HOW THIS ONE OF A KIND BRICK AND MORTAR IS TAKING THE IDEA OF A MODERN DEPARTMENT STORE TO THE NEXT LEVEL
BY SAMANTHA FARAGALLI YOUNGHANS PHOTOS BY CHRIS LOUPOS
Sal Martorano was helping the founder of DIGMI Lifestyle Apparel launch his brand at a trade show five years ago, when a light bulb went off over his head. With a Wall Street background yet no retail experience, he still noticed that a plethora of emerging designers at the event were having trouble landing orders with big name department stores so he came up with an idea to help take these struggling labels to the next level.
“I said if I could develop a direct consumer company where I created retail as a service…where we would have brick and mortar and online sales, but also a digital marketing service and brand coaching as well as spaces in malls to put these people together, it would be a great thing,” Martorano explained. “So, I went around to trade shows for about a year to talk to different companies, and I got a tremendous reaction.”
That led to the opening of the Gathering Shops’ first location at Garden State Plaza in Paramus, NJ, on Black Friday (of all days) in 2018. That store now accommodates up to 70 emerging brands that rotate in and out for varied lengths of time, a remarkable diversity that helps explain the 40 percent customer return rate.
“We just have great reception from people in the store,” Martorano said, adding that the business’s mission is an easy one to stand behind.
“e Gathering Shops is an innovative retail platform to support emerging designers with marketing and branding services that [need] brick and mortar, E commerce exposure, and name recognition,” said company CEO and President, Jonathan Greller, who knew he wanted to be a part of the concept after just 30 seconds of talking to Martorano.
While the idea of one large store housing rotating and emerging brands (local and often di cult to nd anywhere else) is unique enough, there is a laundry list of additional reasons why this place stands out amid the monotony typically seen in malls.
“When you come into this space, it’s a clean, open, modern, and uniquely shoppable environment,” Greller pointed out. “Very few stores are doing experiences.
We have events multiple times a month, for example, where we spend time with designers to help them launch.”
The close bond the company has with its designers is vital. “[They] don’t just sell us product…we are invested in them and they are invested in us,” Geller said, noting that they also work with them on their social media platforms, plus podcasts and educational support services.
Of course, Geller added, customers are a pivotal consideration.
“Everything we do is about them,” he said. “Every discussion and every meeting we have…everything that goes on in the store is about what the customer wants,” adding that response has been so positive that a second location, at Bell Works in Holmdel, is set to open in mid-October.
“Bell Works has a spirit that’s very similar to what we stand for,” Greller noted. “What’s exciting about it is that it’s a place where you can come together and feel like you’re in a neighborhood… like you’re in a city when you’re actually in the suburbs. They have offices, retail, wellness, and a rooftop bar. The Gathering Shops is a place where you can also experience diversity… to shop emerging designers and really understand what these varied businesses are about.”
And the plan is not simply to stop in New Jersey, either. The company is eager to expand beyond the Garden State; Martorano revealed they want to “bring on as many brands as we can and expand around the country.”
The Gathering Shops
Garden State Plaza Mall / 201.845.1111