Each day, at the four-story, 14,000 sq. ft. store, Katie works alongside more than 50 digitally-native brands, with her co-founders Tal Zvi Nathanal and Amir Zwickel. They look to improve how brick-and-mortar retail functions and how it impacts e-commerce.
Katie recently joined our panel at SHOWFIELDS and we felt direct-to-consumer entrepreneurs would learn so much from the knowledge she’s gained through partnering with hundreds of upstart brands. How do we ignore retail advice from employee #3 at Warby Parker and the Co-founder of SHOWFIELDS?
Q: As a co-founder of SHOWFIELDS, you get to chat with online-only brands, led by people of all ages, in various categories, from around the world. How are the smartest merchants making the most of adventurous retail spaces like yours?
A: I think the best retail experiences are similar to the best websites on the market. If you think back to 10 years ago and the rise of direct to consumer, people had platforms to tell new and diverse stories about products and founders in a different way. In retail now, those same brands who told fantastic stories and brands that have been telling stories for years and are doubling down on that, are the ones winning in retail. Everything from Allbirds’ human-sized hamster wheel to test shoes, to Warby Parker opening The Readery, to Casper opening a nap lounge (the Dreamery). The best retailers are finding a way to tell the online story in a physical place.
Q: For DTC brands with less than 25 staffers, what must they do before they hit 50-100 people when their story changes?
A: It’s all about experimentation when you’re an emerging brand. It’s about trying different things like taglines, products or pricing—but always isolating the variable. A lot of things that allow young brands to do that are currently online, but there are things in the physical world that allow us to try those things very quickly and with a great feedback loop. Anything from partnering with other brands to doing a pop-up for a weekend, to taking a physical pop-up space for a month, to trying something like SHOWFIELDS for six.
My biggest recommendation for brands is to be fearless and be constantly testing. Approach retail in the same way that you’d approach your website in terms of absolutely everything from deals, to messaging, to pricing, to product. If you can do that by the time you’re at the 50 or 100-person mark and looking to roll out your own retail location, you have the data at your fingertips to make sure that retail is successful.
Q: You run one of the few stores in the world where discovery moments between digitally-native brands and shoppers are a huge priority. How can DTC startups make the most of this mindset that your team offers?
A: The best partners at SHOWFIELDS are the ones who want to learn and are in a learning mindset. The problem exists worldwide that brands want to meet customers and customers really want to meet and discover brands. And here they are, not as a data point online, but in a physical space. I think the brands that are the most successful at SHOWFIELDS and ultimately walk away with more than just sales, PR and marketing lifts, are the brands that really want to get in front of the customer and talk to them and actually have that physical interaction.
If I think back to the early days at Warby Parker, one of the most valuable things for us was having a pop-up shop (and that’s a very kind description for it!). It was a fold-out table in our office and we invited customers to try on glasses. A lot of our early intel that fed into the next line, and told us the things we needed to fix and the things we wanted to improve, were from those conversations. All four co-founders stood there all day, manning the pop-up, talking to customers and collecting feedback. One of the best things about SHOWFIELDS is not only meeting this entirely new demographic of consumer for you and your brand and getting exposure but really digging in to see what’s resonating with them. It’s such a valuable moment in your growth. Being able to have that interaction is priceless.
Q: How should young online brands view physical retail?
A: It’s important to be realistic with retail. It’s not a digital platform where you can boost a post or do a giveaway. It’s an amplification channel. I recommend that young brands think of amplifiers. Think about brands you might be able to partner with, cross-promote with, cohabitate with. One of the magical things about SHOWFIELDS is that over 50 brands are all speaking to the same consumer in one location, and they’re all speaking to each other. What happens is the cacophony of all of those voices together creates a much larger sound than any one of those brands could create on their own. It’s about exploring ways in which you can create amplification for whatever story you’re telling, whether it be through partnerships, locations, marketing, partnering with influencers or putting on a crazy dinner. For us, the brands that turn out to be the best partners are those that use our platform the right way.
Q: What's your true north KPI?
A: We have two KPIs, happy brands and happy customers. On the customer side, we’re able to do exit surveys, net promoter score, and through RetailNext we can track how many customers are repeat customers. Since we built the POS, we can see who’s coming back, what they’re buying, and what they like.
The customer is clearly who comes first and they’re our most primary KPI because if you don’t have a happy customer, you don’t have a product. With brands, we want to make sure we’re creating a space that sets them up for success. Clearly, brands are really happy in a space that offers heavy foot traffic and people coming in saying good things about it. Our customers are really happy when they meet and discover brands that they think are curated directly for them and really special.
Q: As the business has matured, have your KPIs changed?
A: We always had two KPIs and our primary KPI has always been happy customers. In every meeting, every new curation we do, every call we take, it’s a decision you have to make every day. It would be very easy to put the brand first and there’s that feeling because our brand partners are amazing. The challenge, in a good way, has been that we love our brands and partners so much, but the true way we serve them is to serve the customer.
Q: You host and partner with up-and-coming merchants, artists, and even tourism boards like Nashville at your four-story, 14k square-foot flagship in NoHO. What are some less obvious merchandising or promotional moves that brands have wowed consumers with?
A: Unorthodox spaces are opening stores. Butch, who runs marketing and was pivotal in creating Music City as a way of driving traffic to The City of Nashville, was on a panel I was on. He was doing so many cool things in Nashville, and I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be fun to bring some of that here?’. On the panel, I asked him to open the store, and they did. They recreated a record store that’s really famous in Nashville, called Grimey’s.
How they activated it, is they have different singers and songwriters every Thursday night in NoHo. They do pop-up performances and signings. We built a stage in their space. For me, it’s been an ‘aha’ moment—that anything can be a store because so many experiences are also looking to meet their customers where they are. Anything to meet a customer. SHOWFIELDS is a much larger opportunity than I even thought it was when we first started building it.
Q: There are many department stores that have stagnant displays and brands aren’t improving when their products are displayed. Does SHOWFIELDS do anything to improve the brands you partner with?
A: We have one sensor for every 90 square feet of SHOWFIELDS, so we constantly heatmap our space. We can see what customers are drawn to, what's working and what’s not. We surface that data to each brand that’s in SHOWFIELDS. Luckily for Nashville, they knocked it out of the park from day one. I think their setup is unique and beautiful. For other brands, we’ve looked at the data and remerchandised.
One brand had 25 hero products in a relatively small space, and we found only six of those units were performing incredibly well. We approached that brand and suggested going down to six products because converting more people to sale and getting familiar with the brand would be a better outcome versus getting one person who maybe was familiar with the brand to buy all 20 products at once. Sales went up 160% in one week. I’m confident they reorganized their website’s homepage to showcase those six products too.
You want to focus on telling your story in a beautiful, succinct way. When a brand can uncover what those are, that's an advantage. You have such a short amount of time with that consumer. Potentially, there are three things a customer walks away knowing about your brand.
Q: Is your relationship with brands different than other legacy department stores and do you welcome their thoughts on how the store looks or operates?
A: The founders of all the brands hang out in the store and attend our parties. We have a very open dialogue about things happening at SHOWFIELDS. We get feedback all day from our incredible brands, and when we do, I’m flattered. Believe me, I think these are the smartest people building some of the most beautiful brands in the world. Sometimes, marketing teams tell us how we should change the outside of our store. I love that.
At any given time, there are 60 people who are passionate and working towards the same goal. When you have 60 of the best minds, all trying to solve one problem, you can have some of the most creative solutions brought to the table. We had a brand send over potential product shots to ask for our opinion on branding and which type we thought the SHOWFIELDS consumer would most resonate with. SHOWFIELDS has become a collective and that’s what we’ve always wanted. Now we’re all on a mission to save retail together.
The mother of one of my co-founders, Tal Zvi Nathanel, was a window dresser when he was growing up, and he’s the most passionate person when it comes to retail. He just didn’t think retail was being done well, which is why SHOWFIELDS is his brainchild. He wanted to fix it. I am incredibly fortunate to work with Tal and Amir. These two brilliant men really see the world in a different way and are 10 steps ahead of the curve in terms of understanding the real estate and retail market. I’m able to step back and have these two people predict the future and understand that bricks aren’t going anywhere, retail isn’t dying, it’s just evolving. No one has done it well yet. And that doesn’t mean it can’t be done well.
I walked into SHOWFIELDS today and the holiday decorations are up. The store looks like magic. SHOWFIELDS has created the most flexible system in the world, and that gives us a competitive advantage. We’ve created a system that gives brands a stage. As brands change, products change, and the world changes, all SHOWFIELDS is, is a white box that can be changed overnight. I think we’re at the forefront of innovation simply because we’ve created the perfect breeding ground for brands that are way smarter than us and doing way cooler things. We are their stage.
Ultimately, the future of retail is being a stage, where no matter what happens with branding, with retail, with the type of products people are drawn to—that box can change. I think it’ll always be evolving, because the world is always evolving. Though previously, retail has stuck to one plan and not changed as the world around them has evolved.
Q: Exceptional customer experience is at the heart of any DTC brand. What's a lesson you've learned that consumer brands must keep in mind?
A: The most important lesson I've learned in my career was at Warby Parker—that the customer is the most important thing in the equation. But something I've also learned that is incredibly valued, which was said on a panel: “don’t look at the competition.” You’ll end up like everything else out there. You really have to stick to your set of values and create from your own voice and from your own place. If you can do that, then you’re truly innovating. If you’re always looking over your shoulder, trying to see what other people are doing, trying to compete in some shape or form, you’ll end up just like them.
With Hinge, if I’d known how challenging dating was when I started on the product with them, I probably wouldn’t have done it. Because we didn’t look at the competition and created an entirely new paradigm, we created something different. For every DTC brand, know your voice, know your customer in and out, and don’t deviate. Let them lead the way. Let them innovate. And let them push you. Always evolve with them.
Q: What can consumers expect from SHOWFIELDS?
A: We just launched Holiday x House of SHOWFIELDS, which is a holiday version of our immersive theater show. We’ll also be expanding into new cities as of next year. Stay tuned!