Millions of tourists flock to Hawaii each year for its lush tropical rainforests, pristine beaches and active volcanoes. And many, whether they’re from the U.S. mainland or from points abroad, would add shopping – particularly for luxury goods – to that list of reasons to visit.
“We have a strategy that looks at strengthening our brand in Asia,” explains Jack Hruska, executive vp, creative services, Bloomingdale’s. “Our objective in Hawaii, an important market in and of itself, is to position our brand where more international customers will become familiar with us. Most importantly, we wanted to get our brand in a position where a lot more Asian customers would be familiar with us.”
The 165,000-square-foot flagship anchors the newly constructed luxury wing of the Ala Moana shopping center in Honolulu. The development will soon house ultra-luxury condominiums for those looking for a more permanent outpost on the island.
Though Bloomingdale’s has a strong, established design aesthetic, the goal for the store was to subtly incorporate elements from its new home in Hawaii. “We used wood beam [and] rafter ceilings in many areas, which are common architectural features in homes and public spaces in Hawaii. We used shutters, which are also commonly used architecturally in Hawaii, as framing materials for our shops,” Hruska says.
In another nod to the Asian customer, the store also features 36-inch-long, hand-painted cast resin koi fish created by fashion designer Asher Levine. The golden sculptures appear to be swimming in two large schools suspended high above the fine jewelry department.
The Hawaii store also features tech-enabled fitting rooms and “mingle rooms,” which are larger rooms outfitted with guest seating and charging stations for the group shopping experience. “Each fitting room has a tablet inside, so you can scan the item you brought in and look on the tablet to see if there are different colors or sizes,” says Hruska. “You can notify the sales associate to come in and help you so you don’t have to leave the fitting room.”
Mirrors in the rooms have adjustable lights, so customers can see what they might look like in different lit environments with various tones and intensities.
“[It’s] all intended to help the customer and the sales associate have a better experience,” says Hruska. “Part of the bricks-and-mortar challenge and responsibility is to make that interesting shopping experience. We have to couple that with other kinds of activities that you can’t get when you’re just sitting at your desk or on your mobile device.”
Focusing on creating that exceptional experience is a critical part of retailing today. Previously, when inevitably asked which store was his favorite, Hruska – who’s been with the company 23 years – would answer, “The next one.”
Today, however, he offers a slightly different reply: “When I started here, we had 14 stores; now we have 38. I, along with a group of talented individuals, opened all of those; I’ve designed all of those and all of the subsequent iterations over the years,” he says. “Now I find ‘the next iteration of the experience’ most interesting and intriguing.”
Photography: Douglas Peebles, Honolulu