Relocating within the Taikoo Li Sanlitun shopping complex, the maker of high-end fashion spectacles took up a colorful diamond-shaped building at the entrance of the open-space mall.
The three-story, 14,320-square-foot space is about three times the size of Gentle Monster’s previous store in the North District. The building previously housed Uniqlo for more than 10 years.
Beijing was the entry market into China for the brand in 2016. After expanding into 14 key cities over six years, the relocation marks Gentle Monster’s 17th store in the country.
Themed “Datafication in the Future” and “Fractured world,” the store is a theatrical retail space filled with large-scale dystopian sculptures and multimedia displays.
A moving eye sculpture and teddy bear body parts take up the first floor; a blinking giant space cowboy and its pet rhino, a giant spider called the “Probe” and a video artwork by Jonas Lindstroem occupy the second floor, and a giant insect holds court on the third floor.
The first two levels are dedicated to sunglasses and collaborative projects, while the third level features all optical items. The third level also features a repair service area, a first in the Northern China market.
“We realized the stores we previously opened, those at 200 to 300 square meters [2,150 to 3,230 square feet], didn’t have enough display area to showcase all our products, especially new styles we’ve developed in opticals and colored-lens spectacles segment,” said Xiaodong Wang, the brand’s China chief executive officer.
Two years ago, Taikoo Li management wanted Gentle Monster to take over the Uniqlo space when the Japanese fast-fashion brand was planning to move to the newly developed Taikoo Li West District across the street.
The offer was too good to give up, but Wang and his team were still hesitant. They didn’t want to open a large store for the sake of it. “We asked ourselves, should an eyewear brand open this big a shop? What do we do with the space? Do we create an exhibition space?” said Wang. “After much deliberation, we decided to stay focused on creating a focused retail experience to amplify the message that we are an eyewear company.”
Wang believes Gentle Monster is a “frontrunner” in China’s eyewear market. “When we looked at Tmall data five years ago, this market was tiny, but it blew up,” said Wang. “People have built fashion awareness around eyewear products, and I believe the potential for the market is expanding as well.
“As urbanization picks up and our lives get busier, people will need respite in their lives, including the eyewear segment. A little fantasy and delight will help, to feel like our lives are getting better,” Wang said.
He said the Taikoo Li Sanlitun shop’s emphasis on customer service also answers to consumers’ busy lifestyles. “This is the part of the business we didn’t discuss before, but we managed to provide a complete eyewear shopping experience with in-house customer services; that’s something many eyewear brands have not done. Most of them still rely on third-party wholesale channels for after-sales services.”
Steadily increasing its retail footprint in China, one of its most important markets, will be Gentle Monster’s expansion plan in the country. “When we entered the market, we only had plans to open four to five stores,” said Wang. “But during the process, you realize the Chinese market is massive and that China is urbanizing so fast, you see a new city pop up every other year.”
The brand will dive deeper into first-tier megacities such as Beijing and Shanghai while expanding to province capitals in smaller markets such as Chongqing, Changsha, Wuhan and Hefei.
In first-tier cities, Wang likes to compare Gentle Monster’s retail strategy to luxury brands. “If you look at other luxury brands, it’s proven that it’s possible to have two to four stores in first-tier cities. So our expansion plans will focus on specific retail communities,” said Wang. Such forthcoming projects include a new store at soon-to-be-opened Chengdu SKP and Guangzhou Tianhuan Plaza.
Streamlining online business will also be critical for Gentle Monster’s growth in the market. The brand’s online business, which consists of its official online store, Tmall, JD.com and Wechat Mini Program, is about the size of three to four average-sized retail stores.