On being … bottle-able?

By Ingrid Sapona

The other day on his PBS show, Charlie Rose was talking with Arne Sorenson, President and CEO of Marriott International, and Ian Schrager. I knew what Marriott is so I didn’t bother looking Mr. Sorenson up, but I was curious about Schrager, so I Googled him. Turns out he was one of the co-founders of Studio 54, the famed 1970s nightclub. After that (and a few years in prison for tax evasion), Schrager became a hotelier and he is credited with coming up with the concept of “lifestyle hotels”.

One of the reasons I love Charlie Rose is because he asks really interesting questions. For example, he asked Schrager: “Where is luxury today? What’s the new approach?” Those questions, and Schrager’s response – that luxury doesn’t relate to how much something costs, but rather to how special it makes you feel, which he admitted was hard to define but is what they’re trying to “kind of capture in a bottle” – got me thinking. Once that happened I became engaged and interested in what the guests had to say, even though I don’t care about lifestyle hotels.

A few minutes later the discussion turned to a topic I was genuinely interested in – the idea of “creating experiences”. That expression has always gotten under my skin. It gets thrown around in a lot of contexts these days, but no one ever explains what they mean by it. So, I was especially interested when Charlie said to Schrager, “We talk about an experience. What makes an experience?” Great, I thought – let’s hear the supposed expert on this!

Schrager’s response left a lot to be desired, I thought. He said, “Everybody knows when they’re in a special place. It doesn’t depend upon how much money you have or your level of education. It doesn’t depend on any of those objective criteria. It’s an ethereal thing, a visceral thing and we all know it.” Schrager’s non-response response furthered my belief that the whole experience-creating thing is a bunch of B.S.

The next day I needed one ingredient for a recipe. I decided to stop in at a grocery store that opened about a month ago in a nearby new condo development. When the store first opened, a few of my neighbors mentioned they had stopped in and were very impressed. When I asked what they liked about it, they mentioned different things. One older couple was excited that the store has underground parking. They pointed out that it’ll be especially great in the dead of winter because they’ll be able to get in their car here, drive to the store, and then park in the store’s underground parking, avoiding the cold altogether. Another person mentioned all the prepared food that you can get “to go”.

The store is part of a large, well-known Canadian grocery chain that seems to always be a bit more expensive for everyday items than my normal grocery store. I hadn’t been to the new store yet and I figured that since I was only getting one item, I may as well get it there and check out the new addition to the neighborhood. To my pleasant surprise, the condo development that houses the grocery store was designed with a small main street-like strip between the high rise towers, all of which have shops on the street level. When they’re all leased, I think it’ll be quite a cute little strip.

On the street level there’s parking for about two dozen cars. There was a space right in front of the store so I parked and headed toward the grocery store door. As I did, I couldn’t help but notice through the huge front windows how inviting it was. As soon as you walk in, the first thing you see are bright, beautiful flowers of all sorts – some fresh cut, some in pots. My immediate thought was, “boy, one of those would sure brighten up my place!”

Just beyond the floral department was a steam table full of “to go” food. I don’t go for such stuff, but it did look appealing. The next thing to come into view was produce. This was where I started noticing that the scale of all the displays was, well, perfect. Though it’s a slightly smaller store than most in that chain, it’s clearly more than just an express-type store, which is particularly common downtown.

Though I was only there for one item, I couldn’t help but want to wander around, checking out different sections. As I made my way through the store, I just couldn’t believe how nice it was and, well, how it made me feel happy. Yup… I realized the store actually left me with a feeling. Suddenly Schrager’s vague comments about creating a “special place” made sense.

I’m sure all the things my neighbors mentioned – and the things I noticed, from the size of the displays, to the flow, to the fact that you can see all the beautiful flowers and produce through the huge front windows – were all part of the grocery chain’s effort to create a shopping experience that appeals to condo dwellers like me.

As I left, I had to admit that maybe there is something to that whole “experience” thing … and maybe it is something that can be captured …

© 2015 Ingrid Sapona


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