retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

Michael Preysman, the co-founder and CEO of the online contemporary clothier Everlane, laughs good-naturedly when reminded of his 2012 pledge: "We are going to shut the company down before we go to physical retail.”

That was then.

Everlane opened its first permanent brick-and-mortar store this month in Manhattan, with shoppers lined up around the block all weekend to check out the clothing and accessories in person.

Despite the dire predictions of nearly 7,000 retail stores shuttering this year, Everlane joins the expanding roster of on-line companies launching their own evolving brand of physical stores. And we don’t mean Amazon adding more bookstores or selling the Echo and Dot in its recently acquired Whole Foods locations.

Boll and Branch, a successful high-end bedding startup, opened its first store in an upscale New Jersey mall in August so consumers can touch and feel the product. Away, which sells sleekly-designed travel luggage, now has “concept stores” in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Austin and New York. Stylish eyewear purveyor Warby Parker started as online-only and now has 36 stores with plans for 25 more. Apparel sellers Bonobos (now owned by Walmart!) and Athleta have followed suit.

Six years ago, the then 25-year-old Preysman was convinced that e-commerce was the only way to market Everlane’s line of “modern basics” for women and men. “What we found is, customers like to touch things before they buy them. You know, especially products when it's cashmere, when it's nice quality," he told the CBS Morning News. His observation mirrored a recent study which found that the majority of American consumers want that tactile experience that in-store shopping provides.

Equally important, Preysman said, a physical footprint in New York and soon San Francisco advances Everlane’s “mission” to create stylish, ethically-made goods with “radical transparency on pricing.”

My curiosity piqued, I visited the Everlane store in the city’s SoHo neighborhood yesterday (pictured below). The mural upon entering read:

“Welcome to our first store. It took two years of testing. 108 smart people. 42 gallons of white paint.* $155,000 of glass. And at least $25,000 in mistakes.” (*Chantilly Lace, to be precise.)

The $100 cashmere sweaters were neatly stacked in front, and the store featured informational brochures about the its production factories in Peru, Italy, Vietnam and China. The labels direct consumers to learn more on the website, including a breakdown of the pricing structure.

While most items were cash-and-carry, the entire line of jeans were “try-on only.” Shoppers can try on the various styles and sizes, choose a denim wash, and the sales associates will place the order (free shipping included) for you.

At the Boll and Branch in Short Hills, NJ, the luxury sheets, bedding and pillows are meant to seen and touched – but not carried out the front door. Orders are completed in the store and delivered by mail. The founders plan to open 20 more retail outlets.

I think Everlane and Boll and Branch are excellent examples of innovative retailers melding the online and offline models. Instead of being stagnant, each brand is evolving to deliver a meaningful, omni-channel experience for the consumer.

Stores that haven’t changed their business model in 20 years and simply lament “brick-and-mortar is dead” are signing their own death notice.

Retailers that take chances, and yes, make mistakes, and remain nimble will vanquish their competition.

And that’s a lesson to take into 2018.

Comments? Observations? As always, send them to me at kate@morningnewsbeat.com .

KC's View: