The Muppet Show Sandro

COSTA MESA, CALIF. – In Kermit the Frog green, it’s hard to miss Sandro’s pop-up shop buildout at South Coast Plaza.

The glass pod is the first time the brand’s done something on that scale for a pop-up experiment and highlights its latest mash-up with “The Muppet Show” and dabbling in the children’s market. It’s also what brands need to do at retail if they want to remain relevant to consumers, SMCP North America president Paul Griffin said.

“It’s going to be quite striking just as you walk into this mall, discovering this bright-green glass box,” Griffin said. “The reason why we picked South Coast Plaza is because we have tremendous business and great brand awareness in this location. The brand’s really resonating very strongly in this mall which, arguably, you could say is probably one of the best examples of a premium mall in the U.S. if you look at the brand mix with everything from fast fashion all the way through to having a very strong luxury brand mix. With Sandro, we are what we call accessible luxury and feel we fit in well within this type of mix.”

Griffin went on to say the South Coast Plaza Sandro store is doing “extremely well,” tempering that by adding the 10-day pop-up is about continuing to solidify that performance.

“It’s important, despite already having a very successful brand there, that we continue to engage the customer and excite the customer,” he said. “Creating this capsule, in collaboration with the Muppets, we felt this was a great opportunity to really excite the consumer at this key time of the year, so we’re expecting a great reaction.”

South Coast Plaza and the company’s store at 79 Greene Street are the only two that will sell the Muppets capsule initially before Sandro rolls distribution out more broadly.

Sandro is part of the SMCP group, which also owns the Maje and Claudie Pierlot brands. SMCP ended calendar year 2017 with a total of 1,332 doors across its portfolio, which reflects a mix of retail partners and company-owned stores. Companywide net sales last year rose 16 percent to $1.05 billion with net income, excluding one-time charges, of $51.8 million at current exchange rates.

The Muppet Show x Sandro

Inside The Muppet Show x Sandro South Coast Plaza pop-up.  Linnea Stephan/

Any future retail growth moving forward will be disciplined, Griffin said, but there are plenty of plans for Sandro alone that would include permanent and potentially more pop-ups in the future.

“We do still see opportunity for permanent locations in key markets, in premium locations,” Griffin said. “We would still seek out new opportunity for permanent stores but at the same time, we’re a flexible business and we still have an entrepreneurial core to the way that we approach opportunities and so this [pop-up strategy] could give us opportunities to test markets in the future. Obviously, in the case of South Coast, we’ve gone with a very established market for us but, yes, I think we would consider this in the future.”

Plans call for Sandro stores to open this year in The Galleria in Houston and The Domain in Austin. Both stores are expected to open before Thanksgiving, according to Griffin. In January there are also plans to open a Sandro at the Fashion Valley mall in San Diego.

Growth plans for retail are about equal when looking at the two sister brands Sandro and Maje, Griffin said, except in instances where one location may speak to only one brand.

“We will consider opportunities by brand separately, but typically we do tend to find the opportunities that are a fit for both Sandro and Maje,” he added.

For now, the brand will focus on studying the reactions of the South Coast pop-up and its children’s offering, Griffin said, circling back to the shopping center. South Coast Plaza, and other Class A real estate like it, represent the greatest opportunity for retail in today’s market, the executive said.

“The biggest challenge [at retail today] is also the biggest opportunity,” he said. “There will always be a place for premium retail in my opinion. The premium retail destination will continue to get stronger. We’ve got to continue to deliver an exceptional brand experience and it’s got to be engaging and personalized and memorable. I think if you can do that effectively, you can create traffic into brick-and-mortar and you can continue to acquire new clients, nurture them, retain them and take market share.”

The challenge, of course, is in answering the question of what buildout or what experience will nab the greatest attention but that purpose is what physical retail has always served, he said.

“I really do think there is definitely a place for brick-and-mortar and it gives us an opportunity to really tell the story in a way that is, you could say, a little bit more challenging in the digital space, but the future of brick-and-mortar is fully integrated with the digital piece,” he said. “This is what we’re doing with the Muppets collaboration here, creating another level of storytelling for the brand and another opportunity to engage with the customer and create a conversation in the stores. For the strong brands that are really engaging with their customer, this is a great opportunity for retailers as we look ahead into the coming future.”