It’s practically commonplace these days to walk into a boutique in Brooklyn or L.A. to check out a shirt on the rack and end up sticking around with not only a new outfit in hand, but a latte or even a pressed juice and a magazine. The lifestyle trend of adding a cafe onto a retail space—which recently caught on with luxury brands looking to boost “dwell time” and increase sales—hasn’t gone unnoticed by entrepreneurs hoping to engage the young, experience-seeking Chinese consumer. In fact, some homegrown retailers in China are taking things a step further by hosting in-store pop-ups and events like fitness classes and afternoon tea.
When globetrotter Austin Huang opened his shop Artemis in Beijing’s Taikoo Li shopping center this spring, he didn’t have a particular target demographic in mind. He only had one stipulation: they had to love life. His boutique is thus stocked with artfully inspired lifestyle products, most imported from Europe and Hong Kong, that would appeal to a wide range of people. For the travel-hungry, there are notebooks and passport holders. For the pet lovers, there are Barketek dog dishes. For the affluent who want to decorate their newly acquired home, there are designer candles by Lola James Harper, kitchen tools by Diesel, and designer furniture. The curation is displayed in a playful, contemporary corner space designed by Kevin Zhao, who ties in the store’s Scandinavian-inspired concepts to inspiration from travels around Europe. On top of it all, Artemis brings shoppers another layer of lifestyle: food, beverages, and events.
“Maybe I opened Artemis during an economic slowdown, but I don’t think retail is dead,” said Huang, who comes from a background of shopping mall market analysis, promotion, and marketing. “It just needs to be refreshed.”
Huang is working with the founder of Beijing-based restaurant Transit, Catalin T. Ichim, to create a menu that would give consumers a taste of a growing trend in Beijing—Nordic food (late last year, high-end dining space The Georg opened to huge praise and attention). He is serving up smørrebrød (Danish open-faced sandwiches) alongside pastries and other snacks. They’re also selling their own coffee, roasted in collaboration with Hong Kong’s 18 Grams, as well as Spanish-style gin and tonic to encourage customers to spend time there after work. “Younger Beijingers have reached a stage where they know their alcohol,” he said. “Therefore, we’re focusing more on the gin and tonic segment.”
All of it can be enjoyed within the shopping space alongside copies of Monocle, Fantastic Man, and the numerous other lifestyle magazines they have on hand.
On top of the day-to-day happenings, Artemis is capitalizing on Taikoo Li’s massive weekend foot traffic. In April, Artemis hosted an outdoor workout event in front of the store in Taikoo Li’s common area, complete with a DJ and a pop-up gin and tonic bar, to commemorate their launch of Paris-Stockholm men’s sportswear brand Ron Dorff. The number of passersby who stopped to watch almost outnumbered those who were actually breaking a sweat. More recently, they hosted an afternoon tea called the Delusional Garden to promote a collaboration with Italian lifestyle and furniture brand Seletti and will have afternoon tea available at the store until early July.
Part of the goal behind these events is to meet their customers’ demand for a more in-depth engagement surrounding their products. “Customers today are starting to really care about a brand and product’s quality, concept, and their background and story, not only just selling things,” he said.
It’s also critical for Artemis’s business to keep customers’ interest piqued, especially at a time when e-commerce takes up so much of shoppers’ time and attention. “We will keep doing crossovers, themed events, and limited-edition products to make sure every time the customers come to the store, they will have a different experience, and they will be looking forward to the store before they even come.” Huang said. “It’s just like dating. You have to show a different side every time, and try not to show everything at once.”
Homegrown multi-brand stores themselves have become more popular in China in the last five years and serve as a way for local and international indie brands to test the market without having to deal with the high costs of opening their own brick and mortar stores, among other challenges. On the flip side, the founders of these stores are finding they are a great way to curate style and an experience for consumers who are increasingly interested in niche labels as opposed to big-name luxury brands. Still, lifestyle as a concept, Huang said, is fairly new to Chinese consumers.
“Customers don’t have sufficient understanding and experience regarding lifestyle, so ‘lifestyle’ brands or stores have to provide the customers the space and environment to learn and experience,” he said. “Like with many design products, you only know it when you get to try and use it.”