Ironically, traditionally digital-only brands are discovering the advantages of brick-and-mortar. Adam Schwegman, partner and senior vice president of leasing for North American Properties, which manages Avalon and Colony Square, says, “It’s been pretty well-documented that these brands need stores to grow. The typical direct-to-consumer customer is very demanding. They want convenience. Online and in-store need to work seamlessly together.”
Formerly, flagship stores in New York City and Los Angeles were enough of a physical presence. But, now, brands need to live up to the hype they’ve created—and provide easy access for a loyal customer base.
Why Atlanta? Michael Phillips, principal and president of Jamestown, says, “Brands are coming [here] earlier because it’s such a dynamic market. We spent a lot of time developing relationships with them because they’re optimized in a way that traditional retailers aren’t.” He says these brands appreciate the concept of a reimagined 21st century Main Street promoted by Jamestown—which, in Atlanta, owns and operates Ponce City Market, Westside Provisions District, Buckhead Village, and other mixed-use centers.
These brands know their customers intimately—including where they live. Schwegman notes that DTC companies are extremely data-driven and leverage that knowledge when looking for retail space.
Take, for example, Allbirds, the ecofriendly shoe brand that went public last year. Its nationwide rollout has included stores at Ponce City Market and at Avalon, where its latest metro-area location opened in May. Schwegman says Allbirds was a natural fit for the Alpharetta center, which is home to other DTC-first brands like Bonobos and Peloton.
“Allbirds is already popular with our customers,” he says.
Mo Vachon, vice president of retail for Rothy’s, an accessories brand that opened its seventh national store in the Westside Provisions District in February, says brick-and-mortar has always been a part of the brand’s vision. “Nothing compares to seeing, touching, and trying our products on in person to get the full experience,” he says, noting that, especially after more than two years of staying home, “people are craving a tactile experience.”
Phillips agrees. Customers enjoy the “frictionless” experience of ordering products online, but visiting a store helps them “engage with a brand,” he says.
These stores are highly designed and geared toward a customer who cares about the experience—they are both aspirational and transactional. Framebridge has Atlanta-specific art on its walls. Lovesac encourages loafing about on its products. In fact, many of these brands call their retail stores showrooms to reinforce that experiential feeling.
“They are anticipating [customer needs]: how to educate, how to present, how to deal with sizing, measurements, and all the things we think about today,” says Phillips. For example, Warby Parker offers both virtual try-ons—through an app that allows customers to test frames on their own live images—and free five-pair, five-day loaners. Phillips says, “It just makes for a more fulsome experience.”
This article appears in our August 2022 issue.