A concept store is a retail store that goes beyond simply selling products and instead appeals to a general sense of lifestyle by offering products to match the desires of those involved in a particular social scene. Rather than simply offering a selection of standard products for purchase, this type of store sells products that appeal to a particular segment of consumer. This particular segment, and the approach taken to appeal to it, can vary quite a bit among stores. A concept store typically has a single vision for the group it is appealing to, such as high fashion, urban fashion, or hipster fashion.
While there is no single form a concept store typically takes, in general it is designed to appeal to a certain segment of the populace. A store that is meant to appeal to those with an interest in high fashion, for example, might offer clothing by well-known designers, as well as shoes, perfume, accessories, and even electronics that are all established brands. These products would typically be those seen in fashion and entertainment magazines, and inventory would likely change frequently to stay in fashion. This separates such a store from a retail business that usually offers many of the same products from one year to the next.
The design and aesthetic of a concept store is also likely to be quite distinct, unlike a standard department store or retail outlet store. Since the store itself has a general concept with regard to the merchandise available, the design and decoration of the store often matches that concept. A store that is meant to appeal to “urban” or “street” trends might have bare brick walls, perhaps decorated with artistic graffiti and a design that reinforces the concept of the store. On the other hand, a concept store for “hipster” culture might feature dark walls, stark lighting, and play independent music that is popular in hipster circles.
A concept store can also be tied to a particular individual, usually a celebrity or someone involved in the entertainment industry. This type of store usually uses the name of the celebrity in advertising or the name of the store, and sells merchandise associated with that person, such as clothes or brands worn by the celebrity. Since this type of store is often designed around a particular fashion, social structure, or cultural trend, these stores may need to reinvent themselves to ensure they remain up-to-date on popular fashions.
The History of the Concept Store
Concept stores are innovative and unusual, offering consumers a place not only to shop but also to be inspired, gain information, and simply to slow down the buying process and revel in the experience. The idea itself dates back to 1955 when Mary Quant, creator of the miniskirt, opened the very first concept store. Called Bazaar on King's Road, the store was open until the mid-1970s, by which time Quant was a worldwide name in fashion. The store itself was an inspirational mix of music, art, and of course, fashion design. Immediately successful, Quant built the brand around Bohemian fashion, architecture, writers, and more.
Despite being the first concept store, Bazaar on King's Road was not called such. The term itself wasn't coined until nearly 30 years later. In 1991, a sociologist known as Francesco Morace defined the store 10 Corso Como as such. The Italian boutique created by Carla Sozzani was originally meant to be a bookstore that also displayed art. Eventually, Sozzani widened the scope of the store to include photography, clothing, furniture, accessories, and more, mixing the worlds of fashion, art, design, and even architecture into one. Over time, 10 Corso Como has even added a small hotel, a restaurant, and a cafe.
Since 1991, the idea of the concept store has gone global. From France to the United States, tourists, fashionistas, artists, and everyone between flocks to these unique meeting points, many of which offer rare items and carry high influence.
Starting Your Own Concept Store
Drawn to the intrigue of the world of art and fashion, many a person has tried to open concept stores around the world and many people will continue to do so. If you're toying with the idea yourself, you must first learn a few tips and tricks.
Choose a Strong Theme
It's not enough to toss a few artists and a couple of unique handbags into a room and call it a concept store. The best ones in the world all have one thing in common: they choose a strong theme and they stick to it. What will yours be? Perhaps you're working only with independent artists, or maybe you're focused on sustainable products or merchandise created by people of color. Whatever your theme is, choose one, ensure the people you're working with are on board with it and stick to it.
Plan Your Space
What are the most important parts of your concept store in your mind? Do you want to focus on the art and allow small kiosks for shopping, or would you prefer to put fashion front and center with cafe space and art exhibits dotted around the outer perimeter? Consider your theme during the planning of your space. If you're creating sustainable products, consider featuring art made by artists who recycle most of their materials, for example.
Learn From Stores Past
Stores past understand that concept stores rely on quality, authenticity, know-how, and humanity. Beyond that, every good space offers a space not only to shop but to gather and exchange ideas and a space that is a truly unique experience. Focus your shop on the community around it, provide one-of-a-kind products, and host events that show off new ideas from time to time. Remember, the concept is nothing without the partnership, so get close with other business owners, journalists, and influencers.
Popular Concept Stores
Chances are that even if you've never heard of a concept store until now, you probably have visited one or at least know of them.
Alexander McQueen (London)
Alexander McQueen passed in 2010, but his innovative fashion designs live on in London. His flagship store on Bond Street not only displays hot designs of today alongside archived designs from decades past but also hosts exhibitions and fashion talks to inspire new fashion students. The store's interior is refreshed every season, focusing on storytelling that builds brand loyalty and brings people in every few months.
Ba&sh (New York)
A fairly new retailer in New York City, Ba&sh is a French fashion house that centers itself on a true customer experience. Shoppers have the option to enter the store's dream closet, browse through all of its signature items, and then rent those items for up to three days before deciding whether to permanently add to their own wardrobes. The shop also teaches visitors how to speak French, hosts pastry-making classes. Of course, the modern world needs modern shopping solutions, so an app-centered shopping experience is available as well.