By Elyssa Goodman
Portrait by Jason Nuttle
At its best, high-end retail is a certain kind of theater: the creation of an atmosphere, the dressing of a set, the perfection of lighting and seamless transitions behind the scenes. It’s something Fort Lauderdale’s Sullivan Construction Co. knows all too well. Founded in 2006 by Mike Sullivan and his wife, Amanda, the company has since created luxury retail spaces for iconic designer brands across the East Coast.
Its triumphs are many. In Bal Harbour Shops, there’s the forthcoming Balenciaga store. In The Colonnade Outlets at Sawgrass Mills, there’s Ted Baker’s “upside down” store, complete with a couch, fireplace, kitchen and floorboards affixed to the ceiling. In Saks Fifth Avenue at the Town Center at Boca Raton, there’s the Dior boutique that included a Venetian plaster expert being flown in from New York. Also on the list: a current renovation of the Gucci store at Sawgrass Mills, the grand opening of the Furla store at the Aventura Mall and numerous others.
In 14 years, the company has built a reputation for quality and garnered clients based on referrals. Sullivan Construction Co. first began gaining traction after a residential project went well, and that grew into opportunities to build for franchises. After joining the Retail Contractors Association in 2012, the company got an opportunity to work with Saks Fifth Avenue that snowballed into one chic client after another. Now the company works with eight to 12 clients at a time, all the while creating spaces where refined style can thrive.
“The whole idea is that we’re trying to make it not feel like a commercial space so much as we’re trying to make it feel like an actual atmosphere,” Sullivan says.
The team has become highly sought-after. Sullivan oversees the project management and estimation while his wife runs accounting, handles permitting and ties the office to the field. “It’s yin and yang,” Sullivan says, describing how their strengths complement each other. “As business partners, we work very well that way.”
For Sullivan, a well-designed store is inviting, bright and open, showcases the product, creates an environment and smoothly integrates technology. With the ever-increasing popularity of online shopping, Sullivan says retailers need to create experiences in their stores that a customer cannot duplicate digitally.
“It’s not necessarily just about having something on the shelf, someone picking it up and buying it,” Sullivan says. “The type of stores we’re building—the Chanels, the Guccis—they’re successful in creating an atmosphere that is very pleasing to somebody, an atmosphere that you can’t get online.” This could entail a scent that is propelled into the air, lighting that gently washes over fine fabrics or music and video that subtly captures people’s attention. It’s about incorporating as many human senses as possible.
All the while, there’s also the inclusion of technology’s ever-changing waves. For example, Sullivan predicts that stores will soon offer an option where customers can check out on their phones and have items delivered to their homes in less than two hours. He already sees design evolving.
“Maybe we don’t need a 10,000-square-foot space, maybe we need a 5,000-square-foot space,” he says. “When we do that, we’re going to have little sections inside of the space where people can go experience the products, and retailers have the ability to get things to people very quickly as well.”
Even as department stores like Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Lord & Taylor face financial difficulty amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Sullivan’s outlook remains as bright as the stores his company designs. In a post-pandemic world, he expects to see the consolidation of brands, more effective retail spaces and a stronger retail market—and one that ultimately works better for consumers.
The magic of creating a good show is that if it’s really masterful, you never notice how it’s put together. A retail space is no different. After the perfect bulbs are chosen, the floor and ceiling are made level, the checkout experience is integrated and the client’s design is made into reality, the experience of visiting a Louis Vuitton or a Chanel in Florida is always the same as visiting a Louis Vuitton or Chanel in Paris. This time, though, there’s that Sullivan touch sewing it all together.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2020 Issue.