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BrandShop, a “retail experience” firm for emerging brands, is set to launch “MiniShops,” a direct sales channel shopping concept. MiniShops are one-day only shopping events hosted by a network of women who hold influence in their communities. The events aim to create a new channel for young brands to connect with engaged shoppers.

The BrandShop platform works with budding retail brands located outside of major fashion hubs such as New York and Los Angeles that seek greater exposure. Founders Laura Martin Mills, a former executive at Cynthia Rowley, and Hillary Crittendon, a McKinsey & Co. alum who consulted in retail and merchandising, created MiniShops to provide retail brands access to an untapped customer base. They described the site as a “ for retail.”

“Shortly after leaving New York City, I realized I really missed the access to emerging brands. There was no happening upon a small flagship shop in NoLIa to discover my new favorite denim line. Options were big-box stores and the 15-minute drive to the mall, along with the drudge of finding parking, definitely took away from the element of surprise or delight,” Crittendon said.

BrandShop’s platform allows retail brands to view upcoming MiniShop events by host, date and location. Participating brands apply to partake in an event and the host accepts or declines the request. The invite-only host network, all of whom are hand-picked by BrandShop, are well-connected women in their communities that have a strategic connection to art or design, such as bloggers, art gallery owners or stylists.

Events are held at the host’s home, where they feature one to three brands; each event lasts approximately three hours and is attended by 30 to 50 women on average. Guests shop, listen to brand stories, enjoy small bites or cocktails served and occasionally provide personalized feedback to featured designers. Hosts are not paid to run MiniShop events — rather, BrandShop will host the event as a way to support hosts’ chosen cause or charity. BrandShop supplies its merchandising equipment for all events as well as customized surprise packages.

Photo courtesy of BrandShop. 

Trial-runs of “MiniShop” events are planned for all over the country in cities such as Atlanta, New Orleans, Nantucket and Nashville, and BrandShop has partnered with more than 50 young brands. Featured brands include Novis, Lemle, Mignonne Gavigan and Negative Underwear, among others.

“We wanted to fix a problem for these emerging brands,” said Crittendon, who has kept a close eye on retail’s changing landscape. “We know that consumers today say to themselves, ‘I’m not going to leave the comfort of my laptop unless the experience is meaningful,’ which led us to the event idea.”

Not only do consumers expect retailers to deliver customized, sensory experiences within brick-and-mortar spaces, but budding fashion brands lacking resources, marketing budgets and reach must seek cost-effective solutions to improve customer attraction and retention.

“More and more, discerning consumers are looking for a unique shopping experience that caters to their individual needs,” Martin Mills said. “It’s easy for brands to get lost in the mix at a retail store and difficult for them to tell their stories and connect with consumers in a setting where they are one of hundreds of other brands hanging on a rack,” she added.

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