NEW YORK — “I grew up romanticizing retail,” said Israeli-born entrepreneur Tal Zvi Nathanel.
“My mom was a window dresser. She used to show me pictures of storefronts from all over the world, and my father was a diamond jeweler. I grew up in a house that really valued design and fashion.”
So when Nathanel moved to New York in 2012, “I was excited, like a kid going to Disney. I expected to see retail heaven. We landed in Times Square — it was very disappointing. The 50 brands I saw were the same I saw in Tel Aviv. I noticed so many stores around the city were empty and for rent. I asked myself, ‘Why are the streets boring?’
“But there are cool brands out there. There is magic out there. They’re just really hard to find. What’s broken in retail is discovery.”
To create the retail experience he felt was lacking, in March 2019, Nathanel — with real estate developer Amir Zwickel and Katie Hunt, a marketer and cofounder of The Fund venture capital firm — launched Showfields. It’s situated at 11 Bond Street along Lafayette Street in the NoHo section of Manhattan. In November 2020, they opened the second Showfields at 530 Lincoln Road in Miami.
“I wanted to create a place that every time you walked in you felt welcome and seen, and you could see things you never saw before — cool brands that might be online but couldn’t afford a store,” he said.
On Thursday night, Nathanel, cofounder and chief executive officer of Showfields, hosted a VIP shopping night at the NoHo Showfields to show off a 10-day “overhaul” involving some reconstruction and re-merchandising of the four-level, 14,000-square-foot store. Nathanel described it as an “otherworldly store design, blurring the lines between shopping, play and experience.” It’s an unconventional environment reflecting a curated, and differentiated product offering, with several new features while retaining some that existed before.
The centerpiece is a new 16-foot tall wood sculpture with a concrete veneer depicting a woman as an homage to the history of the site, which was originally an animal hospital operated by New York Women’s League for Animals, and subsequently a women’s shelter.
At the base of the big sculpture is a mini gallery presented by French aperitif brand Lillet with an art exhibit entitled “Le Jardin Des Arts” with works by female artists Trish Andersen, Zhanna Tsytsyn, Patty Suau and Fernanda Uribe. Six to ten people can squeeze into the gallery at one time.
On the second floor, there’s a new “CBD & Culture Lounge” for CBD-focused brands such as Flyers Cocktail Co. and Onyx & Rose, and for programs on CBD culture, wellness and entertainment. There’s also a private feeding suite for parents nursing babies. ByHeart, a baby nutrition brand that just launched an infant formula, is sold there.
Among other brands displayed: For Days, a sustainable collection of colorful sweatshirts and sweatpants housed in a contemporary setting with industrial piping for display fixtures; Hydrow high-tech rowing machines, and Mise, a service for ordering pre-prepped ingredients for meals served at top local restaurants that one cooks up at home. Arcade 1Up video game machines have been a Showfields staple, and continue to be presented in an arcade-like setting with crystal orbs. The machines get delivered in kits to be assembled at home.
Arched portals separate brand presentations, drawing visitors through the store, from passage to passage. There are none of the adjacencies typical of a department or specialty store.
There’s even a secret sliding wall that leads to the “Self Expression Studio” for accessory brands, and to the right, a slide (there since 2019) spiraling down from the third to the second floor for a short but fast ride, and an adrenaline rush.
Overall, the assortment is built around wellness, home, food and beverage, beauty, ready-to-wear, accessories and tech brands. That’s consistent year-round, though every six months Showfields changes up the lineup of 60 to 100 brands, the majority of which would be considered emerging labels not widely distributed.
The current curation of Showfields is called “Rebirth” and strives to encourage visitors to explore products and ideas that underscore renewal. Each of the three selling floors (the fourth floor is for events) represents a different time of day and a corresponding decor and assortment. For example, the third floor is themed “dusk,” so evening products like rtw and accessories are there. Level two is themed “sunset,” so self care products are found there, and level one, called “sunrise” is merchandised to reflect work-play-eat spaces and displays the world’s “softest blanket,” Sunday Citizen; sustainable shoe brand YY Nation and monk-fruit sweetener innovator Lakanto, among other brands.
“It’s a lifestyle, discovery store. Every time you come, you see mission-driven brands,” said Nathanel, during an interview at the store. He said Showfields will host events focusing on community, wellness, art and culture, and will soon install a podcast studio, a sensory station and a wellness and fitness studio, furthering its experiential character.
Prior to launching Showfields, Nathanel, who is 38, founded an event production company in Israel for concerts, student events and retail activations. He later cofounded MyCheck, a mobile payment system. Both companies were sold before Showfields launched.
Aside from his love of retail, Nathanel said he started Showfields to give brands a chance, particularly smaller ones without the wherewithal to open stores, to find another way to get in front of customers, beyond the internet.
“Physical retail is a very, very efficient way to drive product,” he said. “You can tell a story, engage the senses, discover something new, touch the product, evaluate it, talk to an expert, create a connection. There’s instant gratification. But it’s really not at the disposal of new direct-to-consumer brands, born online. They don’t have the skills and the resources. We said we needed to lower the barriers of entry. We want brands to think of physical retail not as a store, but as a channel.”
Showfields doesn’t operate with a wholesale model. The store doesn’t buy product. Instead, it charges brands $12,000, $24,000 or $36,000 for six-month “campaigns,” like pop-ups in the store, depending on the number of stock keeping units being displayed and the degree of exposure and space involved. A brand could display two or three skus and get charged the lowest rate, or a few dozen skus for a fuller brand statement, and get charged the highest rate.
Showfield has workers who search the web, visit trade shows, shop cities and watch for trends, to come up with items for the stores.
“We don’t believe in having heavily merchandised spaces in a transactional way. Heavily merchandised environments, if that’s what you are looking for, can be more efficiently shopped online,” Nathanel said. “Showfields is more about storytelling.” He calls the 10 to 12 associates in the store “connectors.” They have product knowledge covering several brands and help shoppers.
In addition to getting floor space, brands receive a “dashboard” of data that seems granular. Sensors from Retail Next and Showfields’ point-of-sale software gather sales figures, traffic figures, customers’ gender, whether they touch and engage with products or just pass by, among other types of data.
Nathanel said Showfields is profitable, but declined to disclose the volume.
He said he plans to open four more stores on the East Coast by the end of the year, and has raised $20 million with Hanco Ventures, Swan and Legend Ventures, MUFG Capital and some other sources. He declined to specify any of the future locations.
Asked how he came up with the name Showfields for his retail concept, a nameplate somewhat reminiscent of the venerable and now defunct Marshall Field’s in Chicago, Nathanel said, “We wanted to create something that felt like a heritage brand, a brand that’s been around for awhile.”