Memebox's Bonvivant brand


Memebox is moving from the cell phone to the street for the holidays.

The skyrocketing digital beauty start-up has opened a pop-up store on Ellis Street in the bustling Union Square area of San Francisco, not too far away from its U.S. headquarters. The 600-square-foot space, which runs through Dec. 24, is a precursor to a much bigger push into domestic retail distribution that will see Memebox positioning its products as masstige merchandise.

“We have had a ton of demand from our customers wanting an offline experience on top of our online experience,” said Arnold Hur, president of Memebox USA. “We have actually had a ton of people showing up at our offices wanting to pay cash right there for them. We ended up running a few pop-ups in the office, and there was a line out the door. We wanted to expand access and fill the demand.”

The temporary store’s assortment will feature Memebox’s in-house color cosmetics and skin-care brands I’m Meme, Pony Effect, Nooni and Bonvivant, and bestsellers from third-party brands such as SkinMiso, Elizavecca and Cosrx. Prices range from $1 for individual sheet masks to $150 for gift sets. Promotional items found online such as Meme Vault Boxes loaded with products at a value price will also be in the mix at the store.

Hur explained the selection was driven by a deep dive into consumer data as well as intuition about the products that could perform well in San Francisco. “We are a data-driven company, and we can actually identify what products sell better depending on the zip code. Then, of course, we have the traditional and more artistic side. As much as there is data, someone has to make a decision about what they feel will work. We know there are quite a lot of learnings we need to get on the art side,” he said.

The location was chosen to help Memebox learn as much as possible about retailing. Nearly everyone at the company, from engineers to the vice president of human resources, is expected to staff it. Additionally, Hur remarked, not only are Memebox employees in San Francisco, its customers are, too. “If you look at the Bay Area in general, there’s a lot of interest here,” he said. “We wanted something that was central and easy to access. The access part was really important to us. We are bringing great Korean beauty products to everybody.”

The design of the pop-up store attempts to bridge the digital-physical divide. The Korean word “choc choc” plays a large role in doing so. Used to encapsulate the sound of skin-care products as they’re applied to the skin, it’s plastered on the wall in the space. “You can experience that feeling and the noise in person versus before when you could online watch it online in videos,” said Hur.

After holiday season ends and the pop-up shop closes, Memebox is certainly not turning away from retail. Already in drugstores and department stores in Korea, where it has a freestanding store in Seoul estimated to generate around $1,000 in sales per square foot, Memebox is considering several retail options for the U.S., including future pop-up locations, freestanding stores and major retail partnerships. Hur underscored Memebox will concentrate on skin care in the American market, and emphasize its ability to deliver quality design and ingredients without exorbitant price tags.

“I really believe there is an opportunity to create a $10 billion skin-care market on top of what already exists,” said Hur. “It is bigger than Korean beauty. A lot of categories like sheet masks have always been available, but they’ve mostly been available at a high price point. We can take a leading position through our brands in these categories within masstige. The majority of women outside of our beauty bubble don’t know what a sheet mask is or haven’t purchased a sheet mask. Digital can open up this market with education. Before, it would have been difficult to explain these products, now Kim Kardashian, Chrissy Teigen and even Chris Pratt are using sheet masks.”

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