John McPheters, cofounder of Stadium Goods, a global sneaker and apparel marketplace that opened in 2015, remembered taking a trip to China years ago when he was in grad school. McPheters remembers walking into a newly opened Sam’s Club in Shanghai, which was empty, and a bustling Carrefour, a retailer based in France that competes with Sam’s Club.
“Sam’s Club felt like the big, drunk American coming through and selling things in bulk,” McPheters said. “Carrefour actually learned from the localized Chinese market and it was set up to feel as local and natural as possible. As if they were a part of the community.”
Years later, McPheters recalled this and applied it to the expansion strategy when Stadium Goods partnered with Tmall’s Alibaba and entered the Chinese market. Outside of participating in Alibaba’s 11.11 shopping event, McPheters and his team present a site that’s in full Mandarin and work with local Chinese talent on weekly live broadcasts.
“Storytelling is universal, but listen to the market,” McPheters said. “Don’t be afraid to throw things to the wall and see what sticks.”
Honing in on storytelling also helped Stadium Goods establish success in the U.S. McPheters explained how its SoHo shop, that comes with a $40,000 a month rent, wasn’t an immediate triumph.
“The first few weeks were painful,” McPheters said. “There were days when we only sold $100 worth of product.”
They turned this around by using the retail as a backdrop for storytelling — it’s frequently used for Complex’s popular Sneaker Shopping series — and making it an inclusive shopping experience, which isn’t typically inherent to streetwear and sneaker stores. DJ Khaled, who did a store meetup at Stadium Goods in 2016 that was mobbed by customers, helped McPheters see how important inclusivity was.
“A huge reason why DJ Khaled is successful is that he bridges the gap between elite brand persona and his fans,” said McPheters, who described Khaled taking time to meet and interact with every customer.
Because of these shifts, the store now does $5,000 per square foot, which is on par with Apple, and has gotten attention from LVMH Luxury Ventures, which backed the retailer earlier this year.
Next up for Stadium Goods is implementing more gamification in the U.S. shopping experience, which is already performing well in China, paying attention to gaming leagues, and creating more content directed at women.