There's a lot of talk about how longstanding retailers are making adjustments to appeal to the finicky millennial and Gen-Z consumer, but it's starting to seem like the ones who succeed are the newer retailers that start out by targeting those demographics to begin with. And we feel pretty confident in predicting that new beauty and lifestyle concept Riley Rose will be one of those success stories. In co-founder Linda Chang's own words, it's a literal "homage to millennials." Of course, that's pretty clear if you look at any of the store's branding or social media. Every. Single. Thing. Is. Pink.
Chang launched Riley Rose, the first location of which opened at the Galleria mall in Glendale, a suburb of Los Angeles, last weekend, alongside her sister Esther. The entrepreneurial daughters of Forever 21's husband-wife founding team were inspired by concepts and brands they'd encountered while traveling overseas, and set out to present them in a cool way to the U.S. consumer. "We felt like there was a hole in the marketplace; there was not a lifestyle brand that incorporates not just beauty, but home decor and office and other categories and done in a very trendy and Instagram-worthy way."
With experience running various retail departments at Forever 21, and being millennials themselves, they nailed it. The press release for the launch includes phrases like "dream world," "lifestyle universe" and "high-sensory fantasyland." Having attended the Jordyn Woods-DJ'd opening event, I can attest that these descriptors aren't mere hyperbole. Product aside, the store is a brightly lit, Instabait explosion of "millennial pink," Sans Serif, neon signs, marble, mid century-inspired furnishings and subway tile. The company's Instagram page is equally cohesive in its pinkness. "That's an homage to the millennial generation," Chang explains. "They call it 'millennial pink; it goes nicely with our name, Riley Rose." The name, she says, was inspired by a desire to pair two names (a millennial branding trope at this point), one being more "tomboyish" and the other more traditionally feminine. She says that reflects herself (the "Riley") and her sister (the "Rose") as well.
Riley Rose is not all branding and no bite, however. The products are good. All the cool, under-the-radar Korean brands your beauty-obsessed friend raves about are there and abundantly stocked, as are a number of other young, cult-y, millennial-targeting U.S. beauty brands; there's nary a piece of ugly packaging in site. Think: RMS Beauty, Tonymoly, Too Cool for School, Winky Lux, R & Co, Stila, CosRx and many more.
There are infinite sheet masks, and a beautiful bar with individual mirrors at which to try out cosmetics and, obviously, take selfies. Chang said she and her sister looked for "brands that we are fans of, but also tried to find some cult beauty brands that have made a fanbase for themselves online but haven't had a brick and mortar." She says she thinks Riley Rose and Forever 21 have a similar customer base, but for Riley Rose it's more generally about "any consumer that is really interested about the newest products, the products that are most talked about from all around the world."
But what's even more interesting than the store's endless supply of discoverable beauty products is its substantial assortment of home goods — which were also clearly bought with the millennial consumer in mind. Having a cozy, 'grammable home is also of increasing importance to this generation and will me made easier by Riley Rose's buy of chic (but largely affordable) candles, faux succulents, kitchen accessories, picture frames, bathroom containers, bar soaps and much more.
An unexpected, but equally nice addition is the store's wide assortment of candy, a mix of treats from Asia, Dylan's Candy Bar, and your standard grocery-store fare. I spent maybe 30-45 minutes in the store and bought something from every category, and there were still several shelves and racks I didn't have time to look at. Chang says the biggest piece of feedback she's gotten is that one can spend hours in the store and that's absolutely true.
The Chang sisters are also being thoughtful in the way they interact with consumers, often replying directly to social media comments and questions and actually listening to their feedback and which brands they want them to carry. This, they say, is how Riley Rose will grow and evolve. "One thing I've learned from my parents, the success of Forever 21 came about because they were listening to the consumer," says Chang, explaining how, in the first Forever 21 store, someone came in looking for a purple dress and her parents went out and found some to have in stock. "That attitude is how we became Forever 21; we try to apply that same lesson — listening to what consumers are asking for, bringing all of the great brands people are looking for into the stores."
The Chang sisters aren't wasting any time expanding. They have 12 more stores slated to open in the next few months across the country, "from Texas to Maryland to Florida," with e-commerce set to launch sometime next month. (Update: It launched.) They still plan to keep certain elements (like the candy) exclusive to brick-and-mortar, and target smalls and shopping centers where millennials and Gen-Z-ers will hopefully continue to shop.
With the right locations and continued focus on bringing great products to market and listening to consumer feedback, Riley Rose could truly be posed for beauty retail world domination, regardless of the staying power of neon signs and millennial pink.