For Online-Only Retailers, a Pop-up Shop Can be a Great Brand-Builder

Would you buy a bed online? A number of entrepreneurs believe you would, which is why online mattress retailers are proliferating. Casper, Tuft & Needle, Saatva, Luna Sleep – the list goes on.

Each is trying to disrupt the traditional model of buying a bed, which generally involves visiting a store—usually a big box showroom – and lying around on mattresses until you find the one that’s not too firm, not too soft.

The startups are inverting that by instead bringing the bed to the customer, who gets to try it out for a while before finally committing to it.

But, as is the larger trend with online retailers, some are finding there’s still value in those bricks-and-mortar operations.

Toronto-based Endy Sleep recently concluded its first pop-up store experiment in downtown Montreal. The company opened the shop in mid-June, just in time for Quebec’s official moving day on July 1, and ran it for a full month.

Mike Gettis, co-founder and chief executive, says the experiment – which was similar to a traditional mattress showroom – worked wonders in spreading Endy’s brand with potential customers.

“They came into the store first and saw the mattress and the concept, and then they went online and ordered it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be online and then retail, you can go multiple ways,” he says.

Endy, like its U.S.-based counterparts, sells memory foam mattresses online and delivers them directly to consumers. The company boasts price as an advantage – its mattress sell for between $650 for a twin and $850 for a king – and offers customers a 100-day trial period. If they don’t like their purchase, they can return it.

Endy, which has 10 employees and seed funding from Groupon International founder Rajen Ruparell, also offers quick delivery. With memory-foam mattresses able to fold up into compact packages, they can even be delivered same-day by bike couriers.

A number of previously online-only operations, including menswear retailer Frank + Oak and beauty products provider Well.ca, have recently opened up physical stores in an effort to build their brands.

Retail industry analysts also suggest that profitability is difficult to achieve as an online-only business, which necessitates branching out into a so-called omni-channel strategy that includes a physical presence. The recent bankruptcy by Shop.ca lends credence to that view.

“The reality is e-commerce doesn’t make money,” says Jennifer Lee, national retail leader at consultancy Deloitte. “By definition, an omni-channel customer is more profitable than a customer who comes through one channel.”

Gettis doesn’t necessarily think all online retailers fall into that categorization. Shop.ca, in particular, was trying to do too much, he says, which is different from niche-focused, vertically integrated companies like Endy.

“They were trying to compete with Amazon and there’s no real way to beat them,” he says. “We’re focused on one small product line so it’s a different story for us.”

Nevertheless, with the success of the Montreal pop-up store under his belt, Gettis is considering opening up additional shops, likely in Calgary or Vancouver.

“It allows us to get brand presence on the ground,” he says. “It allows people to interact with the brand, not just online.”

Originally published in http://www.canadianbusiness.com/innovation/for-online-only-retailers-a-pop-up-shop-can-be-a-great-brand-builder/