Breaking the mould: Hong Kong fashion pop-up goes for bricks and mortar
With big names such as Armani and Calvin Klein on board, and a growing membership of 50,000 active shoppers, retailer On The List has opted for a permanent space in Central where it can sell excess stock at heavy discounts
Some Hong Kong fashion and lifestyle retailers are closing because of dwindling sales but others are trying experimental business models. Popular flash sale retailer On The List banks on in its pricing to lure shoppers.
Launched in January 2016, its pop-up sales offer clothing, accessories and lifestyle goods from well-known brands at heavy discounts. A year on, the company has just invested in its first permanent showroom in Central, which will host weekly sales for its growing list of members.
The company was founded by two former retail executives Delphine Lefay and Diego Dultzin Lacoste, who noticed a lack of options for brands looking to dispose of excess stock.
“Excess inventory is problematic. Yes, you have brand-run outlets or malls like Citygate but these are usually very big, and appeal to tourists who are looking for specific items such as logos. The stock is also extremely old while discounts aren’t that competitive. We view ourselves as complementary to these existing models,” says Dultzin.
While flash sale retailers in Europe and America tend to exist solely online, the duo decided to break with tradition and go bricks and mortar. They tested their concept by hosting a series of four-day pop-up sales at prime locations in the city including PMQ or the Fringe Club. Instead of focusing solely on luxury, they approached popular labels in the contemporary and mass market sectors such as ready-to-wear brands ba&sh, Karen Millen, and Ted Baker, as well as lifestyle companies including ghd, Watson’s Wine and Moleskine.
“Initially we were too young for big brands to come to us so we focused on any brand that is desirable,” says Lefay. “Our members may own a nice pair of shoes from Santoni but they also own flip-flops from Havaianas or a jacket from Reiss. The modern customer, mixes and matches so we thought it would be good to mix product categories, price and positioning.”
On The List events are members-only and a personalised barcode is used to access the sales venue. A team of up to 50 staff ensure that crowds are kept to a minimum and that everything runs smoothly.
It wasn’t long before the big players such as Armani, Vilebrequin and Roberto Cavalli came calling, and the company increased its sales frequency from monthly to weekly in October (since inception it has held more than 30 events). Earlier this year it started looking for a permanent venue before finally settling on a 7,000 sq ft space in the basement of an office building in Central.
“Getting the trust of brands was the biggest challenge. Convincing them that you can do the operations and still bring value in terms of stock is hard,” says Lefay. “Now they are convinced because we offer them a solution which includes a venue, publicity and a database that is different to theirs. For Hong Kong people it’s a new concept and out of the box. It’s a way for them to discover a brand, and even if they are buying at discount, hopefully it builds loyalty,” she says.
On The List has a membership database of 50,000 active shoppers – 80 per cent local, 20 per cent expats. Its weekly sales attract about 2,000 attendees on average (although a recent event with Dr. Martens drew in 6,000 people in just three days). The product mix is always varied (it has worked with more than 50 brands), with prices averaging around 75 per cent off.
Upcoming sales include Ports 1961, Calvin Klein Accessories and Repetto and the duo are building a CRM (customer relationship management programme which will compile a list of VIPs and allow more exclusive sales such as watches and fine jewellery. They are also looking to rent the space to corporates as another source of revenue, while also hosting special events such as an upcoming theatre performance during Le French May.
Also on the cards is a potential location in Kowloon, and possibly a few trial events in China to test the market there.
Will the success of On The List be short-lived once the retail market bounces back?
“Yes, the bad retail environment has worked in our favour but I think even if things improve this model will always work because brands always have stock they need to discard,” says Dultzin. “Having worked in retail, I know that even if a season is really good they only sell 70 to 80 per cent of the stock. What we are doing is also sustainable – whatever we don’t sell we have convinced some brands to donate to charity so there really is no waste.”