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Is theatre the future of retail?

Specialist beers on tap

One of the perks of this job is the seemingly endless flow of invitations into my inbox to product launches, gala ceremonies and venue openings. In early June, I was treated, along with several members of the Anthill crew, to one such occasion — the launch of a new concept bar in Melbourne’s CBD.

Typically, the venue was hidden down a side-street at the wrong end of town (in stark contrast to Sydney bars, which seem to apply a more ‘in yer face’ approach to marketing).

It must have been a good launch (a generous one, at least) because my fellow Anthillians and I arrived at 1pm and left around 11pm, before a brief interlude at a Karoake bar, when common sense set in (after all, it was a ‘school night’).

While my memory of the evening might now be a bit hazy, one important element did stick in my head, supported by this moment in time recorded on my iPhone.

Biero Beer Vaults

The bar at the centre of this meandering tale is called Biero and the cylindrical pipes of amber hues seen in the clip are called Beer Vaults.

The purpose of the innovation, created by industrial designers JONESCHIJOFF specifically for Biero, is to make expensive and rare beers available by the glass.

For example, beer that is sold for $150 a bottle (and more, apparently) can now be purchased by the millilitre, without spoiling the remainder of the bottle.

For beer aficionados, I imagine this innovation will be hailed an enormous boon (personally, I’m a quantity over quality type of guy). However, I suspect that the real commercial advantage drawn from the Beer Vault might not be its capacity to expand beer drinkers’ palates and prevent wastage.

Rather, the theatre inherent in such a gadget could be said to offer even greater value.

Sure, the staff were friendly. And the food was sensational! Yet, what I will remember from that night, and have talked about since, are the beer vaults. In that sense, they were indeed remarkable.

Cherry Bean In-Store Roasting

The Biero experience popped into my head (like any truly ‘sticky’ innovation should) several weeks later when I stumbled upon a coffee franchise in the streets of Pyrmont, behind Darling Darling Harbour, in Greater Sydney.

This place was called Cherry Bean. Once again, the staff were friendly. The coffee was good (even for this Melbourne-based coffee-snob) but something else caught my eye (below).

Cherry Bean Roasting Contraption

It was hard to miss, taking up about a third of the cafe’s floor space. Apparently, several times a week the apparatus is put to use, roasting coffee, causing neighbours and pedestrians to salivate (and stop by), captivated by the smell of caffeinated aromas.

A short time later, I passed by the window of a shop in yet another city selling expensive, boutique moisturising lotions.

The floor was covered with large, crispy Autumn leaves. In fact, the leaves were mounded knee-high. I couldn’t help but enter the store, just to experience the pure pleasure of pushing through the crackling foliage.

(Unfortunately, the name of the store escapes me and, with all the beer and coffee, I’m aspiring for a more gnarly look.)

These three experiences got me thinking.

Pubs and bars have been treating patrons to live music for centuries to get us out of our homes. With more of us making our purchasing decisions online, perhaps retailers now need to do something more.

Could theatre be the future of retail?