Idea In­cu­ba­tor

It’s a phased ap­proach for new con­cepts, prod­ucts and ex­pe­ri­ences to “ac­ti­vate” the Neiman Mar­cus stores.

WWD Digital Daily - - Front Page - BY DAVID MOIN

Neiman Mar­cus un­veils new con­cepts in its stores this week gen­er­ated by its Idea Fac­tory.

Start think­ing about Neiman Mar­cus dif­fer­ently.

Through its newly formed “Neiman Mar­cus Idea Fac­tory,” the lux­ury re­tailer be­gins this week to un­leash an ar­ray of con­cepts, prod­ucts and ex­pe­ri­ences — from pierc­ing and per­son­al­iz­ing of fash­ion prod­ucts by graf­fiti artists, to can­dle-mak­ing, epi­cure and cus­tom-mix­ing beauty creams of your own — not tra­di­tion­ally found in bricks-and­mor­tar de­part­ment stores. Some of it will be vis­i­ble over the next two weeks; more will be no­tice­able in the fall and beyond, as the Idea Fac­tory takes off.

“It’s a phased ap­proach, start­ing Wed­nes­day with a se­ries of activation­s with some re­ally cool part­ners. What they will be do­ing is a lit­tle bit un­ex­pected,” said Ed Burstell, Neiman’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent, prod­uct in­no­va­tion.

In an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view on what he’s been cook­ing up for Neiman’s since join­ing the com­pany in Jan­uary, Burstell said the first phase of the Idea Fac­tory be­comes re­al­ity this week (al­beit mod­estly, com­pared to what will hap­pen in the fu­ture) and will be staged at five Neiman’s stores over the next two weeks. Much of the phase one ac­tiv­ity in­volves bring­ing artists to the stores and en­abling vis­i­tors to en­gage with them and have them per­son­al­ize and cus­tom­ize sports­wear, jeans, jack­ets and ac­ces­sories, with art­work.

But phase one is the “tip of the ice­berg,” Burstell said.

For phase two, which ramps up in Septem­ber, “We’re iden­ti­fy­ing con­cepts in epi­cure, food and bev­er­age, travel, per­sonal and fam­ily wellness, and so­cial con­scious­ness,” Burstell said. “We will be rolling out some re­ally ex­cit­ing ini­tia­tives around those, ul­ti­mately ex­pand­ing the di­a­logue so we re­ally do be­come more cul­tur­ally rel­e­vant.”

Burstell is lead­ing the Neiman Mar­cus Idea Fac­tory, es­sen­tially an in­cu­ba­tor for rolling out fresh ideas, ex­pe­ri­ences and exclusives, and think­ing about Neiman’s as more than just a lux­ury store for de­signer goods and posh ser­vices. It’s an ef­fort to con­nect with a wider base of cus­tomers and in­crease traf­fic and rel­e­vancy in a world where peo­ple are shop­ping and spend­ing dif­fer­ently.

As Neiman’s of­fi­cials said, the Idea Fac­tory “reimag­ines how our cus­tomers ex­pe­ri­ence our stores and dis­cover brands that in­spire them.”

Burstell char­ac­ter­ized the Idea Fac­tory as “a test­ing lab­o­ra­tory that falls out­side a tra­di­tional ap­proach.”

Each year, Neiman Mar­cus hosts over 3,000 in-store “mo­ments” or events, such as de­signer ap­pear­ances, par­ties, launches, etc. across its 42 lo­ca­tions. Neiman’s does have a track record of think­ing out of the box, hav­ing been the first de­part­ment store to push lux­ury on­line; launch­ing in 1957 the “Fort­night,” a widely copied for­mat for merchandis­e ex­trav­a­gan­zas themed around dif­fer­ent coun­tries or re­gions of the world, and each hol­i­day sea­son break­ing out the over-the-top fan­tasy Christ­mas cat­a­logue.

How­ever, up un­til the last few quar­ters, re­sults at the Neiman Mar­cus Group have been dis­ap­point­ing, with traf­fic at the stores un­sat­is­fac­tory amid some con­cerns that they be­came for­mu­laic, pre­dictable and were lack­ing in verve. Busi­ness at the stores has been some­what off­set by the re­tailer’s strong on­line sales, which rep­re­sent about a third of the to­tal vol­ume.

With the Idea Fac­tory, “We’ve adopted this whole notion of think­ing dif­fer­ently and hav­ing dif­fer­ent ideas,” said Burstell, who started his ca­reer as a spritzer at Macy’s and has emerged as a lead­ing in­dus­try in­no­va­tor. “We re­ally want to broaden our nar­ra­tive beyond fash­ion with our cus­tomer com­mu­nity. To be more rel­e­vant, you need to have a cul­tural con­ver­sa­tion. We love the idea of push­ing the lim­its a lit­tle bit here, see­ing what kind of ap­petites our cus­tomer base has and what kinds of cus­tomers this at­tracts.

“I’d say pierc­ing in the store is push­ing it a lit­tle bit. When I was at Lib­erty, pierc­ing was a huge busi­ness. But for this pop-up at Neiman’s, it will be pierc­ing from the neck up, be­hind a screen.”

Brian Keith Thomp­son, pro­pri­etor and “chief pierc­ing of­fi­cer” of The World Fa­mous Elec­tric Tat­too on Mel­rose Av­enue in Los Angeles, which draws a celebrity clien­tele, will be at Neiman’s in Bev­erly Hills Thurs­day through Satur­day.

Asked if Neiman’s would con­sider a tat­too par­lor, Burstell replied, “No — not yet.”

He joined Neiman’s af­ter a very short stint at the Hud­son’s Bay Co. in a sim­i­lar role. He said he left for per­sonal rea­sons. Be­fore that, he had a suc­cess­ful nine-year run at Lib­erty of Lon­don as man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and was in­stru­men­tal in grow­ing the busi­ness and form­ing in­no­va­tive col­lab­o­ra­tions with the likes of Hermès, Manolo Blah­nik, Nike, Uniqlo, Kenzo, Marc Ja­cobs and Dr. Martens.

Early in his ca­reer he worked at Neiman’s in Westch­ester, held mer­chan­dis­ing and ex­ec­u­tive po­si­tions at Bloom­ing­dale’s and Henri Ben­del and re­turned to Neiman Mar­cus Group in 2004 as Bergdorf Good­man’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent, gen­eral merchandis­e man­ager, non-ap­parel.

He’s de­vel­oped a net­work of con­tacts in fash­ion, art and re­tail, from pierc­ing and tat­too artists to vis­ual artists and cou­ture de­sign­ers, en­abling him to bring new con­cepts and ta­lent to Neiman’s.

But he’s not do­ing it alone. Burstell is work­ing with Jim Gold, pres­i­dent and chief mer­chan­dis­ing of­fi­cer of Neiman Mar­cus Group, and he has a team of four in the Idea Fac­tory. “We have a team, small but nim­ble. It’s sched­uled to grow,” said Burstell.

A big part of the pro­gram en­tails vis­ual artists “each bring­ing a dif­fer­ent medium to the ta­ble,” Burstell said. “Putting to­gether this group of world-class vis­ual artists hasn’t been done be­fore. The idea is that you can sit down and have a di­a­logue with these vis­ual artists and come away with unique prod­uct which is just yours. It’s the ul­ti­mate in per­son­al­iza­tion and cus­tomiza­tion.”

On Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day of this week, Neiman’s at the NorthPark Cen­ter in Dal­las will have graf­fiti artists from

KCA De­sign ap­ply­ing art­work to fash­ions brought to them by cus­tomers. There will also be hair di­ag­no­sis by Evo­lis, non­in­va­sive acupunc­ture with ear beads by Mona Dan and a Flower Gals pop-up florist, among other activation­s.

At Neiman’s in Bev­erly Hills, from Thurs­day to Satur­day, there will be artists en­gaged in prod­uct cus­tomiza­tion — Ev Bravado work­ing with rhine­stones; the Griggs Brothas, who spe­cial­ize in patch­work and em­broi­dery and have col­lab­o­rated with Adi­das and Nike, and Jimmy Paintz, a graf­fiti artist, as well as Brian Thom­son’s pierc­ing.

Neiman’s in Hous­ton, from Thurs­day though Satur­day, will fea­ture Evo­lis hair di­ag­no­sis, a Gar­den State Can­dle work­shop on Satur­day, Franzie’s Flow­ers and the KCA De­sign graf­fiti artist cus­tomiza­tion. Mona Dan will also be in Hous­ton of­fer­ing her acupunc­ture ser­vices.

Sev­eral of the artists will move on to Neiman’s in At­lanta and on Michi­gan Av­enue in Chicago from June 14 to 16, to charge up those lo­ca­tions as well.

Other pos­si­bil­i­ties for the fu­ture, Burstell said, in­clude work­ing with artist col­lec­tives, travel-re­lated pre­sen­ta­tions, and new and ex­ist­ing brand part­ners for ex­clu­sive activation­s. For ex­am­ple, “We are hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with Mon­cler on how their ge­nius col­lab­o­ra­tions can come to life in our stores,” Burstell said.

“It’s re­ally about ac­ti­va­tion. We have to test dif­fer­ent con­cepts out­side the tra­di­tional ap­proach, with lead­ing de­sign­ers, in­flu­encers and re­ally ex­pos­ing cre­ative minds. We have to po­si­tion our­selves for the fu­ture and run real fast. At the same time we are go­ing to have some fun with it. Some­times things are too se­ri­ous. Let’s let loose a bit.”

Asked if the Idea Fac­tory was an at­tempt to bring more young peo­ple to the stores, Burstell replied, “We’re tap­ping into where the col­lec­tive con­scious­ness is. It re­ally isn’t about age. Ev­ery­one is hav­ing a di­a­logue about wellness, so­cial con­scious­ness, or travel. This tran­scends age groups.

“I have a won­der­ful global net­work” of con­tacts, in Europe, Los Angeles and New York, Burstell said, keep­ing him on top of trends, pop cul­ture and hap­pen­ings.

“I am con­stantly cu­ri­ous. When you wake up one day and you are not, it’s time to pack it in.”

“We’ve adopted this whole notion of think­ing dif­fer­ently and hav­ing dif­fer­ent ideas.…We re­ally want to broaden our nar­ra­tive beyond fash­ion with our cus­tomer com­mu­nity.”

— ED BURSTELL, NEIMAN MAR­CUS

Ed Burstell

In­side Neiman Mar­cus at the Roo­sevelt Field Mall on Long Is­land.

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