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The Most Interesting Store in the World: Tal Nathanel, Co-Founder of Showfields

June 26, 2019

Tal Nathanel, co-founder of Showfields joins us today on Real-World Branding. Tal is a serial entrepreneur with 12 years of experience in creating successful consumer products. He is now co-founder of Showfields, the most interesting store in the world; a revolutionary retail concept that invites you to discover and engage with the brands of tomorrow. If you like our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!

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Bill Gullan: Greetings, one and all. This is Real-World Branding. I’m Bill Gullan, president of Finch Brands, a premier boutique brand consultancy. Thank you for joining us. It is not every day when you can say that your guest is the co-founder of the most interesting store in the world. That is what Showfields proclaims itself to be, and I’m sure after hearing the interview with Tal Nathanel, who’s the co-founder, you will agree, and if you haven’t been to Showfields, you will be dying to go.

Bill: The first store, hopefully of many, is at 11 Bond street in Lower Manhattan. It’s just north of Houston, and it’s a wonderland of curated brands that are the brands you need to know across wellness and design and fashion and different categories. There’s a fourth floor up there … Well, we’re going to tell you all this, so I don’t need to give it all away, but enjoy hearing from Tal Nathanel, co-founder of Showfields.

Bill: Great pleasure today on the Real-World Branding podcast. Speaking to us from the store, I believe, from Showfields at 11 Bond Street in Lower Manhattan, Tal Nathanel, who’s the co-founder of Showfields. Thanks for joining us.

Tal Nathanel: Thanks for having me. Good afternoon.

Bill: Yeah. It’s our pleasure. We’ve had a couple of minutes figuring out tech stuff, so I hope everything holds, and we’re grateful for you bearing with us.

Bill: So, let’s start where we normally do. Showfields is an amazing concept that we can’t wait to get into. But if you could take us a little bit through your career that led up to this, and some of the twists and turns along the road for you.

Tal: Yeah. I’m originally from Israel, so born and raised in Israel. Like most Israelis, after you graduate from high school, you go to serve in the IDF. So that’s what I did for two years. And after that, when you’re 21, your journey for real life, I guess, starts. So most people travel. And so I did as well, traveled for a few months, I wished a few years, few months in Asia, all around, I guess.

Tal: And the minute I got back, started my Bachelor degree, and I think two weeks into my Bachelor degree is where I started my first startup company. It was a small social network that allowed tourists coming to Israel to better connect, and it was a great experience. I want to say that probably a year after, I co-founded another company that did events, so it was an event production company.

Tal: This company, we started with doing student events around that campus, and today this company is the biggest event production company in Israel. A few years back it was majorily acquired by LiveNation, so it’s LiveNation Israel, I guess.

Tal: So this was and still a fun journey. I was the Head of Creative, and currently just a shareholder, and around seven years back, I also co-founded another company with three other partners called My Check. My Check was a mobile payment solution, allows you to walk into a restaurant, see the check running on your phone and just being able to walk out like you own that place. It was a payment company, but it was more about the experience.

Tal: That’s what both me and my wife and our amazing daughter here to do to New York six or seven years ago, even though I promised my wife it was going to be for a year, it’s been six and a half years. So I hope she doesn’t listen to this podcast, and then, “Ah, I told you so.”

Tal: Yeah. Around two and a half years ago, I started Showfield, which looking forward to tell you also about that. But my life was always filled with the entrepreneurship and adventures.

Bill: Right. And so Showfields, I’ll ask you to introduce it in a minute, but it calls itself, and I think not without reason, the most interesting store in the world. What is it that led you to, and this isn’t classical traditional retail, but what is it that led you to retail and to Showfields? Could you tell us a little bit about the founding story?

Tal: Yeah. I think that like most ha-ha moments, it usually comes after many, many, many years, or probably a long time of few things boiling within you before you get that Aha moment. And that’s one thing I always like to say to fellow entrepreneurship or young people who are starting businesses right now, is that we tend to think that it’s like I sat under the tree and the apple fell, when you’re thinking about Isaac Newton, where in reality, it’s probably 30 years of being inside a room learning math, so when that apple fell, things fell in place.

Tal: So, looking at the Showfields story, I think it started way, way back, my mother was a window dresser, I was an Israeli boy living in Tel Aviv, dreaming about how New York is going to look like from all the picture I saw from when she traveled and came back from shows. By the way, looking back, I thought that New York looks magical all day long. I didn’t know that you only traveled in Christmas. So, I assumed that this is what I’m going to see when I’m coming to New York. And seven years ago, we moved here and I’m like, “Where’s all the magic?” Because there is no magic, or enough magic in the street, because it’s not holiday season every day.

Tal: But in my head, it actually should be because it’s so exciting. So this is the first thing I’ve noticed. The second thing I’ve noticed is not only, there is no magic, it’s pretty similar to Tel Aviv. And, okay. So, same store, same brands, I get it. But when you dive deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper, there’s other things that just didn’t connect, like the fact that customer experience in those stores is not what I expected. There is a very big difference between going to Disneyland and experiencing a very holistic immersive type of an experience going through a journey to going to a store. And it sounds obvious, but again, in my head they’re not necessarily should be. Things should be more immersive and more fulfilling.

Tal: And lastly, seeing all the stores closing around us while in fact I know that there is actually more brands, more innovation than any other time before. So all of those things together one day came to, how can we solve for it? Why can’t we just create the most interesting store in the world, a place that I would want to walk into because it gives all of those things, like a better customer experience. How would it look like if someone would dare to build a store around the customer and not around the merchandise?

Tal: And that’s the journey that we started on. I hope we were successful, this is our first location, but that was the Ha-ha moment. It grew in, and then one day.

Bill: Right. So the Showfields model, there are floors that are dedicated to wellness, to home and design. And what you find on those floors is not the same old brands. It tends to be emerging, in most cases may be direct-to-consumer brands for whom this is their only or primary wholesale opportunity. I believe there’s coworking space, there’s certainly art and various installations. Could you tell us a little bit about how you curate and think about delivering that experience you were talking about?

Tal: Yeah. I think that it’s important to understand for a second, look, I’ll cover it quickly, what it is that we try to do. We went into a room and tried to figure out what does the customer really want? And we started mapping what we think is amazing and magical and fulfilling, and what would drive the best value, what can help customer grow. And we ended up with five things which we believe are what really customers are looking for today, things like curation and connection and community and convenience around the way that we are doing things.

Tal: So those things are the principles, almost, that around that we’ve built the space. So the first store, if we’re locally in 11 month, yes, has four floors. But when we’re thinking about what Showfield is, Showfield is actually a place that allows you to see and experience all of those things. So this building has four floors, the second building is going to have two floors, maybe the other one is going to have seven floors, and location number 500 is going to have one floor.

Tal: The goal is to create a space where you as a customer can walk in and see things you couldn’t see until today. So yes, to your point, many of them live online, and there are probably more beautiful, amazing consumer centric companies out there today than any other time in history, because the last tech kid was like this age of creators, there are so many beautiful things out there.

Tal: And what we are trying to do, tapping into that, is actually, as you said, curating. So we are trying to curate selection of brands, which we believe are the best fit for the neighborhood, for the customer that we have, for that specific location and for the time. So wellness is something which is really relevant for the time we live in and also for NoHo, and that’s why we dedicated big area from the store to wellness.

Tal: When we will open our San Francisco store, we will open our Miami store, our London store, the curation is going to be different. But the beautiful thing is that it’s always around what the customer want and nothing else. That’s our northern star.

Bill: Right. And so, on the fourth floor of the Bond Street location, there are a variety of events, both in some cases featuring the brands, in other cases, yoga and wellness, and there’s also a coworking space. It sounds like the loft, as you call it, is a community hangout for folks who are like-minded and interested in discovering something new.

Tal: Yeah. 100%. Again, one of the values which I believe are what customers are looking for are community, and we dare to ask how would a store look like if it gave room for the needs of a community? So we’ve created an open space and an insights space and a coworking, time slots and all the services and infrastructure that you need for that.

Tal: And the space itself looks like an apartment, but it’s also very flexible. So during the morning you can take a yoga class, during the day there is some coworking space where you can just come, no cost whatsoever, just chill and be surrounded by other creators like yourself. And in other hours there are panels and classes and workshops. And every night, the place turns into this, almost like an events space, but really just to use the brands who are here.

Tal: So when you’re thinking about what drives the most values, that convenience, that flexibility around space is something that is also very, very important. And it allows us to constantly optimize and being able to ask ourselves, what does the customer wants today? What does the customer would want tomorrow? And not be committed into only one answer. But being able to have that flexibility, and being able to forever staying optimized for his needs or her needs.

Bill: Right. Your co-founder, Katie Hunt, came to the Showfields experience whereas you were always an entrepreneur. She was, too, in a different way. I think she was early on the Warby Parker team, was the chief brand officer at Hinge, and has been involved in a lot of direct-to-consumer startups and early stage companies that have really made an impact. Could you talk about sort of how you all connected, and how her and your respective visions, obviously they’re aligned here, have played out on the big stage Showfields?

Tal: Yeah. 100% It’s actually a great question. So Showfield has three co-founders, there is Katie Hunt, which is in charge of the marketing and the sales and our CRO, we have Amir Zwickel, which is in charge of the real estate and the construction, and there is myself. We all got connected along the journey. In the last two and a half years Amir was the first one I met, and a bit later on I met Katie. When you’re thinking about what it takes to build Showfields, there are those three pillars, there is how can we build a space? There is a very complex real estate issue and aspect and that’s almost the opportunity of our business.

Tal: And Amir, coming from that background is really a rock star and was being able to pull things that only a entrepreneur startup approach to real estate could have achieved. Katie Hunt came from marketing background. She was employee number three in Warby Parker, and I think that the reason that we’ve connected is because she felt the problem that we are trying to solve from both ends. Both of the consumer, she’s like, “Where is everything? Why does everything look the same?”

Tal: But also as the third employee of Warby Parker, seeing them growing from zero to the point where after Era 3, they decided that what’s going to happen if we open stores, how is it going to look like? And being in the position where they were shaking before signing a 15-year lease, what start? What company today has 15 years. Visibility into the future. Back then, they were an e-commerce brand. So what does it even mean and how do we do it? We’ve never built a store.

Tal: So she felt, I think, the pain from both sides, the consumer experience and the brand pain. And I think that this is why we hit it off right from the beginning. She’s an amazing entrepreneur, but also, she has a lot of experience in both worlds, which is really very, very rare to see.

Bill: Right. And to your point about retail, this is not generally the time in the business cycle where traditional retail people are closer to clamoring to open stores. There are a few notable exceptions, and Warby Parker is a good example as well as other maybe online, traditionally direct companies, opening flagship retail, not hundreds and hundreds but other locations around major centers where the brand can really be well expressed and commerce can be reinvented in keeping with the visions of brands like Warby Parker, when it comes to the brands that you all offer within the Showfields experience, you mentioned curation, we’ve talked a little bit about many of them. They’re what you call the need-to-know brands across these categories: wellness, home and design. How frequently do they roll over? Could you talk a little bit about product and assortment strategy?

Tal: Yeah. Let’s start from the curation. The way that we curate the brands in store is, according to, as I said earlier, the time, the location, the neighborhood and the needs of the customer. But also, we are trying to look when we’re thinking about the brand mix of that all the brands that are in the space actually have the same DNA. So all brands in Showfield are, as I said, consumer centric themselves, they are very design oriented, they are very design driven, they are all usually mission oriented. So they came to this world with, “What can we do better for the customer?”

Tal: And what’s our do good strategy and how can we give back? And I think this is a very big part of this new age of brands, because hey, this is what defines their product, but also this is what defines their identity. And if you think about their gap, and the customer’s gap today is actually learning the story, getting to know the brand before they purchase, I really believe that today’s customer is really more driven by story, because he’s starving for those details. It’s less about the product. Product is the second stage. It’s like what is this? Why is it done like that? And being able to find like the exact solution to my need is what this new age of brands brought to the world. And this is why it’s so exciting.

Tal: So, yes, the space is filled with the need-to-know brands in each category, but if you ask me what really makes us the most interesting store in the world, because I know it’s a very bold statement, is actually the fact that we allow you to, to a meet those brands but also to meet brands that you didn’t know that exist. And that’s the mix that makes it interesting. The point is there’s literally more brands out there with amazing stories behind them and amazing founders and amazing product than I think anyone can imagine.

Tal: And usually the problem is discovery. How can you find them? And if you find them, how can you touch them? And it’s like such a long process. So being able to connect between you two newer and emerging brands and some anchor brands and brands that just by definition were never physical creates this beautiful mixture that, again, customers are finding very interesting. And that’s why, again, why we call ourselves the most interesting store in the world, not because in any shape or form we think we are, We are only a platform and nothing else.

Bill: Right. And to that end, you talk about helping your customers discover something new with every visit. What is the typical life cycle of a brand and Showfields? Are there several anchor brands who you think will always be in the assortment versus others that turnover at a regular interval? How do you think about newness and freshness?

Tal: I always say that like while in a shopping mall, the anchor tenet is that tenanted pool, is everyone to the store. And you can probably name with your fingers those same brands in every place. For us to anchor is curiosity. For us the anchor is discovery, for us the anchor is that you don’t know what you don’t know. So we want you to come back, not because you’re looking for something specific, but because you are in the journey of looking, and you don’t know what you’re going to find.

Tal: So in order to create this environment, we have to constantly change and innovate and mix the content, the art, the exhibitions, the brands, the product within that space. It depends on the category, but we have brands and experiences that are changing on a constant basis every three to six months. If we see that there is a brand that the customer really wants, then they might stay longer. But again, the experience of the brand, because brands don’t just show up in Showfield, the brand which is invited to Showfield actually, together with the brand, we get to build this beautiful immersive experience that tells the brand story. So even if the brand is going to stay longer, then what’s going to happen is that we are going to refresh and change the experience to be relevant to this cycle, to the new cycle. And again, this is why it constantly interesting for the customer.

Bill: Right. And part of the retail of course is the team. Traditionally there’s a balance between browsing and selling. One of the things that’s interesting about Showfields just on the web, you can sign up and have almost a guided tour, it sounds like, of the experience. How do you think about service and introduction and the people side of the business?

Tal: I think that, again, when you ask yourself what are the things where the customer wants today? Connection is a very big, very important part of it. And it’s interesting because it actually has two meaning. There is the connection which is digital. We want to constantly stay connected. We want to be able to start a transaction and finish a transaction anywhere that we want to, any time that we want with the easiest experience possible. And then on the other side of connection, we are actually thirsty for a human connection, and as time goes by and the world is going to become more digital, the need for human connection is, in our eyes at least, actually going to increase. So, by the way, I’m sorry for the noise in the back. We are constantly changing and building. So there is something going on here. This is what happens when you have so many builders and creators in one place.

Bill: The sirens are coming to get you.

Tal: Yeah. So, human connection is a very, very, very big part of retail. It was always, from the first days of retail and in the roots of retail, why people went to stores, is to have that personal touch with the person that can give you an explanation. And again, very big part of what it is that we are trying to do is to give customers and brands that service today. So when a brand joins Showfields, part of what we are providing them is the ability to have staffing, and it’s all amazing brand hosts that work for Showfield. And from a consumer perspective, when you walk into a store, you get to either checkout by yourself if that’s what you want to, discover without being engaged if that’s what you want to, but also being able to interact with experts around each product if that’s what you want to.

Tal: So, again, I think that flexibility is a very big part of what’s the needs of today and being able to allow you to choose, the customer, how you want to be addressed in that situation is something that we put a lot of emphasis on.

Bill: Right. Absolutely. You mentioned San Francisco, Miami, other plans, where does Showfields go from here?

Tal: When we think about what Showfield is, we think about what is the problem that we are trying to solve. And I think that the problem that we are trying to solve, actually, it’s a global problem. Customers walking in the streets of Paris, Tel Aviv, London have the exact same problem and brands in those places actually have the exact same problem. So for us it’s really about being able to provide the platform for that solution in as many places as possible. So, we will start with major tier one cities around the US and then all around the world. Those are the next few one that we are hoping to be in.

Tal: But again, the big picture is being able to have one or two Showfields in every tier one city, and another Showfield in every tier two city, and I think it would actually bring more opportunities for brands, because they would have the ability to scale internationally or even domestically overnight into 50 or 100 locations, which is something that really only the 1% of the 1% of the 1% of the brands who are doing retail get to do. So we are very excited about the possibilities there.

Bill: And to be able to expand with a partner and like Showfields who as opposed to the other existing majors are trying to, you’re focused on introducing brands in a way that connects and compels as opposed to knocking as much cost as possible out of the projects so you can get the keystone margin, and all these other typical retail race to the bottom types of considerations that have dotted the landscape. It’s a totally different model. Super cool.

Tal: Yes. I hope that the world would agree, but you described it correctly.

Bill: Yeah. Okay, good. I guess we’ll see. This is amazing, and I encourage all of our listeners, if they’re in Lower Manhattan, in, I guess NoHo we would call it, just north of Houston to give Showfields a look at 11 Bond. You will not be disappointed. It is the most interesting store in the world.

Bill: Tal, as you think back on the journey in your career that’s taken you here and will propel you even further, are there a couple of, I don’t know, lessons from the road or words to live by that have been important to you as you’ve made choices and established directions for yourself? I think we have a percentage of our listener base who are starting out, and trying to find inspiration. Anything you’d share with those folks?

Tal: Yeah. I guess two things which comes to mind. One, startups are like a roller coaster, right? If that’s the path that you chose, you need to know that. Sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down, and most of the time you want to vomit. But if you don’t feel that way, then it means that you’re not moving, and surely not moving fast enough. So, you need to be a certain person in order to choose that career, because those feelings are not negative feelings. If anything, most of the successful founders who I know actually enjoyed the ups and the downs in the same way. And I think that that’s a very big part of being able to be successfully in that universe. So it’s an amazing experience, just need to know what you’re getting into.

Tal: And I guess that the second part is just to never give up. If you have a dream, then life is, in my eyes, I’m a very dramatic, so, I always ask myself like, we leave only once, then if this is something that you want to do, when would you do it if not now? So whatever dream that you have, as stupid as you think it is, I think that it’s the chase after that dream that would get you to the next phase and that next phase is what we are always striving for. That’s this personal growth. So not being afraid of taking that next step and trying to chase your dreams because you are not supposed to know what’s happening next. The only thing you were supposed to know is that I want to do that next step.

Tal: I’ll finish with, I just thought about it as well. One of the people who are my inspirations are actually Thomas Alva Edison, which also my daughter is named after, and he has a beautiful quote which I really like and it’s crazy, because he lived like more than 100 years ago, but he has a quote that says: Good things happened to those who hustle while they wait. And if I need to leave people with one message, I think that’s that. It’s constantly pushing and changing and trying to hustle your way in any way possible while chasing your dreams, because that chase is, again, what’s going to take you the next step and nothing else.

Bill: It’s wonderful, very profound, and 100 years ago, or whatever the case may be, it’s certainly as relevant today as it’s ever been, and Edison is a worthwhile inspiration for everyone. Great place to leave it.

Bill: Tal Nathanel, co-founder of Showfields, advocate and ambassador for a new retail. We’ve been so grateful for your time.

Tal: Yes, thank you very, very, very much for bringing me and for giving me that stage, and hope to see everyone in the store.

Bill: Many thanks to Tal for fitting us in, given all that’s going on at Showfields, both day in, day out, as well as all the growth that’s planned. It is a fascinating moment in retail, and those concepts that are winning, at least on that side of the market, are those that are doing exactly what Showfields is doing, and very much worth a visit the next time any of you are in Manhattan or if that’s where you live. Get yourself down to Showfields. Super, super cool.

Bill: Three ways as always to help us at Finch Brands and the Real-World Branding podcast, let’s go through them quickly. Give us a rating and a review in the podcast store of your choice. It helps us become visible to those who would find value in this content. We try to do it every other week. We’ve been pretty good about that, but we certainly plan to get back to interviews with business builders, and for folks who would enjoy this a to find it often, the reviews and the ratings are what we understand helps us pop when people search for new shows to listen to, which I know that I’m always doing on the podcast side, although my interests tend to be more pro wrestling and sports gambling. But anyway, that’s just me.

Bill: So, rate and review helps. And then the third way is let’s keep the dialogue going. Guest ideas, topic ideas, criticism, praise, anything that’s on your mind, @billgullan or @FinchBrands on Twitter is probably the best way to do it, but also social channels lead here. Come through our website too, if you’d like. We’re just grateful for your time and we work hard to bring great interviews and interesting content every other week. And in that spirit, I think we definitely succeeded this week. We’ll sign off from the Cradle of Liberty.

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