If you are one of the approximately 97,747 people who pass through the Union Square subway station each day, you might notice something different on Tuesday morning. Just off the grimy entrance to the L train is a bright white little shop with modular, magnetic walls. Inside are shelves packed with products ranging from the very utilitarian — like juices, power bars and condoms — to the surprisingly delightful — like an antique-looking wooden recording device and a collapsable bike helmet. Everything is $200 or less.
The New Stand (pun intended) is a retail-meets-media concept with big ambitions. The idea was born when two of the founders, Lex Kendall and George Alan, had a conversation around a campfire about the lack of great retail businesses underground in New York City. The two former models have been friends for years and worked in intersecting industries: Kendall is a consultant and creative director of Evolve Electric Motorcycles, a line started by Milk Studios, and Alan is the founder of Playland Motel and Output.
"We were like, 'Let's see if there actually are these places available,' and amazingly Union Square was available," says Kendall. "There were two weeks to go on the RFP [request for proposal] so we had to really hustle and were like, 'Are we going to do this?' and made all these phone calls and got enough money to make the down payment."
They ended up signing a 10-year lease with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, whose old-fashioned leasing documents listed "suggested retail items" including a pocket hair brush, a mustache comb and a spectacle chain. "[The people at the MTA] were really delighted to see us because they were like, 'How did young entrepreneurs find your way here?'" said Kendall. "We explained that we went digging."
Next Kendall and Alan sought out Andrew Deitchman, CEO and co-founder of advertising agency Mother New York, which he left to be come CEO of The New Stand. "We are a convenience store on many levels," explains Deitchman. "We talk about ourselves as this 'day improvement company.' It's the way we train staff, it's the way that we judge ourselves... What it speaks to is this sense of optimism that we want to be able to provide people in their lives."
Unlike your typical subway station joint, The New Stand has a membership program that grants shoppers access to lower prices on everything in the shop, which they can join for free by downloading an app of the same name on their smartphones. Shoppers can use the app to sync their credit cards (and thus pay faster), as well as access rotating loyalty deals and programs. It also delivers news, trends, playlists and other kinds of content in two daily installments, one in the morning and another in the evening. The app is easy to navigate and looks very similar to a Snapchat Discover story.
"We hope it's going to tie people to the store in a way that feels like they are connected to it even when they are not here," says David Carson, The New Stand's chief marketing officer and fourth co-founder. Carson co-founded the website Heavy.com and helped launch the music network Fuse. In the coming months, the app will add an e-commerce function through which commuters can reserve and pay for something before coming by the store, or have their purchases messengered to their offices. There will also be marketing opportunities for brand partners.
A second and larger location above ground will open on Black Friday at Brookfield Place with the same white, modular look and featuring a spinning 16-foot tower with plants hanging off the top. Membership to The New Stand applies to all locations, and the founders say future shops in airports or car washes or in other cities could be on the horizon.
"As media companies need to become retailers more and more, not just sell page views and CPMs [cost per thousand, a marketing term for the cost of a media vehicle], and as retailers understand that to scale they have to be media companies to get a big audience — what happens is that the consumer gets lost in the middle of it," says Deitchman. "And the opportunity here is actually to start with a person that is going from point A to point B and needs something as part of their day." The founders want The New Stand to be oasis for customers no matter where they go, and will build on that concept.
"We are ambitious and this is an idea that is potentially a big movement in media and retail," says Deitchman. "It sounds really lofty and silly when I say, 'We have a store in the subway,' but that's where big dreams start and far stranger things have happened."