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Inside Westfield Century City’s Infrastructure Supporting Experiential Retail

Now embarking on its 60th year in business, Westfield Century City is repositioning itself as a 24-hour destination by investing in experiential retail and activations.
Photo credit: Westfield Century City

Now embarking on its 60th year in business, Westfield Century City has become a beloved Los Angeles institution — one that has evolved alongside its broad demographic of Angelenos. It is this broad demographic, and its fast-evolving behaviors and expectations, that has inspired the team to invest more thoughtfully into events, experiential retail and activations that people love.

As Senior General Manager of WCC, Louis Schillace has witnessed this evolution firsthand. The changes accelerated during the property’s $1 billion redevelopment project in 2017, which included modernizing the center and “creating an events infrastructure that would support the future of retail and activations,” Schillace said in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “That was our pivot point where we shifted our focus, how we entertain the customer when they come on site, and changing how people use the space.”

While Schillace oversees operations, retail relations and marketing, he also has spent the four-plus years working closely with Sean Salvador, Westfield’s Senior Manager of Events Business Development. Salvador is driving the expansion of the property’s experiential business, which includes pop-ups, brand activations and events.

This collaboration has elevated WCC’s position as an experience center, making it a go-to destination for celeb-owned and buzzy DTC brands like the Kardashians’ Skims and Good American brands, as well as headline-generating activations like Lululemon’s dupe exchange location

“From a customer journey standpoint, it’s all about discovery,” Schillace said. “It’s truly a space where we offer consumers something exciting — they never quite know what to expect. It has really allowed us to deliver on the promise of the center being a cultural epicenter of LA. It’s challenging what consumers think a mall is and challenging what they expect from retail.”

Collaborating to Keep ‘Disruptive Concepts’ Brand-Relevant

Because Salvador’s core focus is to bring new and more abstract concepts into WCC, Schillace provides a critical gut-check, ensuring that these ideas fit into the overall “storytelling of the shopping center,” and align with what both consumers and retailers expect, Schillace noted.

Salvador added: “Collaboration is essential to making this work because there are always going to be things that are uncomfortable, different or even weird that you wouldn’t expect at a shopping center. I’ll go to Louis and say ‘hey, this is the idea. How can we make this work?’ He’ll then give me feedback and other ideas to make it even better. That’s why we sit in the same office.”

A Skims event experience. Photo credit: Westfield Century Center

Modular Spaces Create Turnkey Brand Moments and Activations

Once Salvador and Schillace agree on a concept, they leverage one of WCC’s dedicated spaces for events and activations.

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The Atrium Pop-Up is approximately 1,000 square feet and sits “at the heart of the shopping center,” according to Salvador. “The intention is for it to be a white-box space that can be utilized for a four– to six-week lease.” Salvador explained that while this space can be used for transactional retail experiences, some clients also have used the space to simply “pop up” for a few days. For example, Netflix did a three-day “For Your Consideration” campaign tied to its hit show Beef. During the holiday season, Wondery adorned the store with green fur to celebrate the launch of its The Grinch-themed podcast.

Adjacent to the Atrium is the main event Atrium Space, which is 8,600 square feet and equipped with lighting, sound and LED screens so that it can be flipped for an event. When the calendar is empty, consumers can flock to this space to eat, relax and recharge amid their busy shopping expeditions.

“What’s really special is that we have a large platform, with dedicated spaces, to hold these different events,” Salvador said. “And our calendar really runs the gamut from family-friendly events to more adult-focused entertainment.”

Designing Experiences that Drive Measurable Results

Because WCC’s experiential clientele is so diverse, it measures the success of these events and activations through various lenses. Some events, like the John Legend pop-up concert, generate a lot of buzz and drive new customers to the center. Other spaces are designed with the intention to sell. Brands taking the more traditional pop-up approach aim to harness the highly engaged, built-in audience of the mall to drive foot traffic and revenue.

The WCC team works with all clients to align on their goals, establish a vision for the experience they want to create and, perhaps most importantly, determine how these pop-ups, events and experiences will activate an engagement ripple effect that positively impacts retail tenants throughout the center.

“There are some very real metrics of success where brands are seeing super-high sales as a result of an event — it’s tangible and you can see it in the numbers,” Salvador said. “But then there’s the other part of this, where we really lean into just doing cool stuff that makes guests happy. That, for me, is success.”

A sneak peek inside the Grinch pop-up experience. Photo credit: Westfield Century Center

Creating a 24-Hour ‘Mall City Center’

As consumers’ increasingly demand ease and convenience from the shopping experience, shopping malls and centers are evolving to serve the broader scope of consumers’ needs, Salvador noted. “They’re becoming mini cities where you can go and do everything in one place — and part of that is entertainment. Our redevelopment project and the spaces we have to leverage here really speak to that and allow for different brands, whether they are in entertainment or retail or another industry, to activate in a very big way.”

Schillace agreed, adding that WCC’s strategy for courting brands and merchants is to create a “24-hour destination” where consumers can shop, eat and play based on their distinct wants, behaviors and needs. This diverse mix of retailers, restaurants and experiences allows WCC to meet the distinct needs of a very varied demographic — one that is “as diverse as LA itself.”

“We’re an institution that a lot of people have a connection to,” Schillace said. “This is not a place where we’re looking to focus in on a specific demographic. We want it to feel accessible and to have something for everybody when they come to the space, whether they’re coming from West Hollywood, Westwood and UCLA or Beverly Hills. We have something for every single one of those people and we strive to bring these people together in a unique way.”

Over the next year, WCC will be especially focused on expanding food and entertainment options to bring its “24-hour experience” to the next level. Real estate plays a key role in this process, which is why Salvador is tasked with identifying new spaces within the center where brands and entertainment partners can easily implement these new experiences.

“Events play a critical role in keeping things fresh and new, and doing cool things that people talk about,” Schillace explained. “We’re constantly challenging ourselves to find what’s next. We don’t want our retailers and clients to simply repeat what’s already been done.”

The Lululemon dupe store generated a ton of shopper and media buzz. Photo credit: Westfield Century Center

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