Three weeks ago we wrote a feature (with a pathetic title - not our strong suit) that introduced you to the concept of ghost restaurants. To refresh your recollection, these were restaurants with no real physical location - just some branding, space in a commercial kitchen (like the co-working space unicorn WeWork, but co-cooking kitchen space for chefs), and a distribution mechanism like Seamless. The benefits of this concept are obvious: quick experimentation with food concepts, cross-pollination of food stuffs between different concepts, and avoidance of expensive and fixed long-term duration rentals, among other things.
Why doesn't WeWork for physical consumer products exist then? Well, now it does. In two discreet neighborhoods in New York, anyway (SoHo & Wiliamsburg). A new Y-Combinator backed startup, Bulletin, is a new platform matching up smaller brands with consumers with physical retail space. Rather than specialty retailers taking on expensive leases to display a few select racks of wares, they can simply rent a single sub-section of a larger retail shop on a month-to-month basis. Low friction, zero long-term overhead, mucho flexibility.
Outsourcing rent exposure to Bulletin is even better considering that the brands otherwise maintain autonomy; they choose the products to display, deploy their normal price-points and coach the Bulletin-provided salesperson on how best to market and/or demonstrate their products (some risk on that last part, we'd think, but whatever). Bulletin alleges that the whole setup process can be done in 5 days or less. Query whether a hypothetical brand has any control over whether its wholesome plush children's dolls are situated next to some dude named Lion's rad display of custom bongs, but that's for the brands to safeguard, not us. Perhaps there's some hipster version of co-tenant clauses? Regardless, on the consumer side of things that would be a wildly comical combination: just the right kind of humor and smorgasbord-like experience to get customers returning to the space. It's like an upscale branded flea-market. Throw in some craft beer made out of spider piss and there may just may be lines around the block.
In a time when leases are the largest albatross weighing down retailers (well, other than billions in debt and dividend recaps), we welcome innovative and creative physical structures that aspiring brands can take advantage of. Most successful retailers these days are leveraging digital platforms - whether that's Amazon, Alibaba, Ebay or Etsy. Or - if you're half the average age of this newsletter's readership - Poshmark. SOME kind of brick-and-mortar has to work, right? Will Bulletin be the model? We've got no clue. But we welcome the attempt.