Imagine spending a weekend at a hotel, admiring an ottoman in the lobby or the pillows on your bed, and then deciding to purchase the piece upon checkout to take home with you. At the Sofitel Foshan, China’s first furniture-experience hotel that opens this month, guests are encouraged to do exactly that.
Located in China’s “Leading Furniture Town” of Lecong, in the Shunde District of Foshan City, the modern hotel is not only the city’s tallest building, but it’s also a new benchmark for global hotel design and furniture, with European chic touches that wouldn’t be out of place in luxury properties in Paris, London or New York.
The project is a joint effort between Louvre Furnishings Group (which operates a multi-story furniture showroom in Foshan) and AccorHotels Group, as the two initiated the innovative business model that allows for guests in the hotel to purchase decorative pieces that they appreciated during their stay.
“We seek perfection in dealing with details,” explained Li Jinghua, Chairman of Louvre Group. “As China’s first furniture-experience hotel, we hope that it could give Chinese people the impression that home can just be like that.”
The concept of a furniture-experience hotel seems groundbreaking, but Sofitel Foshan is actually not the pioneer in this niche field. Marriott has long let customers buy their beds and bedding, while Westin Hotels sells their “heavenly beds” online to anyone wishing to replicate their in-room comfort at home.
Starwood Hotels recently introduced this innovative idea among their Aloft properties in 2013 after guests expressed interest in purchasing various pieces of furniture during their stay. The brand partnered with home-furnishings retailer Design Within Reach, making it possible for guests to take their favorite pieces home with them.
This concept does not stop at the hotel industry, however. Sofitel Foshan’s concept follows retail brands opening hotels to showcare their wares in an experiential marketing twist on try-before-you-buy and sampling. Home retailers Parachute Home, IKEA, West Elm and Restoration Hardware are all now in the hotel business, with properties already open (Parachute and IKEA) or now under construction.
Extending a traditional brand into a new market is a popular branding strategy, and it is becoming increasingly popular for lifestyle brands to venture into new fields that will provide a broad, more immersive experience from their brand.
“People view brands as promises of an experience,” Larry Light, CEO of Arcature Consultants, told the New York Times. Brands that begin with a specific focus are starting to venture into a broader realm, which often includes “quality, architecture, style, ambience, customer service and a unique experience.”
Hotels such as Sofitel Foshan seem to be leading in brand extension and immersion, but the trend is spreading amongst the restaurant, tech, fashion, transportation, and entertainment industries as well. The future of brand identity is already intertwining with customer experience, but it may look slightly less defined than we all think.