I feel like I start every article I write now with some version of, "Brick-and-mortar retail is a total trash fire right now," and it is. So it's been interesting to see how some companies have figured out ways to reinvent the IRL shopping experience to their bottom-line benefit. One example is cult-favorite, Miami-based jewelry brand Miansai.
It's known for simple-yet-statement-making, subtly nautical cuffs and rope bracelets, which founder Michael Saiger began making for and selling to men and, later, to women. With distinctive, wearable designs and an accessible price point, the brand is doing well, even with wholesale; current stockists include Barneys, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Mr. Porter, Shopbop and more. It also operates two permanent brick-and-mortar stores: one on Crosby Street in New York City and one on the similarly cool-and-relevant Abbott Kinney Blvd in Los Angeles. But Saiger is aware of how fickle retail is lately, and when it comes to his expansion strategy, he has something different in mind: selling jewelry out of airstreams and Piaggio trucks near beaches, bars, hotels, festivals and, soon, even train stations and airports. Its summer tour is already underway.
The idea came to him pretty organically before he opened his first physical stores. "I love vintage cars, I was looking on Ebay found this old 1958 airstream in Arkansas and said, you know what? I'm gonna buy this thing," says Saiger. "What better way to sell jewelry to men than out of a vintage car?" He, along with the help of a couple of guys on his team, completely renovated it and began using it as mobile store, and a way to dip their toes into retail without the overhead of opening something permanent. Five years later, Saiger has amassed some important car connections and bought and refurbished four more mobile units — and this expanded fleet will be on tour all summer long. Stops include Navy Beach in Montauk, Newport, RI, Dumbo and, most interestingly, JFK and LAX airports.
"I want to be more direct-to-consumer and it's more discovery too," explains Saiger. "A lot of people learn about our brand that don't know about us yet. We are niche and whatnot. Not only is it great from a sales perspective, it's great from a branding perspective and discovery perspective." Saiger saw an opportunity in airports, specifically, because there's a constant high volume of traffic, but so much sameness when it comes to retail that consumers become "numb" to the stores around them. "Wouldn't it be cool to go into an airport and stumble upon a very cool experience like this old vintage car?" asks Saiger. He also sees his unique product as a cool, easy gift.
It's important to note that this retail concept is uniquely suited to jewelry (and, well, food) because of how little space it takes up, but for Miansai, there are a number of other reasons why it's smart. For one, the overhead is low — Saiger gets good deals thanks to the aforementioned connections. Second, if they pick a spot that isn't doing well, they can fairly easily close up and move elsewhere. And then there's the obvious: The vehicles are very 'grammable. That said, Saiger explains that logistics can be very tricky. "It is a pain in the ass with logistics for it, especially now we're going to have six vehicles. [Saiger has just purchased another Piaggio from Italy.] Two of them are pulled by cars, but the other ones have to be bedded around; they are operational but not everyone can drive them." Getting the right insurance and making sure everything is legally compliant is also difficult and time-consuming for Saiger's team and his lawyers. But for Saiger, it's all worth it. "Not only is it fun, it's great because we're extremely successful."
So successful, that at the moment, he forsees this and this alone making up Miansai's retail growth strategy for the foreseeable future. He will continue to scale the concept by buying more units and keep the tour going beyond summer by traveling to places like Los Angeles and Palm Beach, not to mention indoor units in the aforementioned airports as well as one in New York's Grand Central Station. Saiger believes having a presence in such prominent locations will open even bigger doors. Ultimately, he wants to be the classic Americana moment in international airports like Heathrow, Charles de Gaulle and Hong Kong International, though he plans to focus on the U.S. market first.
He doesn't rule out opening a few more permanent flagships down the line, but for where the brand — and the overall retail landscape — is right now, this is what's driving sales.