Plus-size online subscription brand Gwynnie Bee on Saturday will unveil a 3,000-square-foot pop-up shop at 134 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan’s Flatiron District. The temporary shop will be open for eight weeks. It’s viewed by the company as a stop along the way to what will hopefully be a physical chain.
“We’ve been contemplating moving into brick-and-mortar for some time,” said Gwynnie Bee founder and chief executive officer Christine Hunsicker. “Off-line still has a huge and prominent role in retail. Even with the surge of online being a great way for consumers to access and order apparel, to have an omnichannel experience for your customer, you need to be thinking about how to bring the two together.
“The hope is that this goes so well that it presents a compelling case to do it permanently,” Hunsicker said.
Gwynnie Bee’s customers are clustered in major metropolitan areas, the ceo said, adding that New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and several cities in Texas are all options.
Hunsicker said a less than stellar performance at the pop-up won’t preclude Gwynnie Bee from introducing physical stores. “It’s not going to be a one-off,” she said. “If we learn we’re not quite ready or find that we got things wrong in terms of the customer experience, we’ll change and do the test again.”
Plus-size women are forced to buy online because there aren’t enough brick-and-mortar stores targeting plus-size customers, Hunsicker said, adding that Lane Bryant is one of the only brands with a physical presence in A malls. “Why is that the only option?” she said. “You have J. Crew, Gap and Ann Taylor, all really familiar American retailers. Plus-size shoppers should have more than just one store.
“The plus-size woman is three times more likely to shop online,” Hunsicker said. “We definitely believe there’s a need for a plus-size brick-and-mortar retailer.”
Since no money will change hands at the store, there will be no need for cash registers. “People will be signing up for the online subscription service,” Hunsicker said. “They can come in and play with the clothing and try on clothing. The goal is to convert as many people as possible.”
Hunsicker compared the pop-up to a showrooming concept with more than 60 brands, including Melissa McCarthy Seven7, City Chic and Amanda Uprichard, about half the number offered online. “They can order unlimited product,” she said. “People who come into the store will get full access to the catalogue. They can take advantage of our 30-day free trial, which is offered online. We’ll have a pretty vast assortment, and will be changing it out a few times during the month.”
Permanent Gwynnie Bee stores will probably be around the same size as the pop-up. “We’re trying to keep the floor clean and uncluttered. We want that upscale boutique feel, so we’re not overstocking it.”
Gwynnie Bee’s pop-up follows the decision by plus-size rival Eloquii, which relaunched as an online only retailer, to open its first brick-and-mortar store just outside Washington, D.C. Eloquii now sees physical retail as a key part of its future growth strategy.