When Everlane opened its first brick-and-mortar store late last year, it came as a surprise to customers — even those unaware of founder Michael Preysman’s statement that he’d never, ever go there.
Since then, the move has become almost expected of direct-to-consumer brands. From Glossier to Warby Parker to Allbirds, digitally native brands are increasingly opening stores, blurring the lines between the old guard and the so-called disruptors.
On May 30, San Francisco-based DTC brand Cuyana opened its third store, a 1,200-square-foot space located on Prince Street in New York’s Nolita neighborhood. The location was chosen by co-founders Shilpa Shah and Karla Gallardo after four years of testing the market with four consecutive year-long pop ups — two in Soho, two in Nolita — starting in 2014.
On top of the pop-ups, the brand’s first two permanent stores, in SF and LA’s Venice Beach, the first of which opened in 2013, informed the new store’s setup. While those have a home-y feel, in the same vein as The Row and The Apartment by The Line, the New York store is more practical, designed answer customers’ needs.
The brand prides itself on seeing the importance of brick-and-mortar early on. “The digitally native brands that are now moving into retail after ignoring it have a big task ahead of them, in terms of figuring out fulfillment, warehousing, store replenishing. They’re struggling to become omnichannel companies, while we invested early,” said Shah.
On a tour of the store on Tuesday, Shah and Gallardo explained what their new, refined version of brick-and-mortar offers their customers that an online experience cannot.
The exact inventory found on Cuyana’s website and updated weekly is found in store, enabling a true omnichannel experience, which customers have come to expect, said Shah.
Also, no lag time:“We strongly believe in having inventory on site,” said Gallardo. “When she falls in love with the bag and has an amazing experience, she should be able to walk out with the product. That’s the payoff.”
If short on time, customers can buy online and pick up in store, and the monogramming service offered on the website is offered on the spot. “You can’t say you’re omnichannel if you only offer monogramming in store,” said Shah. “You are multi-channel, but you’re not omnichannel.”
New layers of discovery
Various high-touch points are set up throughout the store, allowing shoppers to get a strong feel of products. For example, there are handbag try-on stations, each featuring a large mirror, an adjacent hook and a bench. On the bench are blocks of wood shaped like a water bottle, a laptop and a notepad so shoppers can test whether bags they’re considering meet their size requirement. “Customers just don’t take bags to the fitting room,” said Shah.
A handbag station at Cuyana’s Nolita store
It’s set up so that, within two minutes, shoppers will be able to determine if the brand fits their needs or style. From the calming music to the soft door handle, which mimics the feel of the brand’s leather totes, every detail at the entrance has been designed with purpose. “It’s edited to simplest amount of things to tell the story, like a magazine cover,” Shah said.
A luxury experience
The store is set up to cater to the customer’s mood and needs: There’s the entrance for orientation, discovery and grabbing something quick, then the main floor for browsing and shopping. In the back are rounded tables intended for customers in consideration mode. “They’re work tables, for laying out accessories. If they were square, they’d be too much like counters, which say, ‘Let me take your money now,’” said Gallardo.
A work table at Cuyana’s Nolita store
For those wanting a more immersive look at the brand and a more luxurious experience, that’s available. “We slow it down, rather than speed it up,” said Shah. “Meaning doesn’t come from efficiency.” Associates are trained to share details on everything from the company’s supply chain to the materials it uses. The same details are found in drawers throughout the store, designed to educate the customer.
“We don’t have to hit you in the head with it and frame it on the wall, but it’s there if you want a luxury moment,” said Shah. “Like: ‘Let us explain to you what a croc-embossed leather is or let you feel the three-ply silk we use.”
What’s noticeably missing from the store is any obvious technology — no touch screens, no VR stations.
“Technology is not the store of the future,” said Shah. “The store of the future is a store that really meets a customer’s needs. If you’re in a physical space, the way you browse, shop and learn should be a physical exchange with a real person. That’s why people come into stores. If they were going to browse some kind of tablet experience, they could just do that at home.”
What other brands are saying
Sophie Kahn, co-founder and co-CEO of AUrate:
“Our [gold and diamond] jewelry is out in the open — no glass, no silk gloves, no keys. This immediately tells our story of how we’re trying to democratize gold; we believe all women should be able to wear and afford quality jewelry.”
Ashley Merrill, founder and CEO of Lunya:
“Our brand story is about making women feel like their best and most confident selves. My favorite artists are storytellers, and their medium is almost irrelevant, but they make me think and, more importantly, feel. As a brand, an omnichannel approach gives us a license to play with the same story in different mediums. On web, we agonize around the layers of meaning in the models, environments and copy — and the physical environment is no different. We see each store as a distinct opportunity to create a visual and experiential story through tactile fabrics, engaging video, art, furniture, clothes, food and drink, and events.”
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