Originally posted on SnowboarderGuide.com
Wednesday, November 4th, I took a trip down to N3L Optics at the Cherry Creek Mall in Denver. N3L, named after Newton’s three laws of motion, is a specialty eyewear store focused on high-end performance goggles and sunglasses.
Seeming somewhat out of place in the big Denver mall, the store is a showcase of what N3L considers to be the world’s best eyewear products and brands, and is laid out in an open and welcoming space that makes it easy to check out the products. Gone are the locked cases normally associated with eyewear in snowboard shops, replaced with brightly lit display shelves that allow you to pick up and interact with the goggles and sunglasses. This is all part of N3L’s system, they want you to interact with the eyewear, not just admire it on a shelf.
N3L really feels like what an eyewear store should be. The shelves are stocked with gear from 19 brands, and it’s easy to browse and check out the many different products. N3L has put an emphasis on education of both their employees and their customers; the company hires sports enthusiasts as employees, encourages them to learn more about the products, and makes samples available so they can test them out on snow.
The cool layout and employees isn’t what drew me to the store though. For winter 2010 N3L has implemented some new technology to help inform and entertain their customers. Their “experiential” retail tools include the Smart Mirror, Immersive Display and Explorer Chamber.
Every product in the store has a RFID tag, which allows the Smart Mirror to tell which goggles or sunglasses you’re currently wearing and display all sorts of relevant information. The web-enabled display also allows you to take a photo of yourself and email it to friends or family to show off or get opinions.
The Immersive Display is a 46″ touch screen where you can browse the store’s products, and learn more about them. One of the cool features here is that you can pull up a background based on what sport you want to “test,” choose the goggles or sunglasses you want to check out, and then select from the different lens options for that product. The screen then gives you an approximation of that lens’ effect on the background you chose, and lets you drag the lens around the background.
Finally, the Explorer Chamber is an attempt to simulate various environments on a product of your choosing. It’s not really a “chamber,” but a stand up display that you can look into. The stand allows you to physically try out the effects of various light and airflow conditions, with selectable brightness and wind up to 35 mph. For goggles this was a little less exciting than the other displays, but it does have a UV light emitter than can darken photochromatic sunglass lenses so you can see how they look once they’ve adjusted to bright sunlight.
I spent most of my time there playing with the technology, but there is something else pretty cool that is, as far as I can tell, unique to N3L. Starting this fall, the shop stocks all of the components to Oakley’s best-selling A-Frame goggle in a bunch of colors, and lets you custom build your goggle in the store and walk out with it. Shoppers can choose from six different frame colors, six straps, and all of the available Oakley lenses, and the shop employee puts it all together right there. Depending on how this season goes they’ll look at expanding out to other goggle brands and models; I for one hope to see this expanded on.
Like I said, N3L really feels like what an eyewear store should be. However, as cool as the N3L experience is, I can’t help but wonder if they’re missing their target demographic by setting up shop in big city malls. The store is designed to attract action sports enthusiasts, and I could see N3L doing really well in mountain towns, but most of the snowboarders I know do their best to avoid big cities and malls. But with Cherry Creek’s proximity to the University of Denver, maybe they’ll do just fine.
“30 Days on the Road” is a blog series tracking my travel for thirty days in October and November; from leaving Alaska on October 27th until Steamboat opens on November 25th. Due to a series of cool opportunities I don’t have to be back at a “real job” until 11/26th, and after a summer that seemed way too long, I’ll be making the most of my free month with as much snow and snow industry fun as I can cram in. The goal is two-fold, first to get you pumped about the upcoming season, and two to help keep track of time as I wander aimlessly for a month.