The problem with contemporary physical retail, according to Fourpost Founder and CEO Mark Ghermezian, is that it has simply failed to keep pace with direction and push of modern retail. Consumers have seen everything brick-and-mortar has to offer as of 2018, and it seems that time and again they have found it lacking.
And if the customer isn’t happy, Ghermezian, the brands trying to reach them aren’t going to be all that happy either — since the point is to delight the customer into converting. Fourpost is an attempt to get physical retail back in line with the times, giving shoppers a different type of retail experiences by offering them a single shopping location designed to be a “Studio of Shops.”
As of last week, the Fourpost concept shops will be opening in North America’s two largest shopping malls, Mall of America in Minnesota and West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada.
Those locations are not coincidental. Mark Ghermezian is part of the Ghermezian family that owns the Triple Five Group — a developer/operator of shopping malls, entertainment complexes and hotels most famous for its ownership of the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. It also owns the West Edmonton Mall in Canada. And Triple Five Group has long been a proponent of experiential retail — far longer than it has been fashionable buzzword in the industry.
For newly-launching concept shops, the Fourpost model has been described as a little bit WeWork, and a little bit high-end food court in that it allows brands big and small to lease space in the Fourpost location. And it is a fairly large location. The Fourpost concept shop(s) in the Mall of American will be just over 10,000 square feet, and the Canadian store will be a little over 5,000 square feet.
Merchants who opt in can sign a short-term lease — think months, not years — during which they can set up and test-drive their physical retail concept in a customizable space that comes equipped with the physical and technical tools to get shops up and running fairly fast.
On the physical side, tenant businesses get access to fixtures, Wi-Fi, lighting, signage, point-of-sale hardware and the ability to customize the space (within reason) to their needs. There are also store layouts that go beyond what Fourpost describes as the traditional box shape; merchants who always wanted to operate in a triangular space will apparently get their chance.
The goal, according to Ghermezian, is to create a more diverse space for consumers to explore and discover in a single locations.
“We want to democratize the traditional department store experience and inject new energy into physical retail,” Ghermezian said. “We built Fourpost to completely re-architect the process in what has been a stale industry between landlords and brands for hundreds of years."
On the technical solution side, tenant merchants will have access to Fourpost's SaaS dashboard and its included business management tools. Those tools, according to the firm, are designed to allow merchants working within the physical space to onboard members, manage accounts, centralize calendars, handle billing and make even bookings. The dashboard also comes with analytics tools to offer merchants real-time data on traffic, merchandising and consumer interest.
For the Mall of America launch, Fourpost has signed up 22 companies, with a mix of regional and local brands. In its current incarnation, offerings include baked goods, beauty products, home décor, clothing and accessories. The mall-based store, according to Ghermezian, is the start for the company — though the longer-term vision involves expanding Fourpost locations into standalone stores.
That's if the idea catches on — which remains a big if. A few years ago Mall of America piloted a somewhat similar concept called Debut, which focused on showcasing brands that were locally based in Minnesota. The experiment generated some buzz, but ultimately wasn’t a commercial success. Debut stores are no longer open for business in the Mall of America.
But the retail landscape has shifted some, and multi-brand, highly curated shopping experiences have come into fashion, and pop-up shops have become almost de rigueur for hot online brands looking to experiment with expansion into the physical world. Dedicated retail locations in mini-bazaars that can easily be opted in and out of on short-leases might have an appeal.
For now, the firm has raised about $5 million in funding — and the Mall of America location is set to open just in time for the soft start of the holiday shopping season, November 1.