Storytelling through Stores

For many years now, since digitally-native brands began opening stores, I’ve made a point to visit those stores. Originally, it was Bonobos and Warby Parker and Baublebar. More recently, it’s been AYR, Cuyana, Everlane, and M.Gemi in New York. And the latest was a handful of stores I visited in as many hours in San Francisco last week.

Hitting so many DNVB stores in quick succession reinforced for me a story. The story is that these brands - unlike retailers before them - are not opening stores for pure distribution strategy reasons.

Of course, we know that’s part of it, as people do want to try on eyeglasses in person and the presence of stores creates e-commerce lift. But what popped for me last week was the way even relatively early-stage companies are investing in bringing their brands to life with their physical presence. The result is an experience infinitely more immersive than most shopping encounters that exist. I felt it more than ever before.

Birdies is a perfect example.  Last year, I listened to its founders tell Jenna Abdou why they built this slippers company on her podcast, 33voices. When I walked into their store, I felt like the couches I saw could’ve been where the women were sitting as they came up with the idea for this brand and talked about it. Even the large glass jars of strategically-colored candy were consistent of an image I might conjure up when hearing that the founders didn’t want to keep throwing dinner parties barefoot. 

If Birdies’ store (see thumbnail image, from their web site) is warm and hospitable, Chubbies’ feels more surf-shack-meets-frat-house, which is a great thing for the colorful and bold shorts brand they’ve built. 

And while Casper doesn’t reflect a personality in a strong a way, it does envelope visitors in the concept of sleep in a way no mattress company (which we know isn’t actually what they want to be) before it has approached.

Interestingly, Rothy’s was the busiest of the bunch. Their store, like their Instagram presence, is more focused on the product than in creating a lifestyle aspiration. While it paled in comparison to the persona brought to life by brand stories being told elsewhere, the store’s visual merchandising highlighted its footwear well, which may be its only goal. Perhaps a good reminder that lifestyle stories have value, but they’re not everything.