Lerer Hippeau
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Lerer Hippeau

“Give people a reason to leave their couches”: CAMP’s Ben Kaufman on creating amazing retail experiences

LH Principal Caitlin Strandberg sits down with CAMP CEO Ben Kaufman at the 2019 Lerer Hippeau Summit.

With so many e-commerce and DTC brands delivering great products direct to our doors, it may feel like there’s little incentive shop in-store. But when founder Ben Kaufman set out to build CAMP in summer 2018, he knew better in-person shopping experiences were exactly what customers wanted.

In CAMP, Kaufman has brought together years of inventing, marketing, and operational experience to create a whole new kind of in-store experience for families. Prior to launching CAMP, Kaufman served as Chief Commerce Officer and Chief Marketing Officer at BuzzFeed. Before that, he founded quirky.com, a platform for inventors, and Mophie, a best-selling mobile battery case.

At the 2019 Lerer Hippeau Summit last week, our principal Caitlin Strandberg sat down with Kaufman to discuss the future of retail and dig in to CAMP’s strategy. He shared five key recommendations for those exploring their own brick-and-mortar opportunities.

Give them a reason to get out the door

CAMP isn’t like the other storefronts on Fifth Ave. Enter CAMP, and you’ll find the more typical shelves of products and a cafe, but behind the “magic door” families find much more. Kids can test drive new toys, attend live performances, create crafts, play with each other, and bond with their families. “If you know exactly what you’re shopping for, you’re going to get it online,” says Kaufman. “The key to building a brick-and-mortar business is giving people a reason to leave their couches.”

One key to achieving the 360-degree experience at CAMP is its use of “counselors,” highly trained employees who “intuit” what customers need as soon as they arrive. If families arrived to quickly shop and leave, the counselors’ objective will be to assist them efficiently. If the families are visiting to browse and play together, the counselors will guide them and offer any support they need. Investing in creating your own 360-degree experiences ensures that time spent with the brand in-store offers its own unique benefits compared to shopping online.

Create FOMO

The best retail experiences give customers a reason to keep coming back. CAMP’s retention metrics are actually more similar to cafes or restaurants than other retail stores. Twenty-five percent of the company’s transactions in the last 30 days were from repeat customers — patrons who visited the store on two or three occasions over that period. With rotating themes like space, cooking, and travel camp, families always have something new to experience together. In this way, repeat visits to CAMP feel more like a family ritual or pastime than a store visit, Kaufman says.

Kaufman recommends creating FOMO (“fear of missing out”) when designing retail experiences. If customers speak to their friends about what they got out of visiting CAMP this week or this month, it’ll help get those friends out the door themselves. By creating some sense of urgency through marketing and word of mouth, new customers are more likely to visit the store and get in the habit of coming back.

Make a location checklist

For Kaufman, finding the perfect places to take CAMP depends on three overlapping factors: where customers live, where sponsors want to sell their products, and where will make the most financial sense. Right now, CAMP has its flagship location on Fifth Ave and plans to open locations in Brooklyn, Hudson Yards, Dallas, and South Norwalk in Connecticut. Having clear criteria in mind helps guide the search for future high-opportunity places.

Kaufman suggests asking the following questions as a way to help develop a location checklist. Is foot traffic an important factor? How about nearby vendors that allow for less room for error in shipping? After you complete your own list of criteria, the search becomes much more focused.

Diversify your revenue streams

With CAMP’s business model, Kaufman says he’s found a way to turn a brick-and-mortar enterprise into a sales opportunity more similar to SaaS. He recommends thinking about diversifying revenue streams early on. CAMP has four: sell products (food, beverage, and merchandise), sell tickets to special events, offer mini in-store experiences, and cultivate branded store takeovers.

When designing the business side of any retail experience, it’s important to explore ways to develop revenue channels that aren’t only tied to one aspect of your business, Kaufman says. With diversified revenue streams, if business picks up in one area and drops in another, you’ll still have the opportunity to make money and keep the business on track.

Take control of marketing

“The benefit of creating your own brick-and-mortar store is the ability to take ownership of how products are marketed,” explains Kaufman. At CAMP, counselors showcase products and can talk to families about them in an interactive way that traditional advertising and packaging can’t. By investing in training counselors to spend time with families on the show floor, CAMP is able to lean into the storytelling element of its products.

For other businesses, it’s important to consider how a store’s layout, design, and interactions can communicate and reinforce the brand. What stories can you tell with your products that you can’t in an online shopping experience or big-box retailer? How can you encourage shoppers to connect with your products in an emotional way they can’t through a computer or phone screen? Answering those questions can go a long way when building a retail experience that’s memorable, and can turn one-time visitors into long-term fans.

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