As president and CEO of Whitman Family Development, Matthew Whitman Lazenby is the fourth generation in his family to carry the legacy forward. The company was founded 1957 with the purchase of a 16-acre site in Bal Harbour.
“The company was started by my grandfather, Stanley Whitman, who saw the potential in luxury retail long before others in the shopping-center industry,” Matthew said. “When he purchased that site, he paid 20 times more than anyone had for retail property. My grandfather believed that Miami Beach was poised to become a booming tourist mecca and that his high-end, designer retail would lure an upscale clientele from around the world.”
For that to happen, he realized he would have to approach retail with a heightened focus on the shoppers’ experience, not solely on giving them a good product for a competitive price at a convenient location.
“My grandfather was a retail real estate visionary,” he said. “He was the first to make lush landscaping a key part of the design by creating a serene open-air shopping center featuring tropical plants, orchids, and koi ponds. In the same way that Walt Disney was hyper-focused on making people feel happy, Stanley Whitman made them feel special.”
This focus on the shopping experience can be seen clearly by taking a stroll through Bal Harbour Shops. While it was being designed, every aspect of theshopper’s journey through the shopping center was scrutinized and, if possible, improved.
“In addition to the lushly landscaped, open-air setting that sits just across from the Atlantic Ocean, and the curated luxury retail experience, we have maintained an emotional connection to our customers around the globe. In fact, we’ve been laser focused on the customer experience for nearly 60 years.”
In recent years, with the rise of online shopping, a revolution has taken place in retail. In the last couple of decades, some retailers have thrived while others have not. To Matthew, it's a more complex issue than the narrative that brick-and-mortar stores have failed and been replaced with online retailers.
“Shopping malls have to adapt and pivot to the needs of their customers,” he said. “Bal Harbour Shops recently announced the launch of the Bal Harbour Shops Marketplace, its first online platform, which brings a unique approach to e-commerce.”
One big difference between Bal Harbour Shops Marketplace and other aggregate retail sites will be a focus on providing quality content that complements the online shopping experience, as opposed to just directing them to partner retail websites.
“It reimagines the online model with a dynamic, editorially driven platform laden with shoppable content,” he said. “BHS Marketplace includes a wealth of editorial content, such as stories on the latest fashion trends showcasing pieces from multiple designers, or a profile of a designer celebrating a milestone anniversary, or opening a new boutique. Rather than directing shoppers to individual store sites, BHS Marketplace has its own microsite featuring the latest products from all of its participating brands.”
He added, “the Bal Harbour shopper is someone who comes to the physical center with great frequency, but is also someone who shops at balharbourshops.com for convenience. These channels are synergistic, not competitive, and each reinforces the other. E-commerce can co-exist with brick and mortar successfully.”