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Like a Dating Site for Fashion, PopInShop Plays Matchmaker for Brands and Boutiques

Meet the latest arrival to the online-to-offline startup scene.

With more online native fashion brands making the leap into the offline world, it only follows that there would be a number of startups looking to help them facilitate that move. Just last month, Storefront raised $7.3 million in venture capital financing to build out its platform, which helps online brands find short-term leases. Here's one more company to keep an eye on: PopInShop, which launched last summer and acts as something of a dating service for brands and boutiques.

"What we've built isn't about helping a major player like Marc Jacobs get into a major space in SoHo. We help early-stage online brands and players with boutique distribution get into specialty shops across the country," co-founder Allison Berliner says.

The aim isn't to act as a buyer's tool exactly, nor is PopInShop's utility limited to pop-up shops. Like Storefront, it's angling to enable offline placement for online brands in the loosest sense of the term. That could mean a boutique that doesn't sell jewelry giving space to a bauble maker to see how it sells, or a store doing a one-off trunk show with a brand.

"Across the board, we noticed that it was really mutually beneficial to test and try each other out," says Berliner. 

PopInShop allows brands and stores to actively search for potential retail partners, and like a dating site, it also surfaces recommendations for those who might be a good match based on factors like price point, aesthetic and target demographic, which Berliner says tends to be the most indicative of whether the pairing will be a good match. 

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The site originally let shops and labels negotiate either a flat fee space rental or a revenue sharing model but found that the vast majority preferred the latter since it incentivizes both parties. Today, most boutiques take a cut of sales, which ranges anywhere from 10 to 50 percent. 

Of the roughly 200 brands currently using PopInShop, about 35 percent are online native and 65 percent identify as wholesalers, although Berliner recognizes that the line between online and wholesale is blurry given that any company launched in the last few years will have an online channel. The stores, meanwhile, are a mix of mom-and-pop joints and small retail chains with four or five locations. 

Thus far, the proportion of matches that convert into "long-term relationships" is about 17 percent. Those relationships vary in nature, from a store deciding to keep a brand's shop-in-shop up for a whole season or asking the brand to do an event every season to the two signing regular wholesale deals.

The startup is currently at work on a "brand genome" right now, a fancy way of saying that it's trying to map out which brands are most closely related — in other words, who "hangs next to each other" — based on thousands of data points. This in turn would be able to allow PopInShop to tell a boutique owner which brands they might like based on what they already carry. 

Although PopInShop is kicking off with women's clothing, the goal down the line is to be a cross-vertical platform for multiple product categories. The aim is to be able to help stores become lifestyle spaces in the vein of Urban Outfitters, which keeps people lingering with its gift, home and tchotchke range.

Ambitious plans, even though PopInShop is just in its early stages -- the New York-based startup has yet to raise any venture capital outside friends and family. Still, we can see this becoming a great resource if it's able to catch on with the boutique and small brand community.