Glossy+: How men's brands are tackling the in-store experience

With its first entry into physical retail, 7-year-old men’s retailer Huckberry is taking the idea of customer experience to the next level.

Opening on Saturday and lasting through the end of January, the pop-up, located in New York's West Village neighborhood, doubles as a travel guide to seven adventures catering to the Huckberry customer -- and a gift guide for his friends and family. “He lives in the city, but lives for adventure,” said Huckberry co-founder Andy Forch. Not only does the store play into the current consumer preference for experiences over things, but it also serves as an apt introduction to the brand. “We literally took our mission -- ‘Inspire and equip adventures near and far’ -- and brought it to life in NYC,” he said.

Bootstrapped until last year and still majority owned, San Francisco-based Huckberry now sees monthly revenue well into the mid seven figures. Along the way, it’s acquired and developed a number of brands, including Flint and Tinder, a line of American-made basics launched on Kickstarter, and Rhodes, a brand of footwear debuting last month. “It’s a strategy similar to what Target and a lot of the big guys are doing,” said Forch. “But we’re just so focused and niche, I think we can own the mindshare of the guy we’re going for. I hope this [store] is a manifestation of that.”

The location made sense for the brand as New York is its largest market, and the West Village is a popular home of customers. Forch sees the pop-up as a trial run for physical retail -- if successful, he plans to follow it up with 10 to 15 flagships, starting with a “thoughtful” rollout in markets like Chicago, Austen and San Francisco.

In store, product-heavy vignettes are pegged by complimentary greeting-card-size itineraries, detailing trips developed by Huckberry’s founders or ambassadors, including photographer and cold-water surfer Chris Burkard. The product is the packing list of sorts, all styles suitable for the adventure. Upon entering the store, shoppers can head left to find a “Drink With Jack Kerouac and Friends” section, featuring a guide to a drinking-slash-walking tour in the West Village and a range of suitable boots by the likes of Red Wing Heritage and house brand Rhodes. The guide breaks down what bars to go to (The White Horse Tavern, McSorley’s Old Ale House) and for how long, offering recommendations on what to order, what to read and where to sit. Shoppers alerting store associates they’re taking the tour are offered a shot in-store to kick it off.

Other adventures include “72 Hours in Iceland,” “A Snowmobile Adventure in the Poconos,” “A 24-Hour Escape Upstate” and “5 Ways to Get Your Hands Dirty in the City,” the latter of which points to five local classes, including one on making a custom surfboard. There’s also “7 Ways to Get Off the Treadmill,” featuring athletic apparel and active things to do around the city, and “Survive the Snowpocalypse,” housing home accessories, records and grooming products, and a guide to NYC fireplace bars. Each adventure has insider perks, like 10 or 20 percent off an included class, restaurant or Land Rover rental. Twice during the pop-up’s three-month stint, new guides and product will be rotated in.

Featured product was chosen based on what the brand’s New York customers are buying, making up a small percentage of total inventory and some exclusives, like a 50-piece run of a jacket made with selvedge denim from the now-defunct Cone Mills White Oak mill. Associates will be equipped with iPads, allowing customers to shop the retailer’s full range.

Associates will also be working to add to the brand’s email list, over 1 million addresses strong, giving new customers access to the content-rich emails that have proven effective sales drivers. Directing to the store will be emails, as well as targeted posts on social media and wild posting around the city. On opening weekend, flyers and street teams will be directing customers from La Colombe locations to the store, which will be serving La Colombe coffee, and white Huckberry-branded Land Rover Defenders will be lining Bleecker. Prior, a Facebook Live tour by Forch will give followers a sneak peek.  

“I think the term 'pop-up' garners an eye roll these days,” said Forch.”But we approached the store just wanting to have fun and wow our customers -- things they’d want to see and do. No techy gimmicks needed.”

3 Questions with Faherty co-founder Alex Faherty
Alex Faherty’s beachy fashion brand Faherty has eight stores, which account for 25 percent of overall business and largely cater to male customers. (Seventy percent of inventory is menswear, versus 30 percent women’s.) He shared his experience running a store on Bleecker Street, slowly emerging as a menswear hub.

Why did you decide on this Bleecker St. location when you opened here in 2016?
Our Bleecker store was originally planned as a two-month holiday pop-up that we decided to extend to a short-term lease. (We were already established in SoHo with a small store on Thompson Street.) It offered us more space, and we saw the turnover Bleecker Street was going through: Three years ago, Bleecker had a lot of large, internationally established brands -- almost all of those have closed. As a result, rent has come down and long-term contracts have loosened up, making the neighborhood more attainable for up-and-coming brands like ourselves.

Have menswear stores opening in the area helped your business?
Our business is up this past year. The past few months, we've seen the newly opened men’s retailers Buck Mason and Nadaam bring some new faces into our own store, and there's excitement and buzz around Huckberry opening that has also brought more attention to the street.

What do men want from an in-store shopping experience?
Our male shopper wants great service and a thoughtfully curated selection of product. They want to walk into a store and like everything in it — they have little desire to "hunt" for their clothes. Our Bleecker store, in particular,  attracts repeat neighborhood shoppers, so our sales team puts an emphasis on building relationships with them — talking with them and taking note of style preferences, sizing and wardrobe needs.  

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