For startups, opening a real-world, physical store can seem a bit quaint. Who wants to deal with the sky-high rents charged in prime, urban locations, not to mention getting locked into a long-term lease?
Well, a Y Combinator-backed company called Bulletin is looking to offer a more flexible experience for brands who want to sell their products in brick-and-mortar stores — COO Ali Kriegsman (pictured below with her co-founder and CEO Alana Branston) described the approach as “WeWork for retail.”
To do that, Bulletin takes a physical location and divides it into different sections of varying sizes — some of them are just a little bit of shelf space, some of them are much bigger. Then each of those sections can be rented out by different businesses on a month-by-month basis.
For the customer, that means you can come into one location and see products from a variety of smaller, independent brands. And since there should be plenty of turnover, the products and companies could be different every time you visit.
And compared to normal stores, those brands get much more control over the experience — Kriegsman described it as “their own store within a larger space.” They can decide what products get displayed and where, they determine the pricing and they also set up an iPad in their area to show more products, collect email addresses and whatever else they want. (The in-store salesperson works for Bulletin, but each brand gets to train them.)
In some cases, brands may see this as a way to experiment with brick-and-mortar retail. In other cases, they might just want to rent out space for a month or two to launch a new product. Kriegsman said that as long as they give 30 days notice, it all works. (The rental and setup process should only take five days, she said.)
Bulletin actually joined YC’s fellowship program for founders last year before becoming part of the current batch of startups. Branston explained that initially, she and Kriegsman were more focused on creating a “shoppable magazine” with “amazing, up-and-coming brands,” but they also opened pop-up shops around New York City — and they found that the pop-ups were much more lucrative.
“We quickly figured out all of these brands didn’t really need another online sales channel,” Branston said. What they benefited from instead was access to retail space in areas with lots of foot traffic and “a turnkey way to launch their products.”
While Bulletin hasn’t shut down its online sales, it’s now focused on taking the pop-up strategy and applying it to more permanent locations. It opened its first store in New York’s Williamsburg neighborhood last November, which Kriegsman said is now “fully booked” with brands.
Today, it’s officially launching the second store in SoHo — and while the Williamsburg store is stocked with home goods, the SoHo location is focused on products for women. (Anchor tenants for the SoHo launch include Shhhowercap and candle company Keap.) There are also plans for Bulletin Pantry, Bulletin Baby and Bulletin Wellness.
Of course, that also means opening more stores — for now, those stores will all be in New York, but Branston said Bulletin plans to expand to other cities eventually, starting with Los Angeles.
Kriegsman added that Bulletin has released an early version of software to make it easy to book a space and to get access to your sales numbers, and it will continue to develop that technology.
In addition to YC, Bulletin has also raised funding from Notation Capital and Jesse Draper.