Cole Haan is so in love with its impossibly light ZeroGrand shoes that it dedicated more than a dozen global stores to them. Now the brand is bringing its Grandshop retail experience to the U.S. in a Silicon Valley store with, naturally, a techie twist.
Opening Thursday, the 940-square-foot retail location — set within the renovated Westfield Valley Fair in Santa Clara, Calif. — is not only the company’s first Grandshop in its home country, it’s the first to feature Near Field Communication.
NFC lets consumers pay for goods by tapping their phones to checkout terminals. Here, the act conjures product information, sizing help and other content to help shoppers choose the right shoes or bags. With the phone at the center of the experience, people can also check out using Apple Pay and arrange to have their chosen products shipped to their homes.
The whole affair can take place without a single sales clerk involved. If one is needed, however, human help is available. There’s also a small checkout area hidden in one crevice of the store, if absolutely necessary.
Overall, the store operates like an e-commerce site brought to life, and that mix offers a crucial benefit: Unlike with online shopping, customers can actually handle the merchandise. That’s a key perk for shoe shopping, where no two size 6s are exactly the same.
The digital nature of the experience also fits with ZeroGrand’s young, urban professional focus.
“The Cole Haan Grandshop draws its inspiration from the live-work studios where these entrepreneurial disruptors live and work — pursuing their next extraordinary adventure,” David Maddocks, Cole Haan’s chief marketing officer and general manager of business development, explained to WWD.
It makes sense to bring that sensibility to the country’s technology epicenter. Unfortunately, other factors make the timing feel a bit awkward.
Cole Haan made its S-1 filing public in February ahead of an expected initial public offering, but those plans are reportedly delayed now due to concerns over the coronavirus. Companies typically stay mum during this period, and that means the brand is challenged to hype its new store while simultaneously maintaining a cone of silence.
Add the fact that the store and the Westfield mall that houses it will open while fears of highly trafficked public spaces run high, thanks to the aforementioned COVID-19 that has seen the first death in California; a quarantined ship off the coast of San Francisco, and a statewide emergency declared by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
For its part, Westfield is following all the guidelines put forth by the government health agencies, and Cole Haan’s enthusiasm for its first American Grandshop seemingly can’t be derailed.
The stores primarily promote the company’s ZeroGrand line, with subcategories such as OriginalGrand and GrandPro, as well as accessories and bags featuring ultra-lightweight technical materials. One hundred ninety-five sku’s pack the colorful, vibrant Westfield location, though somehow the space manages not to feel too busy or overwhelming.
“The Cole Haan Grandshop is a beautiful shop. It engages you right away,” said Larry Green, executive vice president of development at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield. “You want to get in there and see what’s happening. It’s certainly not the old Cole Haan that I knew, even 12 months ago. It’s a different twist on it. It catches your eye and pulls you in. I have high expectations of it.”
From a tech perspective, Grandshop is in good stead at the Westfield Valley Fair.
The mall’s $1.1 billion expansion of 500,000 square feet, making for a total of 2.2 million square feet of retail space, will offer 17 new retailers and feature a new shopping zone called The Digital District — a string of pop-up spaces for digital native brands. The rotating roster includes Felix Gray, Ghost Democracy, Goodies, Lett and We the People, among others.
They join stores such as Anthropologie, Club Monaco, Fabletics, Indochino, Jimmy Choo, John Varvatos, Longchamp, Rodd and Gunn, Urban Outfitters, Untuckit, and Zadig & Voltaire, plus a new Bloomingdale’s flagship, the upcoming arrival of food-oriented Eataly destination, chef-driven restaurants, outdoor spaces and destination businesses.
This is the backdrop for Cole Haan’s 16th Grandshop. To mark the occasion, the company plans to host a customization event on Thursday, while looking ahead to its next Grandshop opening this summer in Aventura, Fla., near Miami.
Like the Santa Clara store, Near Field Communication will also loom large at Aventura — in fact, the system will be integrated into all new and existing Grandshops on a rolling basis. But for now, it remains a Silicon Valley exclusive.
“The young men and women of Silicon Valley embody the spirit and energy of our ZeroGrand performance lifestyle products,” Maddocks continued, “and we wanted to provide a curated and connected retail environment that brings them information and inspiration they can see, feel and experience.”