Shopping Redefined in the 21st Century

Through an all-glass storefront, the layout of Bonobos’ new “guideshop”, essentially a showroom for clothes, is sparse and simple — bare white walls, steel accents and a few wooden tables display select pieces of the modern men’s fashion line. The guideshop is unique among brick-and-mortar stores, as it directs customers to purchase online after visiting. The store does not offer in-store purchases but instead ships items to the customers, without an additional fee, in one to two business days.

As Bonobos’ Public Relations Manager Erin Grant describes, Bonobos is attempting to present itself in a way that appeals to urban men.

“We aim to promote a masculine and modern aesthetic,” Grant said.

This target aesthetic becomes clear upon entry into the store, as customers are greeted with a beer to sip while shopping. Located on 1924 Eighth St. NW in the Shaw neighborhood, this is the 22nd national and second D.C. storefront of the originally online-based company. The layout of the space reflects Bonobos’ unique millennial-focused model of shopping.

There are usually two or three customers in the shop at any given time, and all customers are assigned to their own guide, who help direct them toward proper fits and appropriate styles. Founder Andy Dunn has proven through his online and in-store success that modern young men are looking toward more individualized shopping experiences focused on clothes that properly fit both their style and bodies.

Bonobos was originally the brainchild of Dunn’s Stanford Business School roommate, Brian Spaly. Spaly’s experience of self-tailoring his pants for years due to his muscular build was the inspiration for the creation of a company that met more specific stylistic needs for men. By 2009, he and Dunn had raised $3.57 million from investors and set up their New York headquarters. Their principal product reflected Spaly’s original need — washed chinos with a “signature curved waistband” to better conform to differing shapes.

While Spaly left the company in 2009, going on to found the successful startup Trunk Club, Bonobos continued to grow under Dunn’s supervision. In 2011, the company began opening physical locations with its new e-commerce guideshop model. The locations of Bonobos’ 22 current physical locations include Georgia, Washington, Texas, California, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts and D.C.

Bonobos is not alone in this new online and in-person retail model. Companies like Warby Parker, Amazon and Modcloth are all establishing physical locations as add-ons to their once purely digital establishments. In 2013, an IBM report indicated that almost half of all digital shoppers assess merchandise in store before buying online.

Some Georgetown students find the Guideshop model confusing.

“I don’t understand why they wouldn’t just go all the way and make a real storefront,” Benny Weisman (COL ’19) said.

However, according to Bonobos, the purpose of this model is to eliminate the possibility of an item being out of stock. They also hope that not having to lug bags out of the store will be an appealing prospect for shoppers.

Like many other startups, Bonobos has been taking on the advertising industry through alternate approaches, trying to target the elusive millennial market. In 2012, the online retailer dramatically reduced marketing spending focused on traditional advertising formats. Instead, they doubled search-engine marketing and focused on building partnerships with similar companies.

Bonobos is not alone in its attempt to target a generation of young professionals, though it is uniquely suited given its orientation toward quality style at an accessible price.

“Bonobos is, quite honestly, the perfect brand for a college student. [It] provides a wide variety of clothing styles for every college event while still being affordable — providing a 15 percent discount for students — and guaranteed to look great,” Lindsey Kirchner, a public relations intern for Bonobos, said.

So far, it is still too early to tell if these advertising routes are reaching college students. Many, like Henry Horita (NHS ’19), had never heard of the brand, online or offline, and are confused about the benefits such a model might bring.

“In my opinion, I don’t know if I’d go out of my way to [go to a Guideshop] unless I was buying a suit or something,” Horita said.

It is difficult to convince students, who are rushing to fit everything into their schedule, to make extra trips; however, the small storefronts are making a big splash on working millennial men’s style. From personalized service to an innovative new business model, Bonobos’ guideshop may redefine the shopping experience.

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