NEW YORK – “I grew up romanticizing retail,” said Israeli-born entrepreneur Tal Zvi Nathanel.
“My mother was a window dresser. She always showed me pictures of shop windows from all over the world and my father was a diamond jeweler. I grew up in a house that valued design and fashion.”
When Nathanel moved to New York in 2012, “I was excited, like a kid going to Disney. I expected to see retail heaven. We ended up in Times Square – it was very disappointing. The 50 brands I saw were the same ones I saw in Tel Aviv. I noticed that so many shops in town were empty and for rent. I asked myself, ‘Why are the streets boring?’
“But there are cool brands out there. There’s magic out there. They’re just very difficult to find. What’s broken in retail is discovery.”
To create the retail experience he felt was missing, Nathanel co-founded Showfields in March 2019 with real estate developer Amir Zwickel and Katie Hunt, a marketer and co-founder of venture capital firm The Fund. It is located at 11 Bond Street along Lafayette Street in the NoHo neighborhood of Manhattan. In November 2020, they opened the second Showfields at 530 Lincoln Road in Miami.
“I wanted to create a place where you always feel welcome and seen and see things you’ve never seen before – cool brands that might be online but can’t afford a shop,” he said.
On Thursday evening, Showfields co-founder and chief executive officer Nathanel hosted a VIP shopping night at the NoHo Showfields to showcase a 10-day “overhaul” that will include some remodeling and a remarketing of the four-story, 14,000-square-foot foot store. Nathanel described it as “an otherworldly store design that blurs the lines between shopping, playing and experiencing”. It’s an unconventional environment that reflects a curated and differentiated product offering with several new features while retaining some of the already existing ones.
The centerpiece is a new 16-foot-tall concrete-veneered wood sculpture depicting a woman in homage to the history of the site, which was originally an animal hospital run by the New York Women’s League for Animals and later a women’s shelter.
At the foot of the large sculpture is a mini gallery presented by French aperitif brand Lillet with an art exhibition entitled “Le Jardin Des Arts” featuring works by artists Trish Andersen, Zhanna Tsytsyn, Patty Suau and Fernanda Uribe. Six to ten people can squeeze into the gallery at the same time.
There is a new CBD & Culture Lounge on the second floor for CBD-focused brands like Flyers Cocktail Co. and Onyx & Rose, as well as programs on CBD culture, wellness and entertainment. There is also a private feeding suite for parents breastfeeding babies. It sells ByHeart, a baby food brand that just launched an infant formula.
Among other brands on display: For Days, a sustainable collection of colorful sweatshirts and jogging pants housed in a contemporary setting with industrial piping for exhibition settings; Hydrow and Mise high-tech rowing machines, a service for ordering ready-made ingredients for meals served in top local restaurants and prepared at home. Arcade 1Up video slots have been a staple of Showfields and continue to be presented in an arcade-like crystal ball environment. The machines come in kits that can be assembled at home.
Arched portals separate brand presentations and draw visitors through the store from aisle to aisle. The neighborhood typical of a department store or specialty shop is missing.
There’s even a secret sliding wall leading to the ‘Self Expression Studio’ for accessory brands, and to the right a slide (since 2019) that spirals down from the third to second floors for a short but fast ride and adrenaline rush .
Overall, the range is built around wellness, home, food & beverage, beauty, ready-to-wear, accessories and technology brands. That’s consistent year-round, though every six months Showfields changes lineup from 60 to 100 brands, most of which are considered up-and-coming labels that aren’t widely available.
Showfields’ current curation is called “Rebirth” and aims to encourage visitors to explore products and ideas that underscore renewal. Each of the three floors of retail (the fourth floor is for events) represents a different time of day and corresponding decor and range. For example, the third floor is themed as twilight, so evening products such as rtw and accessories are there. Level two is themed ‘Sunset’, so self-care products are to be found there, and level one, called ‘Sunrise’, is marketed to reflect work, play and dining spaces and features the ‘world’s softest blanket’, Sunday citizens; including sustainable footwear brand YY Nation and monk fruit sweetener innovator Lakanto.
“It’s a lifestyle discovery shop. Every time you come, you see mission-driven brands,” Nathanel said during an in-store interview. He said Showfields will host events focused on community, wellness, arts and culture and will soon be adding a podcast studio, sensory station and wellness and gym to further its experiential nature.
Before founding Showfields, 38-year-old Nathanel founded an event production company in Israel for concerts, student events and retail activations. He later co-founded MyCheck, a mobile payment system. Both companies were sold before Showfields started.
Aside from his love of retail, Nathanel said he founded Showfields to give brands, especially smaller ones that don’t have the funds to open stores, a chance to find another way to reach customers beyond the internet reach.
“Physical retail is a very, very efficient way to push products,” he said. “You can tell a story, engage the senses, discover something new, touch the product, evaluate it, talk to an expert, make a connection. There is instant gratification. But it’s really not available to new direct-to-consumer brands born online. They don’t have the skills and resources. We said we had to lower the barriers to entry. We want brands to think of physical retail not as a store, but as a channel.”
Showfields does not operate on a wholesale model. The store does not buy any product. Instead, brands are billed $12,000, $24,000, or $36,000 for six-month “campaigns” such as in-store pop-ups, depending on the number of SKUs on display and the level of presence and space required. A brand might display two or three skus and pay the lowest price, or a few dozen skus for a fuller brand statement and pay the highest price.
Showfield has employees who search the web, attend trade shows, shop cities, and keep an eye out for trends to create items for the stores.
“We don’t believe in having heavily marketed spaces in a transactional way. Heavily marketed environments, if that’s what you’re looking for, can be more efficiently shopped online,” Nathanel said. “Showfields is more about storytelling.” He calls the 10 to 12 employees at the store “connectors.” They have product knowledge covering multiple brands and help buyers.
Brands not only get space, but also get a “dashboard” of data that appears granular. Sensors from Retail Next and Showfields point-of-sale software record sales figures, traffic figures, the gender of customers, whether they touch and interact with products or simply walk by, among other things.
Nathanel said Showfields was profitable but declined to disclose 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 a few other sources. He declined to specify any of the future locations.
When asked how he came up with the name Showfields for his retail concept, a nameplate somewhat reminiscent of Chicago’s venerable and now-defunct Marshall Field’s, Nathanel said, “We wanted to create something that felt like a heritage brand, a brand that’s been around for a while.”