(F.l.t.r.) FABIAN HELLBUSCH, Head of Marketing at Union Investment Real Estate GmbH. Image: Union Investment. JENS HOREIS, Head of Property Management at Sonae Sierra Germany. Image: Sonae Sierra.
Retail

“Alexa has stood for new, different, and innovative from the outset”

The “First Store by Alexa” contest gives wings to new business ideas. Fabian Hellbusch, Head of Marketing at Union Investment Real Estate GmbH, and Jens Horeis, Head of Property Management at Sonae Sierra Germany, tell ACROSS all about it in an interview.

ACROSS: HOW DID THE “FIRST STORE BY ALEXA” IDEA ARISE? WHAT ARE YOU EXPECTING FROM THE COMPETITION?

FABIAN HELLBUSCH: Alexa on Alexanderplatz is predestined for a competition with exciting new concepts. With 16 million customers per year, it is one of the most successful and fascinating venues in Germany and possibly in Europe. Trends are created and creativity meets innovation here in the heart of Berlin. Newcomers and existing brands will find an excellent platform to try something new. For Alexa’s 10th anniversary, we were looking for an idea to highlight this particular quality. The First Store competition fits this perfectly. Inspiring new concepts for an existing center itself requires new ideas. We are sure that this courage to tread new paths will pay off.

JENS HOREIS: Alexa was has stood for “new,” “different,” and “innovative” from the outset, which has manifested itself in many examples in the architecture, design, and tenant mix.

ACROSS: WHAT SORT OF PARTICIPANTS ARE YOU HOPING FOR FOR THE COMPETITION? IS “FIRST STORE BY ALEXA” ALSO OPEN TO INTERNATIONAL RETAILERS?

HOREIS: We want enthusiastic competitors who want to present their personal ideals as new business ideas in Alexa. We don’t want any restrictions on new business ideas and are extremely open to new things. That is what gives this competition a special touch. We would of course also love for international retailers to participate in the competition. We have therefore drawn up the tender documents in German and English in order to address interested parties from abroad directly. We live in an increasingly global world in which retail knows no limits. We are therefore very much looking forward to a great deal of participation by international retailers, especially since Alexa’s international flair is highly popular with tourists from home and abroad.

HELLBUSCH: The retail spaces in Alexa are popular venues for many different segments—manufacturers and companies in the fields of technology, food, fashion, and accessories all feel very at home. Ultimately, however, it is the customers who decide which concepts work. We therefore want to involve Alexa’s customers in several of the contest’s phases. This includes during the vote and brainstorming: What innovative concepts would they like to see in Alexa? What companies or products would they like to see in a first store worldwide in Alexa? We are very curious about what shop ideas are lying dormant in backyards and in marketing departments and boardrooms that can be brought into the competition.

ACROSS: WHY SET UP THE COMPETITION IN TWO CATEGORIES—I.E. “BEST NEWCOMER” AND “BEST BRAND”?

HELLBUSCH: Start-up companies and established brands that want to test the path to the offline world with a first store are equally interesting for Alexa. We want the competition to raise awareness of Alexa among new concepts seeking a springboard and the best showcase that Berlin currently offers. At the same time, we believe different criteria must be used to evaluate store concepts from newcomers than those used for established brands. We do not want to assess them on a single scale, but ensure that we are comparing things that can really be compared. Creating different competition categories was the best way to do that.

ACROSS: HOW ARE YOU ENSURING THAT “FIRST STORE BY ALEXA” GETS THE DESIRED ATTENTION SO THAT ENOUGH INTERESTING PARTICIPANTS APPLY?

HELLBUSCH: The prize—their own store in one of the highest-selling sites for retailers in Europe, six months’ base rent free, plus related media attention—is the basis for generating the great deal of attention that we hope to achieve even for the competition’s first run. This will be the case in Germany, in particular, but also beyond. Such a prize, which seeks and promotes innovation, requires innovative approaches to marketing as well, of course. Social media, viral marketing—and last but not least, Alexa’s new mall-partnership in the United States—are therefore important pillars in our communications concept. These will help screen unusual business ideas that can also be presented successfully in a shop in Germany. We are naturally also relying on the “coolness factor” of being the industry frontrunner. We will focus in particular on the first contest in our campaign, which honors the “very first shop.”

ACROSS: THE WINNER IN THE CATEGORY “BEST NEWCOMER” MAY NEED ASSISTANCE IN THE AREAS OF STORE DESIGN AND STORE EXPANSION AS WELL AS WITH THE MARKETING AND ADVERTISING CONCEPT. HOW DOES THE WINNER GET THIS?

HOREIS: We will of course provide the winner with all the experience Sonae Sierra has to offer as an internationally renowned shopping center developer with expertise in all areas. In particular, the marketing and design department will assist the winner in construction and marketing matters.

HELLBUSCH: Mister Spex (see interview here) and Hutstyler provide best-practice examples in Alexa that confirm to us and the prospective companies that taking this challenging path is the right way to go.

ACROSS: WHAT DO EXISTING ALEXA TENANTS THINK ABOUT “FIRST STORE BY ALEXA”?

HOREIS: We have received a very positive response about the competition from our existing tenants. They expect Alexa to continually present new things to the outside world, including beyond the borders of Berlin, and this competition underscores that commitment. Many tenants have said: “This fits with Alexa.”

ACROSS: ASSUMING SUCCESS, CAN YOU IMAGINE HOSTING A COMPETITION LIKE “FIRST STORE” IN ANOTHER SONAE SIERRA SHOPPING CENTER?

HOREIS: “First Store” is itself a unique concept with a special purpose, so it would be quite hard to replicate it one-to-one in another German mall. The concept would need to be adapted to local needs. But we can very well imagine implementing it one-to-one in one of our shopping centers outside Germany if the site’s basic requirements are similar to Alexa’s. It is also possible to pick up on the idea and implement it with our partner shopping center in New York. In principle, however, the competition’s motto is: “First Store by Alexa.”

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