Expert Insight: Reimagining The Department Store By Embracing Community
PSFK speaks with the founder of women's hybrid creative and retail store Le Board to learn more about building a gathering space for brands and customers alike to meet, inspire and create
•While it's easy to set up shop online, fostering consumer-brand engagement is one advantage that an IRL presence can provide startups
•Finding and affording space can be difficult, however, so presence in a curated department-type store offers visibility as well as opportunity for partnerships
•Today's department store must go beyond the product, which consumers can just by online, to offer discovery, inspiration and community
While multi-brand retail space SHOWFIELDS reimagines the traditional department store within the digital world, newcomer Le Board aims to push the boundaries even further: Aesthetically, the SoHo store resembles a meticulously curated indoor flea market with a common theme. In fact, what sets Le Board apart from its predecessors is its cohesive design; each section of the store flows naturally into the next, whether it's a line of product or a salon for eyebrow work.
The shared space sells products from dozens of different brands, many of whom originated or still remain exclusively online. And every brand featured in Le Board is female-founded and female-led. PSFK recently caught up with founder John Aghayan to learn more about his strategies behind the concept for the community-driven space, and why multi-brand stores are a valuable asset for all retail sectors:
PSFK: Le Board goes beyond the typical retail concept with features like a co-working space and cafe, as well as an overall focus on community. What motivated you to take this approach?
John Aghayan: With rent as high as it is, I think the only way to be able to afford space is oftentimes to share it. If you don't have a curator that makes it cohesive, then the experience is broken for the customer. It can't just be product. If it's only products, you can just buy them online.
We're seeing that shared working spaces are starting to get more and more specialized. Before it was more for software, tech and bigger teams. All of these brands featured here are one or two people—and they don't need conference rooms. They want to mingle and exchange ideas. That's where the community aspect comes into place. We want people to come here to get inspire, to meet people, to sell their products or just hang and have coffee.
Le Board's curator is creative director Sofia Karvela. Every brand sold at the space is female-founded and female-led. Apart from these qualities, what is Sofia looking for when choosing which brands to sell?
It starts with the founder. They all have great stories. The product immediately comes to life. Our sales associates are trained in every brand's story. Instead of writing them everywhere, we want our customers to be able to ask a question if they like a product.
Le Board is described as a department store, but it certainly is a reimagined format. How do you see the category evolving, and how does Le Board fit in?
Nowadays, with Shopify, it's so easy to start your own brand. Fashion brands now have inventory specifically for their e-commerce, whereas in the past they would only manufacture what was ordered for wholesale. They want to access retail. Most of them don't want to do wholesale, some do.
These brands can use our space to activate. It's about how fast you can enter retail. If it's just purely transactional, you can do it online. That's why we have our co-working space upstairs. Our brands love to talk to each other. I see the department store as a place where you experience products, but you also meet people and discover things. It's really a gathering place.