Immersive, experiential stores are the new benchmark in retail. Even more so when an online retailer like Stylerunner ventures into bricks-and-mortar for the first time.
Unencumbered by existing store networks, digital-native retailers are free to reimagine basic elements such as checkout counters and even racks and shelves to hold the products they sell.
That’s what led Casper to create The Dreamery in New York City, a far cry from a standard mattress store where customers can take a 45-minute nap session, and Bonobos to open Guideshops, where customers can try on and buy (but not leave with) its menswear clothing. Purchases are shipped directly to the customer’s home or office for hands-free convenience.
“I love that concept,” Stevanja said about the next-generation stores being built by digital-native brands in the US.
But while the Stylerunner store in Armadale was created with Instagram in mind, it’s not trying to reinvent bricks-and-mortar retail – at least not yet.
“Because the category for premium, beautiful, limited-edition women’s activewear is not well served, we wanted to do that first and foremost,” Stevanja explained. “We’re filling a gap in the market to be able to try on and purchase in bricks-and-mortar stores.”
Designed by Noise Noise Noise’s Blair Cooper, the 200 square metre space stocks fashion-forward workout clothes and athleisure from big-name brands like Nike, Adidas and P.E Nation, as well as emerging designers like Adam Selman. Digital screens show the huge range of products available on Stylerunner’s website.
“We want to make sure we’re stocking our most popular brands, the ones customers are voting for, but also have a significant amount of room for emerging brands that customers might not take a risk buying online because they’re not sure of the sizing or the quality of the fabric,” said Stevanja about deciding which brands to stock in-store.
Customers can check the sizing of new-to-them brands in Stylerunner’s striking changerooms, which feature floor-to-ceiling patterns and dimmable lighting to create the perfect social media post. There are also special buttons labelled ‘help me’ and ‘hydrate me’, which will bring a team member bearing either advice or water.
If customers can’t find something they like in-store, staff are equipped with iPads to help them find it online, and purchases can be sent either directly to customers, or to the store to be picked up at a later date.
“The level of service is highly personalised,” Stevanja said, noting that all store staff double as stylists.
The retailer is also about to launch Stylerunner Live, which will enable customers anywhere in Australia to video chat with the Armadale store staff to see products and get advice. The service reflects the synergy that was promised when Accent Group acquired Stylerunner last year.
Becoming part of the ASX-listed company has required surprisingly little adjustment, according to Stevanja.
“One of the positives is that Stylerunner and Accent have got pretty similar cultures,” she said. “Accent Group is very entrepreneurial, and whilst there’s a little bit of the more corporate structure, there are great things that come with that like HR programs. In large part, I’ve been really happy with the fit.”
The Stylerunner team has remained in its Beaconsfield office in Sydney, but it has gotten bigger, thanks to Accent Group’s investment. That investment has also enabled Stylerunner to replatform its website, launch its first TVC and, of course, open its first store. And there’s more to come.
According to Stevanja, the business has a list of locations across Australia where it would like to open stores and will be fairly quick to pounce once the right space becomes available. The list includes a mix of strip mall locations and high-end shopping centres. As far as numbers, the retailer will be looking to remain “reasonably exclusive”.
“It won’t be a handful of stores, but 100 would be too many,” Stevanja said.