By  on September 28, 2017

Pop-up specialist Melissa Gonzalez, founder of The Lionesque Group, has teamed with real estate operator GGP Inc. to launch "IRL" at Water Tower Place in Chicago. IRL, which is web lingo for "In Real Life," had a soft launch last month and focuses on offering shoppers an "immersive shopping experience that fosters the human connection between" consumers and brands.Visitors are encouraged to "touch, learn, discover and experience new products (in real life) from today's fastest-growing brands in an experiential store environment." Gonzalez told WWD that despite what many headlines state, physical stores are "very much alive." Moreover, "physical retailing continues to evolve," she said.For her part, that evolution has involved pop-ups. "Where everybody’s talking about store closings, we did 21 [pop-up] stores for clients — and a quarter of them transferred into permanent spaces due to their success," she said.With IRL, the approach involves having various product and/or themed zones, which change and generate buzz amongst shoppers. Currently, IRL is featuring Da Lobsta (a lobster shack), Get It Right home goods, Glitteratiz Inc., Home Chef and Leesa mattresses, among others. IRL took over a space formerly used by Bebe Stores Inc. Gonzalez said the footprint is large enough to curate a variety of brands but not large enough where she has to worry about filling the space.[caption id="attachment_11005766" align="aligncenter" width="589"]IRL GGP pop-up Inside IRL.[/caption]In-store events are also key. Next week, for example, the space will host a lettering workshop presented by Dabble Dot. "And we’re going to continue to evolve the events calendar," she said. "So we really want to build community around the brand and it’s really about the opportunity to engage in digital brands in real life. All of them are going to be hosting in store events, and then we’re also going to bring in other partners that make sense that compliment the story and the environment."Other events will include classes on wine and cheese pairing, and a makeup workshop for Halloween.Melinda Holland, senior vice president of business development at GGP said IRL "is a playground of sorts, in that shoppers can touch, feel and experience products that were solely sold online prior to purchase." With marketing, Holland GGP's "mixed-marketing approach includes promotion of in-store events, brands and the IRL concept through solar kiosk displays on Michigan avenue, in-mall advertising, social channel support, a dedicated Water Tower Place web site landing page and online directory listings."Gonzalez describes IRL as "bringing online to life" by offering experiences for shoppers, and Holland said IRL "is essentially a living lab that delivers an immersive experience for shoppers to discover products in a completely new way.""It has been really fun to see our shoppers play a game of table tennis on a Killerspin Ping-Pong table and lie down on a Leesa Sleep mattress to partake in a virtual reality 'dream sequence' guided by Michael Phelps," she explained. "There is also the food and beverage component that really accentuates the all-around IRL experience. Our shoppers can come in to grab a bite to eat from Chicago’s Da Lobsta." Holland also noted that while the concept of IRl is new and is piloting in Chicago at GGP's Water Tower Place, "it is an example of GGP’s curation strategy and our efforts to introduce new retailers and experiences at our regional shopping centers."Gonzalez said another dimension of IRL is longer-term shopper engagement. "The more we build relationships around the brand, the more shoppers will tell their friends," she added.For more WWD business news, see:When a Seam Is Missed, Darn It Steps InAmazon, Wal-Mart and Apple Top List of Biggest E-commerce RetailersKingston’s Moment: Celebrities and Creative Types Rediscover Historic Town

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