Byline: Kristin Young

COSTA MESA, Calif. — First The Lab, now The Camp.
This isn’t some high school horror movie lineup, but rather the latest retail concept geared toward baby boomers and their outdoor pursuits from Shaheen Sadeghi, chief executive officer and majority owner of the eight-year-old The Lab, which he bills as “the anti-mall.”
In December, The Camp will break ground at 2937 Bristol Street, directly across the street from The Lab. The new concept is scheduled to open by August 2001 and will ultimately house 10 to 14 outdoor and athletic retailers in a 42,000-square-foot complex. The Camp will target consumers ranging in age from 25 to 45 years old.
“Years ago, most people in their late 40s or 50s bought their first rocking chair,” said Sadeghi. “Now, this generation is learning how to snowboard.”
After a careful study of consumer lifestyle habits, the onslaught of corporate zeal over Gen Y demographics and current dynamics at retail, Sadeghi is confident The Camp will fly in Orange County.
The Lab, which was an answer to Generation X’s and Y’s aversion to malls built back in the early Nineties, was in many ways ahead of its time. It is currently a small group of teen-oriented retailers housed in a highly stylized, urban-like setting. Several years later, the 42,000-square-foot complex continues to rack up sales between $250 and $450 dollars per square foot each year, according to Sadeghi.
Although The Lab has been “a success” for him, Sadeghi maintains the Gen Y retailing trend can’t last and said he has found a clear opportunity.
“Generation Y is Madison-Avenued out. There’s been so much focus on Gen Y and I feel there’s definitely going to be saturation,” he said. “These kids don’t have driver’s licenses and they don’t have credit cards. If you really sort through all of this, why don’t you just sell things to their parents — cut through the BS and go right to the wallet?”
Sadeghi, age 46, said he was also bored with the retail options offered to his own generation and began taking a hard look at where this powerful, wealthy, highly educated group was heading.
“If you ultimately ask them what the ultimate thing that they want to do in their lifetime, it’s travel, flat out,” he said. There’s a significant movement away from materialistic goals — because most have already accumulated considerable wealth — toward spiritual pursuits. This crowd is making more nature-based travel plans such as backpacking trips to Patagonia, he pointed out.
“Americans are back to finding their soul,” said Sadeghi. “And that takes us to the outdoor industry. I think, as suburbs become more overbuilt and vertical, we’re going to gravitate more toward the outdoors.”
But The Camp, he said, puts a modern spin on the great outdoors. An indoor skate ramp, places to rock climb or “boulder,” indoor pools to test kayaks or scuba equipment and tracks to test mountain bikes are among The Camp’s coming attractions.
He expects The Camp will pull in $20 million its first year. The cost to build the project, between $12 million and $15 million, will be funded in-house through The Lab Holding Limited Liability Corp., he said. Sadeghi and his wife, Linda Sadeghi, own 70 percent of the holding company and are the operating partners.
But there will also be a significant emphasis on apparel. About 50 to 60 percent of its offerings will be activewear for women and men.
“We want this to be a very hip outdoor environment but the elements of fashion are still very important,” said Sadeghi. “We won’t promote a lot of trendy stuff. We want the stuff to have longevity. It has to have authenticity.”
Adventure-16, a retailer that houses women’s and men’s apparel, in addition to camping and hiking gear, has signed a lease to open a 10,000-square-foot unit. Cycle Works, a retailer that sells bikes and biking gear, is on board as well. Other stores, including a surf, skate and snowboard store, a kayak store and a fly-fishing store, are in the process of sealing negotiations with the project.
Andrew Spurlock, known for his contribution to the gardens at the Getty Museum here, was hired as The Camp’s landscape artist. Bauer and Wiley, known for its work at the Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles and the Ocean Institute project in Dana Point, Calif., is the project’s architectural firm.
There will be an emphasis on modern structure with asymmetrical roof lines set off by serene areas using wood, glass, metal, water and sculpture. “We’re thinking of it like an art installation,” said Spurlock, principal of the landscape architectural firm Spurlock Poirier in San Diego. There will be a canopy of trees, like a forest grove; meadows; sage gardens; and desert areas with rock and cactus.
“We want each space to have a strong sensory effect,” he added.
One of the main gathering places is a restaurant in a modern Yurt, a permanent tent-like structure commonly seen in Asia. There will also be an indoor yoga sanctuary and a travel agency on the premises.
“We want people to come and hang out, practice yoga and regroup or share travel experiences,” said Sadeghi.
Another important element, the ceo believes, is branding the project itself.
“We think it’s imperative that we establish a relationship with the customers and not pass off that responsibility to the retailers,” he said, noting a fair share of advertising dollars will be spent in this endeavor. “As retailers get strong or weak, the customer tends to rely on the center’s brand and its consistency in culture.”
Jack Kyser, chief economist of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., however, approaches the concept with caution.
“What you have is this euphoria in the retail industry here,” he said. “Stores are being put up all over the place and it’s out of hand. I think there’s going to be a lot of visible failures.”
Sadeghi believes otherwise.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that the country is overstored. As a solution to that, there was all this conversation years ago about entertainment-based centers. Now, we are basically looking for more in our lives than entertainment centers. We will not only offer a service, but help [consumers] be who they want to be and do what they want to do. I think that’s a very valid formula.”