Starting an online retail business in 2018 sounds about as daunting as starting a physical retail business in 2008 did. Sure, less costs are associated, and consumer spending has bounced back, but the ecommerce market is oversaturated, shipping costs continue to skyrocket, and the “pay to play” decree of digital advertising—now starting to shake up social media as well—is making it increasingly difficult for new online brands to get in front of an audience. Digitally native apparel retailers have the added challenge of trying to reach customers who aren't interested in wasting time on a guessing game when it comes to ordering the correct size, especially if shipping is on them. If only there were a physical space in which they could launch their catalog...
Meet For Now: A retail incubator and pop-up collective. Meet Kaity and Katharine: Your ecommerce brand’s new fairy godmothers.
Owners Kaity Cimo and Katharine ReQua launched the Boston-based boutique late last year out of an industry hole they spotted through their retail consulting work. They saw immense potential in new companies whose growth was stagnant, simply because they wrestled to get their product physically in front of an audience. So they did something about it.
Today, For Now boasts a rotating collective of emerging apparel, shoe, accessory, gift and home brands that get to test retail in a physical storefront without an overwhelming financial investment. “It’s a fresh space for them to get access to new customers in a very high foot traffic area,” says Katharine, "as well as a place where they can drive their following, so those customers can try on and touch and feel product. It’s a way for them to get in a brick-and-mortar space and learn about their customers.”
The duo, who hail from a retail background and have witnessed the changing landscape first hand, preach what they call co-retail: “Instead of a brand having to take on the risk of a space themselves, whether that risk is capital, a team of people, or a lease, in a co-retail space everyone sort of shares that burden,” says Katharine. Not only are the showcased brands sharing the participation fee, but they’re sharing each other’s clientele. “Someone might come here to see Faherty, but they’ll learn about Fair Seas. So they’re sharing their networks as much as they are resources.”
"Physical retail is important now almost more than ever, especially for young brands."
The benefits for the brands are obvious and endless, but Kaity and Katharine are certainly getting something out of these partnerships as well: a thriving brick-and-mortar store. Creating a memorable customer experience is key for surviving in today’s shifting retail climate, and they’ve done just that. “We have new brands in here all the time, so it keeps customers engaged and excited. They’re always asking what’s going to be coming next,” says Kaity.
Weekly events and workshops add to the in-store experience, but the For Now team knows that is just one part of the puzzle; no matter how creative, a business cannot grow without data, and brands and retailers need to apply that data to all decisions and strategy. If evening events are well attended but don't generate many sales, are they worth the time investment? If handbags aren't performing well, should we stop partnering with future handbag brands?
“We rely heavily on data and technology, specifically as it pertains to reporting and foot traffic conversions,” says Katharine. “These two metrics help us make better business decisions—from the day-to-day operations as well as long term—not only for ourselves, but also for the brands we work with.” They deliver sales reports to their vendors each week; “Because the product is on consignment, the brands want to be able to see what’s going on in here.” So even though SeaVees may be located in Santa Barbara or Holebrook comes all the way from Sweden, Kaity and Katharine can provide insightful feedback in real time to all of their growing brands.
It's a match made in retail heaven: Emerging online retailers need to get in front of an audience, while physical retailers need to be consistently delivering fresh experiences to that audience. For Now is a perfect example of why independent retail isn’t going anywhere, as long as retailers and brands are willing to be creative, collaborative, and data-focused.
Says Katharine, "So much of today's shopping experiences happen online, where products aren't being touched and felt before purchasing. Customers today love brick and mortar because they want to touch and feel, so physical retail is important now almost more than ever, and especially for young brands."