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Shop on Par With Experiential Retail

To stand out on a section of Las Vegas Boulevard that features the grand canals of Venice, an Egyptian pyramid and the New York City skyline, you have to be distinct. In Celebration of Golf - which opened its second location in the Venetian Casino Resort in October last year - certainly fits the bill.

Proclaiming itself the "game's most celebrated golf shop," the Las Vegas Celebration and its equally innovative Scottsdale, Ariz., location are "golfer's heaven," boasts owner and founder Roger Maxwell. After a 19-year career with Marriott Corp. as vice president for golf, he broke out on his own, founding the first In Celebration of Golf with $1 million of his own money.

Within each 14,000 sq. ft. store can be found literally anything related to the sport including antiques, books, furniture, games, crystal and china, clothing, and, of course, clubs and balls. Amenities include a repair shop, an indoor instructional studio and a concierge service for booking tee times at local courses. Also, an artist in residence creates golf-themed paintings while guests look on.

Guests - they're not just called customers - are met at the door by caddies outfitted in white canvas coveralls just like those worn by caddies at The Masters in Augusta, Ga. These caddies are positioned throughout each Celebration and provide guests with assistance. The store places great emphasis on service, and if a customer can't find a particular item, Celebration staff will try to locate it, Maxwell says.

Describing the Celebration stores as "an interactive Disneyland of golf," Maxwell says they are as much entertainment as commerce. The store's 14 areas, or Celebrations of the game, include the welcoming first tee, where visitors can sign the guest book and get complimentary ball markers, scorecards, divot repair tools, and bag tags with the store's logo.

Other areas - connected by fairways - are constructed to welcome guests and encourage them to linger. In the club maker's workbench area, an animatronic club maker greets guests as they walk by. The spike shop features a sitting area with a large-screen TV and coffee and soda service, along with more than 700 pairs of golf shoes. On the practice tee, an indoor golf simulator lets customers borrow demo clubs to play virtual simulations of some of the world's most famous golf courses.

"We're here primarily to sell the entertainment value of the game," says Maxwell. "We have people who constantly come in, particularly in our Scottsdale store, just to show other people around. We've developed a very good reputation and have become known as a quality retailer in the marketplace."

With the five-year-old Scottsdale location grossing an average of $4.4 million, and the new Las Vegas store expected to bring in $6 million, the concept has proven successful, Maxwell says. Although each store maintains an extensive inventory, more than half of the revenues are generated with apparel, which is popular with golfers and non-golfers alike. Merchandise is high-end, as are the prices, and there are no discount tables.

"We cater to tourists, which are about 60% of our business (in Scottsdale)," Maxwell says. "Locals are about 40% of our business. In Las Vegas, it's probably going to be about 75% tourists and 25% locals."

Over the next four years, Maxwell plans to open as many as 16 new Celebrations in large cities with affluent populations, including: Dallas; Atlanta; Manhattan; San Francisco's East Bay; Orange County, Calif.; Seattle; Houston; and Naples, Fla.

"We're looking for areas with a very heavy golf concentration year-round," Maxwell explains. "A city with a major golf championship is perfect. Dallas and Houston are perfect. I happen to live in Scottsdale and that's why we started there."

Celebration is a reflection of Maxwell's love of the game. "It was the first time that anyone had taken the romance of the game and combined it with the history and tradition of the game and brought it together at retail," he says.

As customers stroll through the store's rich furnishings and admire the many tributes to golf and its storied past, an animated figure, appropriately called Bobby, says, "slow play is encouraged." Those words tell you that this is a place to be enjoyed and savored, just like the game to which it is devoted.

Contact: Roger Maxwell, In Celebration of Golf, c/o Grand Canal Shoppes, 3377 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Suite 2075, Las Vegas, NV 89109; (702) 699-9600.

When customers enter Charlotte, N. C.-based Rack Room Shoes' new Metro Mart concept stores, they aren't likely to forget their shopping experience - and that's just what company officials want to achieve.

The new design is already implemented in three of the chain's 326 U.S. stores - Concord and Hickory, N.C., and Katy, Texas - and mixes an open, industrial look with friendly, graphical elements.

"It's a warehouse concept with style," says Paula Wagner, director of store design and construction for Rack Room Shoes. "We use a metal fixture system, but it is powder coated. It's a dressed-up warehouse look. What we're trying to communicate is not only the value message that you get with a no-hype environment, but also we are trying to reinforce the style message. The finishes are a little bit nicer than before and the colors are more impactful."

Store officials admit that while customers have long been attracted to Rack Room's plentiful supply of stylish footwear at discount prices, the name and store image have never stuck in their minds.

The Metro Mart concept is designed to change all that. The store has an open ceiling with exposed pipes and duct work, and industrial lighting. A huge orange cylinder with the Rack Room Shoes tilted block logo draws customers to the center of the store where the seasonal merchandise is displayed. Signature metal end caps - arc-form display shelves at the end of each aisle - display the latest styles.

Orange is the predominate color in all graphic elements because, "we felt the orange said value and also said style. It's a real style color," Wagner explains.

"You can take a quick trip around the store and see the hottest brands and the hottest styles," Wagner says. "We've introduced simple fixtures that have a real identity. If they were taken out of our store and put into another store, it's obvious that they're ours."

As part of an improved wayfinding system, the store's graphics include large departmental signage. Amplified messages in the aisles tell customers what categories they will find there.

The Metro Marts carry more than 30,000 shoes and are significantly larger than other stores in the chain - from 7,000 to 10,000 sq. ft. rather than 4,000 to 6,000 sq. ft. - and so may require some rethinking about location choices, according to Dave Osterhus, director of real estate.

"There will be a desire to go larger and if we can do that with an expansion where we now exist, that's fine. But if we can't, then we may have to move the store to another piece of real estate," he says.

Rack Room Shoes plans to open 40 new stores over the next three years and all will incorporate the Metro Mart features. The company also is preparing to retrofit existing stores with the graphics package and other signature design elements.

"It's a new direction that fits into a strategy for growth," explains Wagner. "It will expand our customer base, but it won't alienate the core customer. It will just reinforce their loyalty because we're already giving them a high-quality product at a real value. Now we're providing a real shopping experience."

Rack Room, which was founded in 1920, has been owned by the German firm, Deichmann Shoe, since 1984. Its customers - primarily middle-income, fashion-forward women ages 18 to 55 - demand quality.

"They are looking for a brand name product at a reduced price," Osterhus says. Along with that product, customers will find a memorable shopping experience as Rack Room Shoes continues to develop the brand identity stores need to be successful.

Contact: Dave Osterhus, director of real estate, Rack Room Shoes Inc., 8310 Technology Drive, Charlotte, NC 28262; (704) 547-8100.

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