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In a Direct-to-Consumer Era, What’s the Point of Showrooms?

Sales showrooms once existed solely to engage retail buyers. Now, they’re serving as yet another touchpoint with consumers.
Figue showroom | Source: Courtesy
By
  • Roxanne Robinson

NEW YORK, United States— Wholesale makes up 60 percent of New York-based jewellery line Dannijo's business, which means that operating a showroom where buyers can see and touch every sku in the collection is essential to success.

But sisters Danielle and Jodie Snyder have also formed a direct bond with their customers through social media and personal appearances. That’s why they opened a 4,000-square-foot showroom in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighbourhood that will cater to both retail buyers and every day consumers, with private shopping experiences and dinners for top clients. “It gives the customer what fashion used to be; insider-y,” says Danielle Snyder.

For emerging upstarts like Dannijo, whose digital presence has been essential to brand-building, leveraging their workspace to engage both wholesale and retail customers for experience-based shopping is an increasingly common way to stand apart in a crowded marketplace. Opening up a showroom to consumers can be done with little-to-no additional capital, and yet it can be a powerful way to boost sales and build loyalty.

The Hatch showroom | Source: Courtesy

“Hatch Shopping Hours,” Hatch Collection’s branded take on the approach, launched after an early devotee of the New York-based maternity brand asked if she could come into the office for a private shopping appointment.

“Women who come to the space and work with our personal stylist Chloe spend an average of three times as much as they do online,” says Hatch Collection chief-executive Ariane Goldman. “Hopefully that’s the moral of the story. No matter how great we are doing online, women still want to feel and touch things, especially in the space of maternity.”

Riding on the success of in-showroom shopping appointments — of which there are 10-15 scheduled each week — Goldman began hosting trunk shows across the country. And while she plans to open her first retail store in August, she will continue to offer one-on-one appointments within the showroom.

In a similar vein, Loeffler Randall stages quarterly VIP customer events called “Shop the Showroom.” Figue designer Stephanie Von Watzdorf opens her Moroccan-influenced showroom to sell her recycled embellished military jackets and bohemian separates, but also to peddle one-of-a-kind items acquired through her exotic travels.

The new office and showroom of London-based eveningwear label Galvan — which launched in 2014 as a reasonably priced, modernly designed alternative to ultra-high-end, overwrought gowns — will also serve as the home base for label's bespoke business. "We are looking to offer a lovely private client experience in a showroom setting," says chief executive Katherine Holmgren. "From our point of view, it is a lot cooler and lot less expensive than a retail store." The store will have little or no signage and require being buzzed in adding to the personal touch.

A multi-faceted place where buyers and retail customers alike could understand the storytelling aspect of the brand and experience the visual part of it.

But combining wholesale and retail experiences isn’t just about saving money. When former Elle editor Marin Hopper was looking for a retail location in New York’s Upper East Side to sell her Hayward handbags, she didn’t want a “traditional vanilla box.” The 1870s Grosvenor Atterbury mansion, located right off Lexington on 70th Street, opened in 2015 as both a wholesale showroom and a retail store.

“We needed a multi-faceted place where both buyers and retail customers alike could understand the storytelling aspect of the brand and experience the visual part of it,” Hopper says. At the top of a grand staircase, there is chic salon with an ornate fireplace and taxidermy peacocks where Hayward bags are displayed, while the men’s Hopper line — inspired by her father Dennis — is merchandised in a dining room reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright. Both rooms feature family photographs, with a family tree wallpapering the bathroom.

Over the past two years, Hopper and husband John Goldstone have used the space to bring clients and retail partners together. For instance, Farfetch recently hosted a dinner bringing together stylists and editors, personal shoppers and VIP customers. “We wanted to offer an inside experience and design a store where you could come for a drink or dinner,” she says. “It’s a natural space to entertain in.”

Industry veteran Denise Williamson uses her new bi-level space at 180 Duane Street in New York’s Tribeca for both retail and wholesale. The lower level of the space is populated with client samples for both press and wholesale, while upstairs is a constantly evolving concept.

Currently, it’s open to the public, featuring for-sale wares from Williamson’s clients alongside those from other brands she admires, but in July, the space will turn into a trade-only showroom for editors and buyers in town for New York Fashion Week: Men’s.

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