Michelle Collins is out to revolutionize the way travelers shop.
Collins is the founder of A Non-Agency, which describes itself on LinkedIn as "a curated creative collective consultancy of technology, content, fabrication, audio & visual, spatial and experiential design entrepreneurs."
The company is hosting a "Palm Springs escape" in California this March. A Non-Agency's second showroom social (following a sucessful 2021 launch of the concept in Miami, Florida), the event provides travelers a unique comingling opportunity with a curated group of some of the hottest local designers, artists, craftspeople, and wellness experts. Bringing these creatives to a hotel allows guests and locals a like the opportunity to learn about and purchase items without having to search for open brick and mortar stores.
Out Traveler recently caught up with Collins to talk about this new approach to retail and the upcoming event in Palm Springs.
For some people shopping and travel are already entwined but for those who are new to it, can you explain how retail opportunities can enhance the travel experience?
Shared experiences matter the most. It used to be that the gift shop was the easiest, hassle-free way for a traveler to share that moment with a loved one. Whether it was business or the leisure traveler, it brought a little bit of that destination home. Then, we saw free-standing retailers begin to maximize the captive audience that they found in the hotel guest, whose mindset was more relaxed, open to discovery, and dying to pamper themselves. It’s not about the object that one acquires. It’s the symbol of that moment, which might have been a solo celebration, a work trip, or a special occasion.
Can you tell us a little about how you got involved in this space?
I’ve been creating experiences for products and brands that were seeking ways to delight existing customers, launch new products across categories, or engage new markets or clients (including Saks, Kate Spade, Lancome, Van Cleef & Arpels, Richemont). Then, I designed the Delta Airlines CES Keynote and Booth Experience two years ago which was about showcasing the future of travel. The COVID pandemic created such an immediate impact across every sector that we felt compelled to create a new hospitality retail platform as a service that would help solve a problem while introducing a consumer culturally relevant innovation – and we introduced the “Brand Closet Showroom Social” concept.
Miami Escape, one of A Non-Agency's brand showcase social events.
What you’re offering is something really new and innovative. Do you have a short “elevator pitch” to describe what your events are like and what they offer guests and travelers?
We seek out amenity rich spaces – hotels, mansion or home rentals, other luxury rental properties, etc. -- which naturally lend themselves to a socially-curated and relaxation-first experience. The social hours and the private showrooms are designed as a sort of traveling membership space which connects the local community, emerging and iconic luxury brands, designers, and experts with travelers seeking discovery and distinct storytelling experiences. We bring a taste of the local community to the hotel guest, while helping global designers and brands connect on a more meaningful level with the open-minded, curious traveler.
You’re creating really curated shopping experiences that are quite different from more traditional shopping experiences. Can you talk a little about that?
Unlike pop-ups and concept stores which do not encourage conversation or social interaction, the A\N/A Brand Closet Showroom Social concept does just that. Further, the hotel vibe, the look and feel, social activations are all designed to feel like an oasis from the day-to-day or the expected. We interview the designers and think about the story we wish to tell. This means we work with both established luxury brands, as well as emerging brands that meet a certain quality standard, as well as value authenticity and a desire to “do good” in an effort to provide exposure to those that truly deserve the visibility and can commit to a partnership. The chemistry of matchmaking is important to us. We don’t seek to fill a demographic for brands and retailers. Likewise, we don’t propose sponsors for our hotel partners who are not a fit with the traveler and community. We don’t build it and hope they will come; we build it for the place, space and most important, the people – traveler and community alike.
This innovative shopping space has particular interest to LGBTQ+ guests in terms of the locations chose and some of the brands, artists, and entertainment you’ve attracted. Are there other things you particularly want to highlight?
Our team has always represented true diversity, long before it became a PR message. As well, many team members and clients are from the LGBTQ+ community. My team at A Non- Agency®, and Kimpton are both committed to creating a space and experience where people can be their best selves and can share their authentic stories. Together, we want to give the space and time to emerging artists and brands that might not have had the same kind of exposure as more established brands where their customers already are. We want to help them make a personal connection with that customer.
Are your events limited to hotel guests or open to the general public as well?
Both. Hotel guests have certain perks of complimentary access. We want this to be a guest amenity that distinguishes the hotel offering it. However, our goal is to transform a hotel into a social, community and retail destination. We seek to create a destination within the community beyond the happy hour. The general public can purchase, reserve passes for the day or social hour, as well as the premium culinary experiences.
Michelle Collins (left) at the Miami event
Tell us a little about the Miami Brand Closet Social.
It was our first test, toe in the water at the height of a new normal - May 2021. The Kimpton Angler’s is a gorgeous classic space in a part of Miami that has seen a shift in community interest with massive real estate development in the surrounding areas. We discovered the original Mermaid Pool Villa portion of the renovated property which felt transformational, Mediterranean and non-Miami. It had good bones; the space and the bungalows felt special to me. I saw the perfect intersection of delight and curiosity in a setting that was not about being flashy and the whole be-and-be-seen culture.
Hence, we created the Miami Escape as a way to suggest that it was a place where the new audience of transplanted New Yorkers and travelers alike could find a hide-away. We transformed the private three- story bungalows and private pool area into its own secret destination in the hotel itself. We also curated a set of brands from all categories and price points to explore the efficacy of the Brand Closet Showroom Social’s relaxation-and-discover model that put hospitality, retail and social curation at the top of the priority vs. the shopping and party vibe of Miami.
We were blown-away by the social interaction between the designers, the influencers, hotel staff, the hotel guests and the non-hotel guests. It was magical. People who would normally not socialize were mingling as if they were in a private home. The metrics were industry disruptive. For example, more than 63% of guests made a purchase there. This is in stark contrast to the 7% or 8% that typically do in a traditional retail setting; 2% in online shopping, or the 28% at high-performing pop-ups.
Snowboards from queer artist Sam Kirk on display at Miami Escape
Your event in Palm Springs sounds even more impressive, can you talk a little about what attendees can expect?
It’s the next level. We are integrating ourselves into the physical areas of the hotel from the lobby to the dining to the rooftop pool and more. We will become part of the concierge services and offer guests a very different reason to stay in as well, as well as offer a tasting of the best of digital art (drone show), fine and cultural art (Sam Kirk), bespoke jewelry and millinery, food, wine and spirits, health and wellness (rituals, products and fitness), and curated designers for men and women (local businesses, as well as international brands). One step further, we intend to showcase the best of the Palm Springs community by hosting socials and a charity brunch that involves the people who are advocates for the best of Palm Springs.
Can you tell us about your partnership with Kimpton Rowan? Why is Kimpton the right hotel for these events?
Kimpton leads the way in the LGBTQI+ employee satisfaction. Kimpton also has a unique voice and personality in each of their communities and they tailor their guest experience to the community and location of each property, which is what we do with our Brand Closet Showroom Social experiences.
Beyond that, it’s a true pet friendly hotel. I have a gorgeous cat -- Ragnar. I can’t tell you how annoyed I am by hotels that don’t welcome my fur baby or dictate that all pets must stay in their crate while guests are not in the room.
Most importantly, Kimpton has been the most responsive to our innovation. Not to say that we don’t see a future with all the hoteliers. We appreciate those that take a chance on us and Kimpton is a believer.