• September 28, 2022

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Hemant Chavan was working in office and multifamily real estate development in 2019, and hearing a lot of proposals for co-working and co-living spaces. After one of those meetings in New York, he was walking around Chelsea and kept noticing vacant retail spaces at prime addresses – about a dozen of them within a two block radius.

“I was thinking about shared space, and then I saw all these retail vacancies and that’s when the eureka moment happened,” Chavan said.

That moment led Chavan and Eric Hirani to found Brik + Clik, which was born in 2020 as a shared space concept for digital brands, and that has evolved into a company that is looking to push the boundaries of physical retail.

Since his eureka moment, Chavan has tested concepts including a store featuring a curated selection of digital-first brands, a holiday marketplace, and gift boxes of assorted startup brands. Now he is branching into automated solutions like smart vending machines and robo-carts designed to put products where consumers live, work, shop, or otherwise congregate.

“Retail is converging with real estate more than ever, and brands are finding out they have to be in high foot traffic locations,” Chavan said. His goal with Brik + Clik is to create nimble, flexible, physical solutions, stocked with brands targeted to reach the demographics of a particular neighborhood, workplace, or shopping center.

Brik + Clik opened a store at the Westfield World Trade Center mall at Manhattan’s Oculus transit hub in November, 2020. Last year it operated five shops featuring startup brands in the holiday marketplace at the Westfield Century City mall in Los Angeles. This spring it began testing “robo-carts” – automated, movable carts that can dispense products and accept payments – at the Oculus.

Now Brik + Clik is moving beyond malls and traditional retail settings to explore automated ways to sell products in AirBnBs, apartment buildings, offices, and airports.

Digital ad rates that soared during the pandemic, and Apple
AAPL
privacy updates that make it harder to target digital ads, have led dirct-to-consumer brands to look for new ways to attract customers. Many have discovered that having a presence in a physical store is the best way to boost online sales, but they don’t have the size or product depth to open their own stores. Mass merchants and national chains can be hard to break into, and require long lead times to get on the shelves, and can be lost among the hundreds of products sold in those stores.

A digital marketplace

Brik + Clik thinks of itself as a marketplace for direct-to-consumer brands, a store where a shopper can see an assortment of different brands displayed in a way that makes it easier to discover new brands.

“Every brand on the shelves at Brik + Clik is displayed as a brand moment,” said Stephanie Pavlik, head of customer experience for Fly By Jing, a Sichuan hot sauce and other Chinese food products brand that started as direct-to-consumer and now is sold at Whole Foods, Target
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, and Costco, as well as independent retailers.

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Brik + Clik ordered from Fly By Jing when it was selecting brands to feature in its Oculus store. Pavlik was in New York soon after and happened to visit Brik + Clik, not realizing beforehand that it was carrying Fly by Jing products.

“I was thrilled to see Fly By Jing products on the shelves of such a beautifully curated shop in an iconic location liike the Oculus,” she said.

“The team at the store told me how excited people were to see our product on the shelves and that it always sold out quickly,” Pavlik said.

Meeta Gournay and Tatiana Mercer, founders of Three Spirit Drinks, a non-alcoholic beverage line, said they have been impressed by the ability of Brik + Clik to spread awareness of their brand. Three Spirit products are sold at the Oculus shop and were featured at the Century City holiday market.

Brik + Clik has included Three Spirit products in corporate gift baskets and have featured the beverages at networking events it holds at the Oculus store.

“With Brik + Clik the speed at which conversations can become reality is amazing,” Mercer said. “It’s great for us to be able to move quickly to test things, or for when people say ‘where can I see or try you in New York’.”

Gournay said she visited the New York store and “secret-shopped” Brik + Clik initially and was impressed by how well-informed employees were about the products in the store, and the merchandise assortment. “They offer a really tight curation of amazing brands,” she said.

Three Spirits has been expanding rapidly into physical retail, including liquor stores, food stores, and national chains like Williams-Sonoma
WSM
.

Jarod Steffes, co-founder with Tyler Devos of the Muddy Bites Waffle Cone Snack brand, said Chavan and Brik + Clik have provided Muddy Bites with useful sales data about the brand’s performance in the Brik + Clik store. The snacks are also being featured in Brik + Clik’s test of the robo-carts at the Oculus.

Muddy Bites are sold in close to 3,000 retail locations nationwide and earlier this year announced a major distribution deal with 7-Eleven stores.

With the holiday market, and the Oculus store, Brik + Clik has done over half a million dollars in sales, and proven that its retail strategy – of curated offerings of up-and-coming digital brands – works, Chavan said.

Chavan attended the International Council of Shopping Centers annual convention in Las Vegas last month and said landlords and shopping center representatives he met with there were interested in both the seasonal markets concepts and the smart boxes.

“It is a win, win, win.” Chavan said “The landlords get incremental revenue on their unoccupied spaces. The brands get sell-through, which is the most important thing for them, and for us, we’re creating a new retail model.”

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