Our Feature Story this time around is an interview by Screenhaus with Nick Gower and Jean-Claude Abouchar - the creators of The Grand Social.
Inspired by the new ground rules reflected in the quality of websites and in particular the growing 'both in talent and number' of Australian fashion designers and the phenonemon which is absorbtion of an entire generation interacting and creating a free flowing internet world - the shift to the new creative culture is showing it is now an integeral part of modern comunications - from virtual to the real - absolutely relevant to any internet product / brand or communication - these are the new playing fields.
Of extreme interest is the 'Pop-Up' store - (see below left) - this is a concept store generated by interactive communications designers as part of a web identity ... think about that ... it's one of many ambient / or real life expressions of the internet portal called The Grand Social ...
SH - Q - Grand Social is currently the mark as far as social / store online
environments is concerned - what is the name of the genre that is the new
social / store online?
GS - A - We are basically an online shopping centre, we provide the space for more
interesting people than ourselves to inhabit, make their own and fill with
amazing products in their own branded environment.
Till now this didn't exist, we call the genre. THE GRAND SOCIAL
SH - Q - You have grabbed public attention where others have failed in the past -
what's the defining difference that has made it work?
GS - A - An original idea driven by a team of dedicated and passionate people.
It takes a lot of people to make this happen, at any one time there are 5-6
people working on a range of GS projects.That being said we also aren't a
massive company with protocols and red tape so when we want something to
happen it happens fast.
We can (and have) put a new store online in 2 days or implemented an entire
re-design of the entire site in 2 weeks. The site is completely fluid in
that we put new features live every week. These updates range from whole new
features to slight adjustments to existing functionality.
From a "marketing" angle, everything we do is based around extending the
experience, we don't pay for banner adds to pollute your favourite blog or
litter the streets with flyers.
We create advertising you can take something away from, interviews with the
designers so you can learn how they do what they do, offline activities so
you can pick up the garments and experience the quality / fit / textures
On that last point taking the experience offline is something that we think
is critical to the succes of any online store, if we only exists online we
will never touch the hearts of our consumers, people have to be able to
physically interact with us. For this reason we have just begun a long-term
campaign of pop-up stores, temporary retail spaces that 'pop-up' in vacant
spaces (mostly high-traffic retail locations) and operate as a boutique for
a week or two and then disappear completely.
The first in the campaign launched on the 21st of October on Oxford St
Sydney. We opened the store for 2 weeks and also launched our "BLACK SUMMER"
theme for both the retail store and an online version.
"BLACK SUMMER" comprised of an exclusive range of products created in
limited numbers for us by 6 of our designers and was sold exclusively
through both the pop-up and online store.
As with everything we do the primary focus of this activity was the brands
on our site and this will always be the focus of everything we do moving
forwards. We have a presence and a role to play obviously but it's not about
us it's about the brands we work with and we never want it to be about The
Grand Social - that's how every online store operates and it's the complete
opposite of where we want to sit in relation to our brands.
SH - Q - Many of the older Fashion labels and brands in general having just really
come to grips with the internet phenonemon are now having to take their
sites to the level of online boutique - after this the next stage is the
social community fashion online concept store - what do you think of the
stand alone brands and what do you think are the secrets to the internet for
the stand alone indepenents?
GS - A - The internet is a big place. I don't think there is a secret to "going it
alone" except possibly being so massive that you create your own gravity.
Being a small to mid or even largish store online with no ties to any
networks, is the equivalent of building a retail store in the suburbs.
Attempting to run/maintain it yourself is the equivalent of doing your own
plumbing and accounting, might work for a while, but long term its
impossible and not cost-effective. It's also a major distraction from what
the core focus should be - creating products.
The key is setting yourself up so your store can go from 5 customers a week
to 500 customers a week with no change in the effort required to manage it.
The other critical issue is finding someone to get you new customers and
look after your current ones. A store cant do that alone.... GS cant do that
alone. It takes a network.
SH - Q - Gen Y get the interactive media environment on a natural level from creating
media / fashion / buying / selling / supplying - do you see the other older
brands making product sold to Gen Y playing catch up to the Gen Y marketers?
Do gen Y even refer to it as marketing or is marketing seen in a different
GS - A - Gen Y knows when that are being lied to. They know when they are being "sold
something". Traditional marketing to Gen Y only works when they already want
the product. To convince them they need a product they don't already love
isnt as simple as just telling them over and over again. You need to be
honest, transparent and communicate appropriately ... And most importantly
have a genuine product that people want and can't get anywhere else.
SH - Q - It seems retail now has a new 'must have' - It used to be easy parking /
then it became a total shift toward shopping centres - then shopping centres
as town centres requiring food and then childcare - eventually moving to
social centres with entertainment - it seems you have literally trumped them
all with a click of the mouse - what are the current parameters - do you
have any limits really in your potential market or growth?
GS - A - There is no limit to our growth potential. In that there is no limit to the
amount of orders we can fulfill or customers we can show our products to.
There is no limit to the hours we can stay open for, or the amount of times
we can show someone how to size themselves for a garment.
The limit that we have is that we are an online store. When you buy online
you don't get the human exchange that you do when you go into a real store.
You don't get the tactile experience you do when you pick up a piece of
clothing for yourself. We try to make up for this in a bunch of ways with
heaps of photos sizing charts and a phone number you can call to talk to a
real person. We even wrap the products up in beautiful packeging like a real
store. But you cant compete with the touch / sound and smell of a real
garment. That will never change so there's no point focussing on what isn't
possible. It's more important to focus on what is possible, listen to your
customers and continue to innovate. We spend an enormous amount of energy
looking after our customers and this at the end of the day is the most
important element of any retail business - online or offline. Word of mouth
is critical to any business'success but even more so on the internet where
people are never shy about telling others what they think.
SH - Q - With the whole social / store concept being a held by individuals or groups
they are extremely prone to the brand associations and ramifications of the
brands and indeed their own brand behavior - therefore the new hierarchies
will require more stringent rules to get in - what are the guidelines for
joining a social / shopping site group like Grand Social?
GS - A - Brand dilution is like our kryptonite.
The question is to how big you can become before you over power the brands
you are trying to promote. That's our challenge, we want the brands to be
the thing that people talk about. We want people to say "I love this das
monk shirt" not "I love the grand social" obviously we are the gateway to
the products but the products are the story.
To get the full picture here - check out the site - look for what's happening - who uses the blogs - for what - also check the brands - the collective wieght here is growing - but it's the delivery that makes it social.