NEW YORK — Direct-to-consumer bedding brand Brooklinen will open its first permanent store by the end of the year, CEO and co-founder Rich Fulop told Retail Dive in an interview. The store will open in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood, and it's one of many to come further down the line, according to Fulop.
While Fulop didn't go into specifics, he said they have plans for "a lot of stores" and are actively looking at locations. The brand a year ago tested a four-month pop-up in SoHo. Ultimately, however, they decided on Brooklyn because it was a more natural fit for a home brand selling sheets, comforters and the like.
"SoHo is a lot of apparel and a lot of tourists," Fulop said of the brand's decision to open its first permanent store elsewhere in New York. "We now sell some apparel in our loungewear, but at the pop-up we didn't have any apparel. It's not a dense residential area there, and it's a lot of tourists. People aren't buying comforters to take home on the plane. That's not really what was happening. So it was really understanding: It's the quality of the transfer, not the quantity."
Much like other direct-to-consumer brands that have attracted a loyal following, Brooklinen wanted to test physical retail to grow its business further, which was the impetus for the pop-up. However, while many of those brands have turned to SoHo for their first permanent stores, Fulop has become slightly disenchanted with the popular shopping neighborhood, at least for Brooklinen's purposes.
"It's the fallacy of location, location, location," Fulop said of how many DTC brands open their doors in SoHo. "When you're talking to brokers, which is the first step, it's foot traffic, it's location, but not all foot traffic is created equally. Just bodies walking in front doesn't help if they're not the right people."
SoHo definitely got bodies walking past the store, but for future locations, Fulop is looking closely at customer shipping and billing addresses to try and hone in on the best locations for its customers, and also what retail partners are nearby. In SoHo, he pointed out, the brand was close to Adidas and Bang & Olufsen, which were "not the ideal co-tenants" simply because they don't necessarily have the same customers that Brooklinen does or encourage the type of shopping that could boost Brooklinen's business.
"I'm being very analytical about where, so not only which market, but where in it," Fulop said about the brand's plans for future stores. "We're just being very thoughtful. I'm not like, 'We're definitely going to LA next.' It's not like that. If a beautiful space in the right location shows up in D.C. or Boston or Austin, we'll look at it."
Nevertheless, there's incredible value in testing out retail concepts in SoHo, which has become known for experiential retail of all stripes, and can drive a huge amount of traffic (and therefore, awareness) for new brands entering retail. For Brooklinen, the four-month pop-up in the area was mainly helpful in seeing if consumers would react well to a physical presence at all — and SoHo is a good barometer for whether or not the interest is there.
"The first thing you're looking for is: Does brick-and-mortar retail work for this company?" Fulop said. "That's the first box you're trying to check. If you can't succeed in SoHo, to some extent, if you can't close deals there, you're kind of dead in the water."
But, at least for Fulop, the difference between SoHo and Brooklyn for the time being is the difference between sticking a flagpole up and hoping the right customers see it, and taking the time to plant it where he knows they will.