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Taking Your Experience From Click to Brick

How to design an in-store experience that embodies your brand

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Rainer Castillo
Rainer Castillo
Co-Founder of Chubbies

Rainer Castillo is a Co-Founder of Chubbies, the digitally native direct-to-consumer phenomenon known for selling khaki shorts for men with a shorter inseam and featuring playful patterns and colors. After experiencing exponential growth online, Chubbies opened 11 physical locations in the span of a year, reaching their loyal communities of brand fans in person nationwide.

Making the Move Offline

Almost as quickly as direct-to-consumer brands took off online, they started building physical locations. For specialized brands with strong customer communities, stores can and should be a gathering place for your biggest fans. For newer brands, they also serve as a point of discovery for people who might not have heard about you online.

So, brick-and-mortar stores are a great opportunity, but they’re also a major challenge for brands born entirely online. When making the move offline, we quickly realized we were in a totally different ballpark. After opening 11 stores, we’ve learned a lot about everything from choosing the right location to designing experiential spaces and tackling inventory challenges. In this lesson, we’ll share our most important takeaways from going click to brick.

The Right Location for Your First Storefront

Ideally, you want to organically expand your existing customer base. The beauty of having a digital brand is you have a lot of information about where your customer is. We knew, for example, in Houston, that this was one of our top four or top five markets. We emailed every customer in that market and said, “Guys, we’re thinking of putting a store in Houston. What do you think?” That email alone for us — and this is tens of thousands of emails — had 30%-40% open rates. It was wild.

direct-to-consumer ecommerce marketing

These people participated in a survey we sent and went as far as to say things like, “You know what, here’s my favorite bar, here’s my favorite restaurant, here’s where I shop.” We were able to hone in within a neighborhood — almost to the street-level — where our guy would be and where we should build that store, and it was awesome.

We came in a few months before the complex opened in Houston, and we were in the middle of a construction zone with the only building open, and we had 250 people lined up outside around the corner.

It was unreal to see this and to see that when you can be that focused with your physical retail effort, you have an opportunity to really pinpoint and elevate their experience, and to be a part of your customers’ physical community.

Designing a Space Customers Want to Come To

When we saw the response to our stores, we knew we had to do more with that in-person community. We’re doing a lot more in-store events where we say, “Hey, here’s a product we’re not offering online.” or “Here’s a new idea we have, come in and give us feedback on it.” This creates a bond with the communities around our physical locations and gives them an extra reason to come in.

But beyond the events, our stores are actually designed to be places where you can just hang out. Each one has a Tiki bar in it. And so when you drop by, you’re welcome to grab a beer and chill at the Tiki bar. We have guys who show up all the time and just come and hang out. This is the sort of environment you want to create. The specifics will obviously be different for each brand, but you want your customers to actually enjoy spending time in your store beyond the shopping.

The last piece here is the service. What’s incredible for us is that every person we hire in our stores is very understanding of our desire to be welcoming. They all kind of preach the Chubbies mantra of “customers greater than company, greater than self.” We really see this attitude as a major part of building up the communities at our physical locations, so the staff you hire is really important too.

Managing Customers Expectations of In-Store Inventory

Moving into stores definitely comes with some challenges, for us we really learned about the operational complexity of moving inventory. We’re not a showroom — we’re actually putting inventory into those stores. So, it’s been a first few seasons of learning how to buy inventory and how to distribute it across channels. It’s something that we by no means have years of history doing, so we’re learning on the fly.

direct-to-consumer ecommerce marketing

Part of the learning curve — and one of the most important things you can do here — is managing customer expectations of your in-store inventory. We definitely noticed an element of disappointment for customers if they see, for example, an email we send about brand new stretch tall shorts that came out last week, and they want them in store right away. We have to say, “Look, the second those arrive, we put them up on the site and they’re en-route to the store but you can’t get them today.”

You need to make sure that interaction about inventory is seamless and consistent. So even when you can’t deliver immediately, you need to be really responsive and let them know when they’ll be able to get their hands on your product.

Conclusion

  • Build where your customers are – Use your online community to source the ideal locations for your physical stores.
  • Be welcoming – Your stores should be a place where your customers can hang out and enjoy the atmosphere. This includes everything from the physical layout to the attitude of your staff.
  • Manage inventory expectations – Moving offline comes with operational challenges, so make sure you communicate with your customers and let them know if there will be delays on products they’re waiting for.

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