Today, even major brands claim their own concept stores. Yet, such assertions defy the very nature of these shopping places, which flourish on highly personal visions and their joltingly intriguing executions. But is this all that makes concept stores a successful retail concept?
By: Dimitria Vitanova
Posted on: November 17, 2016
From cavernous, hanger-like arrangements to neat, boutique-style aesthetics, concept stores exude individuality and exclusivity. They might offer thousands of items or just a few unique pieces; double up as creative agencies or cafes; draw in a loyal, regular clientele or touristy gaggle of shoppers. From New York to London to Tokyo, concept stores are shaping up a hip experience, a jaunt into a stylized universe much more stimulating than a traditional shopping-mall rendezvous.
Modern concept stores are a rather recent development – Italian fashion journalist Carla Sozzani is largely billed to have opened the very first concept store, 10 Corso Como, only 26 years ago in Milan. Relative “newcomers,” concept stores are not insulated from the shifts and insecurities of today’s market.
To find out how concept stores fare in the global context of slumping physical retail sales, growing e-commerce and rising millennial consumers, LuxuryFacts talked to three such shops. SVMOSCOW, LNFA and Concept SUD, all boasting disparate sensitivities that have put them on several lists of the world’s best concept stores.
The Concepts Behind the Stores
With a background in architecture and design, Tatyana Strekalovskaya chose a central, non-commercial part of Moscow to open SVMOSCOW. Launched in 2001, the store is a mainstay and an anchor for the city’s avant-garde culture. Boasting no front-window signage and a range of exclusive SV merchandise – from capsule collections to perfumes to books, SVMOSCOW lures in like-minded fashion buffs – its select visitors.
Its appeal is not hard to grasp, given that the store houses a rare repository of celebrated brands – Comme des Garcons, Balenciaga, Yohji Yamamoto, Haider Ackermann and Ann Demeulmeester to name but a few. Having brought Vetements to Russia, SVMOSCOW is now among only 20 stores worldwide to offers the French collective’s men’s line. This year, the store introduced Vetements’ much talked-about hoodie that pays bold red-letter tribute to Russia’s rock star Zemfira.
While SVMOSCOW exults forward-thinking maisons, Concept SUD – weary that too much attention on labels might smother genuine creativity – focuses on artists. For spouses Bertram and Maha Daoudi Seitz, Concept SUD was their answer to the uniformed – even boring – shopping scene in Geneva, Switzerland. The store brought in a jolting alternative – a snippet of Africa’s bright creations. Just as its name suggests (“sud” means south in French), Concept SUD raves in southern flair. A “slow retail” hub for contemporary, young designers, the store displays, at any time, no more than 50 pieces – from paintings to sculptures to jewelry to couture to shoes. Still a budding venture, it sells around 350 items a year (with plans to soon spike this number to 500).
“All items in the store are chosen by ourselves, in the ateliers of our artists, sometimes they are not even finished when we take the decision,” says Mr Seitz. “We are always looking for the extraordinary.”
Exceptionality, for LNFA, Berlin’s biggest concept store, lies in its clever marriage of a retail shop with a communication agency. When Sevil Uguz launched LNFA mere two years ago, the shop featured around 10 aspiring local fashion designers. Since then, she has been approached by a legion of creatives, growing LNFA’s roster to more than 50 brands, including Abury, Celeni and LA Saints. Promoting fashion and art, the store creates a relaxed ambiance to host events and network. The store also shuffles its exquisite goods quickly but quietly, several times a year, to chart a novel journey for its buyers, whenever they step inside its factory-like edifice.
“LNFA corporate identity is very urban, industrial and raw [just like] Berlin,” says Gintare Adomaityte, the store’s PR manager. “Little bit messy and loud to transmit the local values and lifestyle.”
The Shoppers: As Diverse as the Stores
Concept stores – the common perception goes – pull in a uniform shopper base. The type of sophisticated, indulged customers that splurge their riches on showy, limited finds. This notion, however, does not always hold true.
In the case of LNFA, many clients come from abroad, keen to taste the Berliner fad. “[T]he majority of the end customers are tourists who are curious about local fashion, have an interest in art, design, [the] creative industries and search for original, exclusive, not standard outfit[s],” says Ms Adomaityte. “We do fulfill any taste and bring different styles together, which results into diversity among the clients.”
Indeed, concept stores’ original aesthetics – often fine-tuned to a singular theme – attract customers that do not necessarily fully align with the shops’ vision but seek an “item with soul,” as Mr Seitz says. This results in patrons that chart the gamut of occupations and preferences.
“There are different kinds of customers: young fashionistas, yuppies, celebrities, professionals from different spheres,” says Katerina Zakharevich, PR manager for SVMOSCOW.
This ability to tempt – and retain – a motley clientele allows concept stores to escape the doldrums of today’s high-end retail segment. In a time when shopping malls and department stores are plunging into a bout of dwindling profits and closures, most of their concept counterparts – and the three featured here – are going strong.
On and Off Stores
Another clue to concept stores’ winning evolution lies in their approach to e-commerce. For many such shops, online shopping is not merely another means to sell. It is a customer-friendly option to weave with brick-and-mortar spoils in order to create a united experience.
Having launched an e-retail section in 2012, SVMOSCOW has struck such a subtle balance between the online and the offline that one feels a seamless extension of the other. Offering worldwide delivery, the store takes its selection of “avant-garde genius [and] new, young designers and experimenters” to keen customers that might not be otherwise able to physically browse through it.
“Shopping is more than purchasing and getting the products,” says Ms Adomaityte. “It is communication, memories, feelings, interaction, storytelling. We do believe in [the] proper combination of the online and offline business, though real time shopping will never be replaced by clicking buttons in our target group. People want to touch, smell, try it out, hear the advice of LNFA retailers and breathe in [the] special spirit.”
And yet, LNFA has gone a step further than old-fashioned, catalog-style e-commerce. It has recently joined YEAY, a novel mobile video platform that lets the store market and sell its stock in short, sleek clips. LNFA is also to soon retail through Showroom, a German-language e-commerce portal that connects shops with shoppers.
Meawhile, despite the growing forte of digital commerce, Concept SUD is for now staying offline. “We believe that the past is the future in this business,” says Mr Seitz. “[I]n a world that is more and more global and where there is no space to express [one’s] own identit[y], we strongly believe people will more and more look for handmade unique genuine creations, which is exactly what we offer at Concept SUD.” With a Switzerland-wide expansion on the make, this may change, or not.
E-selling or not, concept stores might be easily compared to boutiques or even upscale mom-and-pop shops. Still, they constitute so much more – an amalgam of rare commodities that entice all sorts of purchasers, both in-store and online. Perhaps, they might even hold the key to overcoming the downward turns of today’s retail industry. Certainly, they present an inviting – viable – alternative to the traditional, troubled shopping spaces of the digital age.