Women's apparel box service e-retailer MM.Lafleur is turning a temporary Bryant Park showroom in New York City into a permanent location, real estate publication Commercial Observer reports.
The pop-up showroom previously occupied a 4,340-square-foot location on the 22nd floor of a 29-story, 250,000-square-foot office tower between Avenue of the Americas and Broadway, and will move downstairs to a 5,088-square-foot area on the 13th floor, according to the report.
The space won't be a traditional store but instead will be used for styling appointments, according to an email to Retail Dive. The showroom will have an event space, six dressing rooms, two VIP dressing rooms, two vanities for blowouts and makeup, and two manicure stations, the company said in the email. The reception area doubles as a bar, and there are sitting areas throughout the shoe-less environment (guests receive slippers to wear), the company said.
MM.LaFleur is an e-commerce, box-based apparel styling service and retailer focused on women's work attire, but don't call it a subscription service. Under pressure to boost sales or go home, the company in 2014 pivoted to a "try-before-you-buy" model, along with online and in-person styling services. That helped get things on track to top $70 million in 2017, according to Inc. magazine.
"While we hope the relationship between client and stylist is an ongoing one, there is no subscription obligation," MM.LaFleur CMO Annie Thorp told Retail Dive last year. "I suspect some of the confusion about our business model stems from the recent proliferation of subscription services, and the assumption that any try-before-you-buy or 'box model,' like our Bento Box, must come tied to an ongoing subscription obligation."
Apparel showrooms are a model born of the e-commerce era, which is proving difficult in apparel, where customers continue to prefer trying on clothes in person. Menswear retailer Bonobos (now owned by Walmart) innovated its Guideshops in that vein and Nordstrom is running a relatively new merchandise-less "Local" shop.
"Our goal is to be a place for professional women to gather, learn, shop, hang out, connect with each other, and of course, refresh," MM.LaFleur Director of Offline Retail Rachel Mann told Retail Dive in an email, describing the showroom as "a club-like experience where we want women to feel totally at home."
It could also help smooth the company's online sales. The affinity to try on clothes in person is leading to record returns for retailers in the segment. The value of retail returns last year rose 53% from 2015 to $400 billion, and the growth of e-commerce is stoking that, according to returns and overstock supply company B Stock. Returns of brick-and-mortar purchases tend to hover at 8%, while e-commerce returns can reach as high as 15% to 30%, according to CBRE, which says that likely value of online returns is $32 billion, up from 2016's estimated $28 billion.
For some online shoppers, ordering multiple sizes of a product with the intention of shipping back what doesn't fit has become the norm, much to the expense of retailers. More than 40% of retailers have seen an increase in such "intentional returns" in the past year, according to omnichannel retail management firm Brightpearl. That's exacerbating the already margin-crushing costs of fulfillment and delivery for orders that customers actually keep: 44% of retailers say margins are being strongly impacted by handling and packaging returns, with 70% saying they expect to be squeezed further as the practice intensifies.