As online-native brands like Warby Parker and Bonobos have proven, an offline play can be key in building -- and growing -- a loyal customer base. And going brick-and-mortar doesn't have to mean opening a large, traditional store with a yearly lease -- many young online brands, including BaubleBar and Everlane, have instead negotiated short-term leases to open pop-up storefronts.
That's the premise on which Storefront, a platform for connecting online brands with short-term leases, is built. Founded in 2012, the startup has just raised $7.3 million in venture capital financing from Spark Capital. Much of that is going toward expansion, founder Erik Elaison says, with the platform launching in Los Angeles this week in addition to the 2,000 store spaces it lists in New York and San Francisco. Thus far, brands like Google, Indochino, Kanye West and SK-II have used the service.
Although pop-up shops are a favorite of the fashion industry, the possibilities are broader than that, says Mo Koyfman, a partner at Spark Capital who will be joining Storefront's board. Brands can use Storefront as a way to sell at street fairs or open temporary shop-in-shops.
In addition to the service to makers, Storefront has the potential to act as a discovery tool for buyers and boutique owners. If an apparel boutique doesn't carry jewelry, for instance, Storefront is one way to bring in a new brand, let the maker merchandise as he or she sees fit and test the waters with that product category -- essentially circumventing the traditional buying process.
As Koyfman points out, this could apply not only to small shops but also to big box stores. Malls, too, could use Storefront to test out small brands for short periods of time to see what sells best and then offer the most successful ones a permanent home.
To enable brand discovery, the team is building out the search functionality for merchant profiles, which for designers include lookbooks, stock lists and price point. Making those profiles searchable should take place toward the end of June, Eliason says, and from there Storefront will be layering in features like following and recommendations for merchants who might work well in a given buyer's store.