In recent years, countless journalists and analysts have documented retail’s rapid demise. I recently rediscovered this old post by Jeff Jordan about how traditional retailers and malls were about to get “mauled.” Jeff’s post still holds up five years later. And yet something counter-intuitive is also happening if you look closely: Warby Parker, an online direct to consumer eyeglasses brand is rapidly opening physical retail locations. So is Bonobos. Both companies were mentioned as prime examples of online first retail brands in Jeff’s post five years ago. It’s also worth mentioning Amazon’s plan to roll out thousands of book stores in the next decade.
So it turns out, there’s still a place for physical retail, although it looks different than it once did, and it will look different again a decade from now. Online retailers are using physical space to create new experiences for their customers and to increase their brand presence in important urban areas. Most brands don’t actually hold inventory in their stores — which makes sense given the high cost of rent in these prime locations.
But searching for, renting, and building out modern retail experiences is no easy task, which is why the folks going after this opportunity today tend to be large public companies or rapidly scaling venture backed businesses. What if you could make this strategy available to any brand, small or large, enabling them to sell offline in the same way they have already built their businesses online? We were so intrigued with that question that we recently led a pre-seed financing in Bulletin, a company that “enables businesses to lease space in one of their stores and sell their products IRL in 5 days or less.”
We met Alana and Ali, the two exceptional founders of Bulletin, six months ago. They were initially building a somewhat traditional ecommerce site that curated the best small online sellers (mainly artists and makers) that were already selling on Etsy and Shopify. They steadily built the trust of hundreds of these online merchants, which gave them the opportunity to run an interesting experiment: What might happen if they rented a physical space and gave these sellers a physical showroom? Well, every space they’ve operated to date has been a blowout…their sellers are selling out, consumers love Bulletin’s stores and markets, and Bulletin itself has discovered a high-margin and profitable business. Just yesterday, the company announced their recent acceptance to YC, as well as a new flagship location in Soho! Alana and Ali are relentless operators that have accomplished a great deal in the last six months, to say the least.
In opening up a new distribution channel that was previously prohibitively complicated and expensive, we believe Bulletin has the opportunity to transform the way designers, makers, and sellers of all shapes and sizes sell IRL and reach their customers. Bulletin’s solution looks simple from afar, but it’s elegance is in the details, and Alana and Ali’s insight into this market is unique, having now worked as part of a community of hundreds of amazing makers that have built their businesses online first. Alana and Ali are giving these businesses quite literally a new type of lease, one that will allow them to sell more products to new customers, flexibly accessed in the same way a website might be quickly spun up (or down) on Shopify. Physical retail ain’t dead yet, it just functions differently today than it did ten years ago — perhaps it’s taken a page from the web.