Monday, September 26, 2022

Fri Forjindam: Talking retail, experience design and MAPIC

This article is a transcript of episode 16 of InPark Tracks, our weekly podcast on all things themed entertainment.

Track 16: Fri Forjindam: Talking retail, experience design and MAPIC

In this episode of InPark Tracks, IPM Publisher Martin Palicki and Mycotoo Chief Development Officer Fri Forjindam discuss the MAPIC show where retail and experience design are transforming the way people shop. Recently, the annual retail property and destination event has sought out the leisure and attractions industry. In 2020, LeisureUp launched digitally as part of MAPIC bridging retail owners and operators with location-based entertainment creators.

At the most recent show in 2021, the conference had leaders from across the attractions industry discussing the future of leisure entertainment and its role in retail.

Fri Forjindam: My name is Fri Forjindam, and I make fun. I’m the kid who never grew up. [laughs] No, I am Chief Development Officer for Mycotoo. We are an entertainment development company in Pasadena with offices in Barcelona. We really are storytellers at heart. And we love building stories that can be sustainable way past us.

Martin Palicki: You had the opportunity to visit the MAPIC show in France. How would you best summarize the show? 

FF: I see MAPIC as a gathering of all the kids in high school who got picked on but are now able to come together again in a reunion and flex: developers, investors, some municipalities, suppliers, buyers. It really is a reunion of all these different disciplines that are focused on building a place anchored in retail, specifically.

MP: And how would you describe the state of retail and retail experiences currently? 

FF: There’s always been, and I think, for the last 10 years, that inevitable elephant in the room that everyone was talking about, which was, “Retail is dying. Internet is taking over.” You could argue that prior to social media it was a reality, but it wasn’t pressing, because it just wasn’t as a direct effect on retail business, as it was after social media.

Now you say social media specifically, because now you have quick, bite-size, instant consumption of product that is also complementing how people are buying things, right? So the storytelling and the narratives and the ways to communicate and market to people is super quick, super intense, instantaneous, social driven, and it’s driving all this spending online. So prior to four years ago, it was already a reality of what are we as retailers going to do, because the Internet is here to stay and online shopping is on this upward trajectory. 

Obviously with COVID, that trajectory of online shopping definitely was amplified or has been amplified. However, we’re seeing an interesting switch where even with that huge surge, with online shopping, experiences and the need for social connection in real space has also seen an interesting increase in attendance. Which is ironic, right?

The need to come back together and to socialize was a complete contrary to what people expected. What we’re seeing now is leisure being no longer the stepchild, but the really cool uncle that comes in with the iPad Christmas gift that is just charming and bubbly and attractive and really seductive in terms of attracting people and getting people there and keeping them there for hours on end. It’s a little bit more of an integrated solution as opposed to a last-minute thing. 

Entertainment isn’t a one size fit all. It really is an integrated process that has to speak to your vision. Entertainment as a strategy has to really be curated to what is the why and where are we headed? Entertainment is an emotional connection, and you feel connected to something when it feels authentic, when it feels genuine and seamless and immersive and true to who you are. You know, it can be escapism and that’s also a factor, but it can also be inspiring.

It can also be healing.

MP: Thinking about the history of entertainment in retail centers, there’s been this past solution of tried-and-true offerings, like VR experiences or motion simulators. But what you’re talking about here is more about bespoke and curated storytelling and entertainment. Are you finding that retailers and real estate developers are flocking to these more individualized crafted experiences?

FF: That’s relative because I think right now, at least coming out of COVID, the initial reaction is stop the hemorrhage. Stop the hemorrhaging of lost tenants, lost revenue, lost clientele and potentially lost brand, right? So that hemorrhaging is urgent, and people are quickly going for an immediate fix that’s just going to appease and give me some level of revenue coming in.

You will find the landlords and developers that are looking for entertainment offerings — or maybe not entertainment just any offering — they’re looking for products that already exist, right? Your social bar concepts, your social sort of immersive dining with gaming elements, your indoor entertainment centers that are already off the shelf. The challenge with that is that it’s a stop gap. And it’s good, and it can help with getting some level of revenue in the door and attract people. But in terms of that long-term development of how you’re going to differentiate yourself from your competitors as a destination, you aren’t setting yourself up for success because you’re just sort of doing the same thing your competitors are doing, as opposed to working with experience designers and other consultants in this space that really understand how to target entertainment and program to what’s your audience and to create a branded story and ecosystem that speaks to that. I think it’s starting to catch on: those that are saying, let’s really look at this as an opportunity to break the status quo and sort of push the boundaries still true to us. Let’s not go out of our way and create something that is not us, but there’s no reason why the caliber of entertainment that you’re introducing doesn’t also speak to your audience. 

MP: Was there any discussion or attention paid to sustainability issues and conservation in terms of the retail environment and consumption and–

FF: Can I be honest?

No.

And that was really disappointing. But I’ll tell you I think really it comes back to that hemorrhaging metaphor that I was talking about earlier. We are in survival mode right now. And, unfortunately, when you’re in survival mode, issues and talking points that have a much broader appeal that you may not necessarily feel the direct impact — like social justice, like eco-consciousness, like fairness, inclusivity, all these things that I think are super relevant and important to our systems and how we operate — those tend to get pushed to the back burner. And it’s fascinating to me.

So, no, I did not see that. Maybe there were conversations or panels that were focused on that. But I’ll tell you it wasn’t promoted aggressively enough where I thought, oh, this is something that’s important to the attendees. 

MP: Can you talk a little bit about any work that Mycotoo is doing in this area right now? 

FF: Ah! [sings] What can I say? What can I say? [laughs]

I can say this: 2022 is looking very exciting and promising. We’re definitely putting our money where our mouth is in terms of energies towards helping passionate people creating concepts that are an extension of their brand in a way that’s sustainable. On the other side: really looking at a few concepts that we will have opening that we will be developing and operating ourselves. That will also allow us to provide the operational and developmental support to some of our partners who aren’t just looking for design services, but are really looking at that 360 approach to development.

MP: You did lead a session during the conference, correct? 

FF: Yeah, it was with Yael Coifman of LDP and Reinhart with KCC, and of course, myself representing Mycotoo. And our conversation was to talk about the future of leisure in the retail space and some of the key indicators of things that are considered successful. 

Up until now, everyone has always just talked about the millennials, like how are we going to get millennials back to our properties and market to them? And it occurred to me: wait, I’m a millennial!

I’m technically a millennial, and I’m one of the creators of these projects. The folks that are building these successful products — be they the social gaming restaurant bar concepts or the really cool retail popups or experiential walkthrough immersive attractions that are now anchors to these developments — those are the millennials. They’re the ones conceiving and producing this work.

Who’s actually coming to it as a consumer, as a guest? It’s Gen Z. Gen Z is no longer this fringe group; they are a key. And Gen Z: they are all about authenticity, about things that speak to their lifestyle about transparency, about experience. 

MP: What other trends did the panel discuss? 

FF: The other thing that we were seeing are concepts that aren’t these mega theme parks that, quite honestly, a lot of markets can’t afford or don’t want to take the risk on.

We’re seeing these more experimental 1,000-10,000 square-foot concepts — be they a semi-permanent touring attraction that goes from market to market for three months here, six months there to quite literally a three-day pop-up that is designed to get people excited about a thing.

And it’s feeding into that FOMO effect. The rules are changing! Location, location, location, not so much. FOMO, a lot more than location. Brand loyalty and story and even with IP, the right kind of IP and developer alliances that make for much better storytelling. We’re seeing a lot more of that strategy and deep thinking and planning going behind how some of the leisure concepts are being rolled out and experimented with. And I am seeing experimentation less as a risky thing and more as a strategic thing.

MP: It sounds like the basic fundamental business model is shifting… 

FF: Yeah. Thank God though!

MP: …in a big way.

FF: I mean, isn’t that a good thing? Fundamentally, what it means is that it forces solutions to really come from anywhere and from anyone and from any market. No longer does it have to just be a Western product that can be the prototype that we now want to mass replicate in different areas.

I just feel like there’s a lot more play and more flexibility that’s happening in terms of how people are thinking of leisure. Like we have a big question that we’re asking which is: how do we save retail?

That’s the core question, but instead of just bringing in retail owners and traditional retail operators, we’re saying, nah, let’s bring in other folks. Let’s bring in all these disciplines. And now technology can actually not be a distraction from in-person interaction, but it can actually be a way to allow for social distancing and touchless experiences.

All these different disciplines are vital now. I just think there’s no other way but to have that level of multidisciplinary planning at the early stages to answer these very fundamental questions.

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InPark Tracks is a production of InPark Magazine. The executive producers are Phillip Hernandez and Martin Palicki. The music used for this episode is from Kevin MacLeod. This episode and its transcript were edited by Jordan Zauha with post-production by David Swope. The InPark staff includes Judith Rubin, Joe Kleiman, and Jordan Zauha.

Martin Palicki
Martin Palicki
Martin Palicki owns and publishes InPark Magazine. Started in 2004, InPark Magazine provides owners and operators the perspective from "in"side the "park." Martin has also written for publications like Sound & Communications, Lighting & Sound America, Attractions Management and others. Martin has been featured in Time Magazine, CNN.com and Folio. Martin lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.

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