• New Retail Showroom Concept Links Online Shopping With Compact Brick-and-Mortar Space

    New Retail Showroom Concept Links Online Shopping With Compact Brick-and-Mortar Space

    Brik + Clik Gives Shoppers Up-Close Look at Brands Sold Online

    Brik + Clik store interiors display products in life-sized dioramas with ?air to breathe? to offer shoppers a taste of how they might work at home. (Brik + Clik)
    Brik + Clik store interiors display products in life-sized dioramas with “air to breathe” to offer shoppers a taste of how they might work at home. (Brik + Clik)

    At a high-end shopping center in California, a new storefront lets shoppers walk among the displays, scan each item they want to buy on their phones, and have the purchases shipped to their home. While items can be bought there, most are expected to be ordered online instead, making the process part of what could be an evolution in American retailing.

    Unlike nearby stores featuring luxury brands Gucci and Louis Vuitton, there are no bedecked — and often locked — display cases featuring high-priced merchandise. Instead, modest displays of a generic living room or home office let consumers envision feature a variety of products, including skin care items, stone dishes, spice mixes and gourmet chocolate.

    Co-founder Hemant Chavan and partner Eric Hirani are trying to expand the online shopping experience to include a brick-and-mortar lifestyle studio called Brik + Clik, their riff on a retail-technology model that’s still being tested in different forms as the industry evolves. With a streamlined aesthetic, this simple storefront is one of the latest attempts to use retail space to transform shopping for generations to come.

    “Experiential does not always need to be outlandish in store layouts,” Chavan said. “It can be subtle and aesthetically pleasing at the same time. Online, social media customers are more likely to purchase products if they see lifestyle images of products in a natural placement."

    As the battered retail industry struggles to right the ship, Chavan sees opportunity in the imbalance, and he’s jumping on board by opening these showroom stores in cities with empty spaces in traditionally high-priced areas that he could never have stepped foot in a year ago. Like any new venture, the move involves risks that any new business takes when it has no track record of adaptation to fall back on.

    Two Brik + Clik stores were opened within a month of each other late last year on both coasts, defying convention in the COVID-19 pandemic that forced many retailers to shrink brick-and-mortar footprints or close all doors.

    “Like everything else we were doing, we opened them remotely,” without the option of being on the site whenever they wanted to be, Chavan said. “We knew what we were getting into and that it was going to be a logistical nightmare. But it worked out.”

    Brik + Clik also operates as a retail incubator for emerging consumer-to-consumer products that include health and wellness, skincare and nutritious snacks and beverages that are promoted on social media.

    The stores are located in high-profile shopping meccas at Westfield Valley Fair in Silicon Valley, and the Oculus at Westfield World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, giving the fledgling brands they carry a brick-and-mortar presence that would be near impossible to attain otherwise.

    Brik + Clik manages the stores, and displays the products by giving them “breathing room” in a lively and vibrant setting. Other stores are in the works, including one in New York’s Midtown and SoHo districts and a possible broader expansion with a national chain.

    At a time when innovation is the buzzword among retailers, Brik + Clik represents a hybrid of sorts of the so-called omnichannel script so many retailers are now playing out. Instead of stocking piles of inventory to be shelved and sold on-site, Brik + Clik shows consumers a variety of brands and products in life-sized dioramas that give them a better grasp on how they might try, say, skincare products on in their home bathrooms.

    Many purchases are made through the Brik + Clik website or the product manufacturers themselves online, but the stores keep some inventory on hand and have associates to help shoppers navigate what’s there. The stores also function as a distribution point for pickups and deliveries.

    They also offer a twist to window shopping for passersby: QR codes on the windows direct consumers to the Brik + Clik website for those in a hurry or hesitant to wander in, Chavan said. And there’s a scalable online site, too, called Clik Shop that lets consumers take a virtual stroll through the stores as if they were in them.

    “Our concept is more functional,” Chavan said. “We’re providing a place where shoppers can try brands that are typically only sold online and not within reach.”

    New Take Comes With Risks

     

    The showroom concept isn’t exactly novel. Luxury flagship department stores the likes of Lord & Taylor and Barneys on New York’s high streets were as much marketing tools to try the brands as they were tourist-magnet points of purchase. The two, along with a handful of others, were shedding their expensive real estate ahead of the pandemic and before store closures coupled with unwieldy debt loads pushed them into bankruptcy last year.

    A more modern take on showrooms range from Apple stores to Tesla outlets to newer versions such as Be8a, a similar concept for electronics makers that began in late 2015, and Showfields, a multilevel model that opened in early 2019 with a focus on curating artwork and other creative ventures in what’s been called “art meets retail.”

    Showfields emphasizes experiences at its multilevel retail store in New York City. (RFR Realty rendering)

    This newfangled retail-tech showroom concept has had some early successes, but it’s not exactly a tried-and-true formula that could pose a big risk for the two.

    Sure, experiential retail and entertainment was a thing before the pandemic created a new kind of phobia that might be better described as FOGO, or fear of going out. And despite all the talk of pent-up demand for face-to-face contact and group entertainment, coupled with what’s been called “revenge shopping” — a new take on the urge-to-splurge concept after months of staying away — there are no guarantees touching and trying stuff out in a retail environment will come back anytime soon.

    Chavan, like most retailer store owners, holds out hope it’s only a matter of time before the masses troop back into stores, bowing, of course, to a better sweep of vaccinations. What he’s banking on is the marriage between tech and the physical concrete side of retail and the exploratory thrill of the chase — in a hands-on manner — that retail has long given consumers.

    “The millennial and Gen Z’ers are absorbing content in their hands,” he said. “So, retail has to go mobile in many ways.”

    Maybe, but Brandon Singer, CEO of Retail by MONA, a retail leasing and advisory firm, sees the less-is-more approach as the real gamechanger in how goods are sold. “That’s going to be the future of retail,” he said.

    “The whole limited inventory approach is going to be something that comes out of this,” he added, referring to a post-pandemic fallout. “I think you’re going to continue to see brands paying for space. Like Be8a and Showfields, this is looking to imagine how retail is done in the future. Why pay for inventory when your flagship can be a showroom?”

    But it can’t be done without brick-and-mortar and the folks who own those sites, both Chavan and Singer agree. “Landlords are key to the success of retail moving forward,” Chavan readily admits.

    Opportunity in Crisis

     

    The pandemic has led to many dark stores that has many landlords dependent on rent to pay mortgages and other bills fretting. But every cloud has a silver lining. Or as former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said when he was President Obama’s chief of staff during the Great Recession: “Never let a serious crisis go to waste.”

    What he meant by that is doors of opportunity open that might not otherwise during crises. Chavan has been on the receiving end of that in this crisis by being able to rent prime real estate at affordable prices on short-term leases at vacant sites.

    “If it wasn’t for the pandemic, they probably would not have returned our calls,” Chavan said, referring to the landlords of the premium locations he was able to land for the 1,500-square-foot to 5,000-square-foot stores. “These are high-profile shopping centers that usually have waiting lists of retailers because they are fully occupied.”

    And, beyond the concept still in test mode, that access to choice real estate is the calling card Chavan holds. “For us, our risk exposure was very low and that’s why we want in when everyone else wants out. We saw the reset in the market as an opportunity.

    “We want to build up the brand and the landlord relationship,” he added. “If that proof of concept works within a year, we’ll move into long-term leases.

    “It’s really a good time to get into retail,” he added.