Is the "retail-pocalypse" even real? For venture capital-backed, digital-first, direct-to-consumer fashion brands, it doesn't seem to apply. And Outdoor Voices is the latest example of a brand that banked on e-commerce to get started, raised substantial capital ($22.5 million to date from investors, including VC firm General Catalyst, Leandra Medine, Gwyneth Paltrow and French clothier A.P.C.) and is now expanding its fleet of brick-and-mortar stores across the U.S. — strategically, of course. Next up? Los Angeles. The three-year-old, New York-based activewear brand will open a pop-up at popular outdoor mall The Grove in West Hollywood from Aug. 10 through Sept. 14. This follows the setup of permanent locations in New York and Austin and, most recently, a pop-up in Aspen, CO.
"We've really been focused on finding locations [that have] — we're calling it 'recreational electricity,'" explains Outdoor Voices founder Tyler Haney over the phone when I ask how the company decides where to set up shop. (You get the sense OV has a few in-house buzzwords like this.) "So spots where people are already living the OV lifestyle." That is: "approaching activity with moderation and ease and humor and delight, rather than doing activity to cross the finish line first."
Haney has made no secret of her plans to turn OV into the "next great activewear brand," and she hopes to do that by appealing to people who are turned off by the intense, "macho" marketing of current activewear juggernauts like Nike and Under Armour — and turning those people into loyal customers.
She explains that a big focus for the brand, as it works towards achieving this goal, is "driving engagement offline." One way is through events, whether it's sponsoring a class at an existing workout establishment such as Modelfit, or hosting its own activities; current examples include a joggers' club, a hikers' club and a dog walkers' club. The brand hosts weekly activations like this out of its Austin store, and they will be a big component of the LA location as well, Haney says. In fact, OV has already been hosting activities here for the brand's large online customer base. "The real strategy for us has been to drive engagement offline and amplify through social and digital, so that's how we get a groundswell started, and then people start to see it on social and then are driven to our site to find out when the next one is," Haney explains.
LA is OV's third-largest e-commerce market and we're told it sees an average of 200 LA-based Instagram posts with the brand's signature #doingthings hashtag per month. So, it's no surprise that the brand chose to set up something physical here, even if it is temporary. Haney says she chose The Grove based on data that showed that most of the brand's local customers lived on the east side, meaning in Silverlake, Los Feliz and Echo Park, which are much closer to The Grove than, say, west-side neighborhoods like Venice, Santa Monica and Culver City. She also wanted the store to be near places like Runyon Canyon and Griffith Park, where the brand plans to host the aforementioned activities.
Meanwhile, pop-ups have been a crucial tenant of The Grove's strategy to keep up momentum in today's fickle retail landscape. Rebecca Minkoff, Ray-Ban, Raden, Rachel Zoe and Revolve are among the many brands (including other ones that don't start with "R") that have popped up on site, and many more are in the pipeline.
Given OV's proven success in LA, it's only natural to wonder why the brand doesn't just open something permanent here, but for Haney, whether a location is permanent or temporary almost doesn't matter at the moment. "Right now it's all about driving recreational mindshare," she says. (Another buzzword.) "What we've seen is that our positioning, our product and the community that we've built to date — and our customers have built with us — is resonating in a big way in this traditionally macho activewear space, so the goal right now is to take a lot of what's working and go find more people to get involved." In other words, a pop-up fulfills the brand's current goal of attracting more loyal customers who can come in, feel the clothes, get a sense of the fit, maybe pick up an exclusive tote bag or towel, sign up for a hike, post a #doingthings pic on Instagram and, ultimately, continue to add to their OV wardrobe via e-commerce until a permanent store opens up, which it likely will down the line.
Haney also feels that the fleeting nature of a pop-up can be beneficial. "It's really about creating memorable businesses that kind of flux in and flux out," she says. The brand also creates exclusive, limited-edition local merch for each pop-up, which Haney says drives urgency. "The experiential aspect of these pop-ups is really what we're focused on, which might be dialed up more so than some of our permanent locations."
Experiential. That's the buzzword that seems to be working in retail these days, and while some fashion brands have to force it when it comes to incorporating experiential elements into their store strategies, it comes naturally to an activewear company. "It works well with the mission," says Haney. "The tenet of 'doing things' as our call to action."
As for future store openings, permanent or not, Haney declined to go into specifics but intends to "let our customer tell us where they want us." So if you're eager to have an OV store near you, you better post some #doingthings photos and generate some recreational electricity.
This post was updated to reflect the fact that LA is Outdoor Voices' third-largest market, not second-largest as we were initially told.