In the city of San Francisco, you will find three North Face stores within three square miles.
Within the walls of each store however, you will find a unique experience — different product, different employees and a totally different aesthetic — each intended to speak to a unique type of customer.
The North Face is a brand with a heritage deeply rooted in outdoor adventure. Their stated mission is clear: “Provide the best gear for our athletes and the modern day explorer, support the preservation of the outdoors, and inspire a global movement of exploration.”
I will likely never climb Mt. Everest. My ideal outdoor adventure is an afternoon spent wine tasting. Still, I am a customer of The North Face.
For me, the optimal shopping experience can be found at The North Face store on Union Street (pictured below). Positioned on the same block as lululemon, Lorna Jane & Sweaty Betty, this location features performance-wear made exclusively for women who work out. There are cohesive color stories created cross-category, and everything surrounding the product - the walls, tables etc. - is white, making you feel more like you’re in an Apple Store than a North Face.
Our summer intern, Will, unsurprisingly found nothing to his taste in that location. However, as an avid outdoorsman, Will felt entirely at home at The North Face location in Union Square (pictured below).
Spending the majority of time going inside a massive tent pitched in the middle of the store - or chatting with store associates about the best pant to wear when hiking in Peru - Will wasn’t focused on the product, but the experience. He left feeling a renewed sense of attachment to The North Face brand that will likely impact his future purchase decisions, even if he didn’t buy anything on the spot.
The most unique experience of all is The North Face location just a block away from MakerSights HQ, in Jackson Square (pictured below). The vibe is high-fashion: dark walls + dim lights, intimidatingly cool employees and product that you are not sure you can quite pull off. You’d be hard pressed to find any of the product sold in this location on Mt. Everest - it is intended for the modern day, urban explorer.
In order to compete with the targeting capabilities that exist in the digital world, brands like The North Face must figure out how to play with personalization in the physical world.
The benefit of having such differentiated stores is that it expands the reach of the brand - and likely drives incremental sales across all locations within the city vs. many chains with multiple locations within the same area code.
The risk - and something that The North Face will have to continue to monitor - is brand authenticity. Can a brand truly be something to everyone without making this sacrifice? Time will tell. In the meantime, Will and I are very happy to have our corners of the city with a North Face that feels entirely made for us.
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