Following in the footsteps of major brands such as Apple, Nike, Harley Davidson and ESPN, LivingSocial is now seeking to enhance its core brand via a retail “experience” center where book clubs, cooking classes, painting classes and performances can all take place.
The effort follows a trial of a LivingSocial membership program with built-in discounts and perks, a la Amazon Prime. Amazon, which owns 31 percent of LivingSocial, has been developing drop-off sites and is rumored to be contemplating its own stores.
As reported in The Washington Post, LivingSocial has paid $3 million to renovate 918 F Street, a six-story building near the hot new retail area of the Verizon Center and a few blocks from its headquarters. As the article recounts, “There’s an industrial-grade kitchen for temporary ‘pop-up’ restaurants. In a cooking classroom, high-definition, flat-screen monitors connected to motion-sensor cameras give an over-the-shoulder view of a chef at work. Another area could host intimate music sessions, and ‘flex’ rooms will host everything from yoga classes to book lectures.”
To us, the center is a natural extension of Living Social Adventures, in which Living Social acts as the host and promoter for experiences that can combine an outing, a meal and entertainment. One question is whether the cost can be paid back — $3 million appears to be the cost of the building. The extensive renovations may bring the cost higher. A second question is whether the experience center can be replicated in other markets.
The center opens Feb. 16 with a $119 Mexican dinner — not cheap — by celebrity chef Mike Isabella. The meal is a warm-up for a new D.C. restaurant Isabella is launching in the spring. LivingSocial told The Post that the idea is to extend its focus on lifestyle branding and move away from being known as a coupon company. The term it uses is “scarce experiential.”
Given the focus on classes, LivingSocial’s tie-in with Amazon, and Amazon’s purchase of TeachStreet, it’s surprising that Amazon isn’t leveraging TeachStreet’s relationships with independent teachers. Instead, it has closed down the service.