Can’t afford to shop at a Polo store? Here’s good news. Now, you can work at a Polo store. And when I say, “work,” I don’t mean gift-wrapping $100 pairs of cashmere socks.
The work you could be doing at Polo is the same work you used to do at your office. The same work you used to do at your home after COVID-19 put your office off the grid. That’s because some Polo stores, like some department stores, are turning their empty aisles and dust-covered display counters into coworking spaces, available on a monthly basis to formerly happy work-at-homers suddenly struck with mid-career claustrophobia.
SaksWorks is the love child of the Saks Fifth Avenue department store chain and WeWork, the high-flying coworking business that flew up the IPO ladder before crashing and burning through $40 billion-plus of valuation, seemingly overnight.
That’s a lot of cashmere socks.
While the WeWork explosion was front-page news, the implosion of department stores like Saks and Polo happened quietly. The antics of Amazon and other internet retailers took the fun out of shopping at upscale stores, unless, of course, you enjoyed paying way too much for the privilege of dealing with sad, snooty clerks being paid way too little.
It was a desire to wring profits from its well-located real estate that led Richard Baker, the chairman of Hudson’s Bay Co., which owns Saks, to offer retail respite to the more than 36 million people predicted to be working from home by 2025.
Or so I learned from “Meet Me in My Office, in Men’s Underwear on 5,” an effervescent article by Ginia Bellafante in The New York Times.
While the WeWork brand re-envisioned the office as “a party space in a dorm at a well-endowed university,” SaksWork features mellow, moss-covered garden walls, a signature pepperwood scent, pumped into the air and masking, one hopes, the odors arising from a fancy gym outfitted with Peloton bikes. (Instead of the usual snack machine, SaksWorks has built-in hydroponic gardens, offering office-grown Napa cabbage and tatsoi. Your boss may grill you, but without even leaving the premises, you’re ready to stir-fry.)
The current cost for a SaksWorks membership is about $300 a month. For citybound work-at-homers, jammed into tiny apartments with grumpy partners and even grumpier children, it’s a small price to pay for breathing room. And it is certainly a worthwhile option if your only alternative for finding more space is a move to Cow Patty, Montana.
Of course, the usurpation of department stores is only the beginning. Our newfound reluctance to leave home has had a negative effect on the car wash industry, suggesting that soon you’ll be able to rent desk space at your nearby Bubble Factory or Suds Studs. When you finish that sweat-inducing meeting with Human Resources, all you have to do is run yourself through the car wash. You’ll cool yourself down and be ready to rejoin the working world.
Unused examination rooms in veterinarian offices would make an ideal place to lick your wounds after being upbraided by your manager. And since everyone is into streaming, movie theaters are also prime candidates to become coworking spaces. They could take out the seats, but leave the screen. The sight of your CEO in Imax 3D will boost productivity, and instead of raises, you could be paid in gift certificates for Whoppers and Raisinets.
The coworking concept is sure to be a life saver for department stores and all the other failing businesses currently crumbling before our eyes. This only leaves the question of what will happen to all the offices that are no longer being used.
One possibility is that the office buildings no one wants to work in will be transformed into lavish apartments no one can afford to live in. I think a reverse hybrid solution is more likely. Your managers will take out the empty desks and put in sales counters where, in-between projects, you and your co-workers can hawk sweaters, deworm kitties and pack groceries.
You may not have set out to have a career in retail, but arranging end-aisle displays and stocking shelves could provide you with the kind of real-life skills you don’t learn at Harvard Business School. In fact, I have every confidence that your new hybrid skill set will send you rocketing up the org chart to a new and handsomely compensated position in management.
In the meantime, there’s a spill in aisle 3. Clean it up, will you?
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at [email protected] To find out more about Bob Goldman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.