Rockets of Awesome, a direct-to-consumer brand that prides itself on designing kid-friendly clothing that gets a nod from parents, on Thursday will open its first store, a 2,500-square-foot unit at 133 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan’s Flatiron District.
Launched three years ago, the brand offers subscription boxes with eight styles, delivered to customers’ doorsteps every season. Consumers can also purchase the apparel, in sizes 2 to 14, à la carte.
“We wanted to create an easier and more magical shopping experience for parents and kids at really accessible price points,” said Rachel Blumenthal, founder and chief executive officer of Rockets of Awesome. “It was always part of the original vision of the business to have an omnichannel experience for the customer. The idea that we can bring the brand to life is exciting.”
Rockets has two distinct customers, children and parents, and serving both is “very unique and complicated,” Blumenthal said. “Everything we stand for is about celebrating kids. Why don’t kids ever want to go to apparel stores? Because they’re boring. We have a lot of stuff for them to do and play with. We really want it to be fun. We want them to feel empowered to be themselves.
“We’re thinking about shopping experiences in a very different way,” Blumenthal said. “You’ve seen experiential retail that’s built for the Instagram set, and it’s just for taking a photo. We’re excited about testing real experiences that will actually drive sales. That’s very different than what’s been done in the kids space.”
Blumenthal was referring to Rocket of Awesome’s new immersive store where activities are designed to help children explore the products. Over-the-top treat decorations, a GIF swing photo booth, Velcro walls and marshmallow pool are geared to capturing their attention. An on-site sneaker and sweatshirt personalization station, mini manicures, nail decals, temporary tattoos and braid bar should keep them occupied while their parents partake in meditation classes and networking events, and listen to speakers.
Rockets of Awesome saw an opening in the market for a brand that focused on quality coupled with designs young people would find appealing. The turmoil in the children’s wear business confirmed Blumenthal’s instinct that the space was ripe for a new approach. In January, Gymboree filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and The Children’s Place in March bought Gymboree’s intellectual property and assets at auction.
“The most glaring thing was the real disconnect on the part of children’s wear players in understanding who the modern customer was,” Blumenthal said. “The leading players haven’t been digital-first because they came up 20 to 30 years ago. With digital becoming more prominent, and the primary way most customers shop, those companies were behind and unable to catch up. They were hindered by their long-term retail leases. Carter’s and The Children’s Place are the oldest and largest players, and they’re driven by wholesale and a large brick-and-mortar business.”
The new store is seen as a vehicle for learning about the brick-and-mortar retail business. “We’ll test lots of different ideas within the retail environment,” Blumenthal said. “It will give us freedom to try things. We want to roll out multiple locations for the brand. We’re open to streets and shopping centers. At this stage of Rockets’ growth, we have consumers across the country, very much aligned with population density. Our stores could be as successful in a city as the suburbs.
“We were really fortunate to have Foot Locker be the lead investor in our last round,” Blumenthal said of the sneaker retail giant, which invested $12.5 million in a Series C round in February that raised a total of $19.5 million. “We’re partnering with Foot Locker in our store. We’ll be testing sneakers and selling limited-edition products available only in our store. We’ll be doing a number of sneaker personalization events with graffiti artists and embroiderers.”