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A New Model of Retail for Emerging Brands: For Now – Real Talk No Junk
I recently caught up with co-owner and marketing mastermind behind Boston co-retail space For Now, Kaity Cimo. She runs the space with friend and business partner Katharine ReQua. They opened a year ago and have played home to over 80 brands in that time.
In their words, “it’s a space that encourages experience. In a world of never-ending convenience, constant clicks and quick decisions, we’re saying it’s ok to come in and poke. Take your time, touch, try on, talk. Bring friends, attend an event, learn something new.”
We catch up with Kaity to learn a bit about For Now.
Pete: Tell us, what is ‘For Now’?
Kaity: For Now is a co-retail space where emerging brands can come together to share the economics of a storefront. We are an end-to-end retail solution so brands won’t need to staff it, provide their own fixtures, or deal with leasing.
For Now handles all of the operations for them. We do marketing and also provide feedback from customers. This way, Brands get sales but also learn a lot about what customers think about certain products and their brands. It’s a good way for brands to get in front of their customers in a risk-free environment and get revenue and insight.
Pete: Sounds like a great idea. How formal is the feedback process for the brands?
Kaity: Every day we note feedback in our system and then weekly we populate it to brand Google sheets. Every Monday, brands can log in and see their sales from the week before and any new feedback that’s come in. Feedback can be very specific about a product or it could be us just overhearing someone talk to a friend saying, “Oh this is like the softest thing I ever felt” or something like that.
Pete: And have you had brands go from For Now to launch their own retail space?
Kaity: Two of our brands have gone on to do their own retail space – whether that be short or long term: ‘Shit That I Knit’ and ‘Encore Apparel’. We’ve been open a year so I think that’ll happen a lot more as we are in existence for longer.
Pete: What did you do before ‘For Now’?
Kaity: I was a marketing director at an apparel brand called Crane and Lion, here in Boston. Before that I worked on a retail platform at a company in San Diego called Active.com, and before that at a marketing agency in Boston.
Pete: My next question was going to be ‘Does any of what you did then help you with what you’re doing now?’ Sounds like it’s a definite yes.
Kaity: I’ve always been in marketing so that is one of the roles I play here. As for retail, I think I started to dip my toes in it at Active.com, although it was more digital based. We didn’t own any inventory but we worked with brands to get their products on the platform. At Crane and Lion, I wasn’t too involved in the retail side of the business but it was a small business–five people at HQ–so you kind of see everything that’s going on.
Pete: Who is in the team at For Now?
Kaity: Katharine and myself are partners. She takes on more of operations. I take on more of the marketing but we both meet in the middle in terms of recruiting brands and then maintaining those relationships for their time here. Our store manager is in the store more than anyone else and is amazing with customers, taking on inventory management, and collecting feedback for brands. We also have two other part-time staff members.
Pete: And I read that you started the business as a marketing consultancy, is that right?
Kaity: Yeah, we did. That was the first six months of the business and then we quickly realized that this (For Now) filled a very specific need for emerging brands.
Pete: So did the retail component come after you had worked with these brands and saw that getting them out in front of customers was actually the critical piece?
Kaity: Yeah, it was just something that seemed apparent pretty quickly and Katharine and I both worked at a start-up apparel brand too so we had that kind of experience.
Pete: So, how do you choose your brands for the store?
Kaity: A lot is based on what we think our customer would like. We try to make sure that the appearance of our store aesthetic remains consistent through fixtures, signage, etc. This gives us a little bit of flexibility to bring in brands that don’t all fit under one aesthetic.
It allows us to experiment a little bit because sometimes we think a product will sell and they don’t and vice versa–which is really exciting.
We also pick brands based on the quality of the product and after having a conversation with the founder (or point of contact). We have to make sure they value the experience and are going to be involved. It really takes both sides being involved for it to be successful. Knowing that brands are going to be posting about being here and sending inventory in a timely manner are important.
Katharine and I are really good at sussing out brands at this point. We also look at their web presence because if people see something in person, they’ll tend to look it up online–sometimes immediately. So, while not all brands have big budgets for an amazing website, at least their Instagram presence has to be appealing.
Pete: Do brands ever reach out to you? Does that work?
Kaity: Yeah, we have an application on our website. We’ve actually had over 250 applications this year and we’ve worked with about 80 brands. So, a percentage of the brands that apply come in and then we also do outreach to brands that we think would be a good fit. We also get a lot of brand referrals from brands that have had a good experience here, who will recommend us to other brands that they’re friendly with. Right now, this is our biggest source of getting brands.
Pete: And I’m sure the highest-quality source as well?
Kaity: It’s great for both sides ‘cause we know it’s like a good reference and then also the brand knows that they can trust us from the get-go.
Pete: What does a winning application look like? Is there something that makes someone stand out more than the crowd?
Kaity: I’d say really sussing out their online presence and quality of the product. Followed by having a talk with their founder. All the brands that come in here we have one-on-one conversations with.
On the application, there’s a section that says ‘Why For Now?’ and sometimes we get really great answers from people that really value this kind of concept.
Pete: And how long do the relationships last? Is there a standard or is it a fluid kind of arrangement?
Kaity: We have a three-month minimum for every brand now, and then after the three months they can leave or if they’re doing really well then I’ll invite them to stay for longer.
Pete: In terms of social do they provide content to you?
Kaity: We create all the content ourselves. Sometimes I’ll repost from brands but I’ve actually found that we don’t get as much engagement with those photos.
Pete: Interesting–you would be creating so much content. Do you have a room set up that’s like your flat lay studio?
Kaity: No, it’s not that sophisticated. It’s just all in the store. Sometimes some of our staff members will throw on something. Otherwise, everything is merchandised really well here so as long as there’s good light there’s often a good opportunity for a photo every day.
Pete: So what is your social media approach at the moment?
Kaity: We’re just focusing on Instagram right now. It’s so much harder to connect with people on Facebook now I think unless you really put money into it, which we haven’t wanted to do because putting money onto Instagram or Facebook for a physical space is really tough to capture the success of it.
You know, you can see impressions and clicks but it’s hard to see who’s actually coming into this room and buying something. It’s not like the immediate and great reporting that you can have from an ECOM website. So, for social we focus more on organic and working with influencers and the brand.
I’d say the majority of people that come into the store will say that they heard about us on Instagram. In terms of content it’s a majority brand product focus and then we weave in our brand so like you know Katharine and I will post something about ourselves or we’ll do a story about something we’re doing…We’ve seen at least from impressions and engagement that people like that sort of stuff too so we try to keep that in there.
Pete: I’ve seen on your website and socials that you do some events in store. Can you tell us more?
Kaity: We have a range of events–from educational panels to meet the founder night to workshops like a chakra workshop we had last year. Or even like a calligraphy thing which has nothing to do with our brands, but just more about getting people together and doing something fun in the store.
So, that experience piece was really important to us, figuring out what events are interesting to customers. We try to have at least three per month in the store. I think in retail now having things like that is kind of mandatory to get people in, having fun and taking the pressure off of buying something. At least they’ll have had an experience with us and they know who we are, where we are, and they’ll most likely come back and buy something at some point.
Pete: Sounds great. To finish up, I’ve got some quickfire questions. Do you have a favorite work app?
Kaity: I don’t use a ton but we’re all really into Slack right now. (A cloud-based collaboration hub).
Pete: Do you track conversion rates, Google Analytics, or those kinds of things?
Kaity: We do track conversion rates on our point of sale.
Pete: What’s the best thing you ever did to get more followers or sales?
Kaity: I think the best way to quickly get more followers is through giveaways. We just put one up this morning. I mean hundreds and hundreds of followers in one day.
Pete: Who is your ideal customer?
Kaity: A customer that appreciates discovering new brands and what they stand for: like small batch production, really high-quality fabrics and quality products. All of that put together can often mean a higher price point. Our ideal customer understands the work behind making a quality piece. They understand that if they buy something like that, they’ll wear it for years and years as opposed to something mass produced and cheaper.
Pete: How often do you go live on Instagram?
Kaity: We don’t. We do videos a lot, but not live necessarily. I’m not yet convinced that people like it, maybe this is naïve of me. I think it would have to be the right thing like an interview or something like pretty specific but I don’t know.
Pete: Okay interesting. Now, how many unread emails do you have in your Inbox right now?
Kaity: Oh god, you don’t want to know Peter. My work email isn’t bad. I think it’s probably like 30 but my personal one is thousands, yeah.
Pete: And now I’m going to ask you to screenshot your homepage on your phone. If there is anything you want to explain, this is your opportunity!
Kaity: No you’ll just see it!
Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us Kaity! A few key takeaways we learned from Kaity:
- Don’t be afraid to experiment and not know the answers. Kaity says some brands and products they think will sell well don’t, and vice versa. Be prepared to take a risk and see what happens.
- Never underestimate the power of word of mouth. Kaity says the biggest source of finding new brands to stock is when brands they have worked with recommend them to other brands.
- Be open to evolution and change. For Now started life as a marketing consultancy before Kaity and Katharine saw the gap in the market for a co-retail space.
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