs. Having brands on hand, hosting classes and vodka bars and parties – that’s the possibilities for all retail spaces, even on weeks when Tom Brady isn’t in town.

As a journalist, writer, editor and commentator, Steve Kaufman has been watching the store design industry for 20-plus years. He has seen the business cycle through retailtainment, minimalism, category killers, big boxes, pop-ups, custom stores, global roll-outs, international sourcing, interactive kiosks, the emergence of China, the various definitions of “branding” and Amazon.com. He has reported on the rise of brand concept shops, the demise of brand concept shops and the resurgence of brand concept shops. He has been an eyewitness to the reality that nothing stays the same, except the retailer-shopper relationship.

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