What do streetwear and a butcher shop have in common? At first glance, nothing. But think again. A former butcher shop offered the perfect location for a pop-up streetwear experiment last year: for five weeks the German online concept Backstage Market went offline with a temporary store in Cologne. The shop offered a fine selection of international street brands rarely found in Germany. The test run was so successful that founder and owner Nils Klasmeyer, who happens to be the scion of a retail family, decided to install the pop-up concept in other cities during this year. He recently spoke to us about his future plans and the challenges of finding the right areas.
When and why did you create Backstage Market?
Backstage Market was founded in September 2017. I was just bored by always the same brands, looks and ranges. There’s just this kind of uniform for Germany right now. As if people are afraid to be different from another. Everything looks the same. Personally, I love searching for new and interesting brands, disregarding names and stuff, and that’s why I thought that other people might feel the same way. Thanks to my travels, I already had a bunch of brands in mind that I wanted to share with other people. Not just fashion. Because of that, we offer select styles, music, drinks, cosmetics etc. Tomorrow it might be a Chesterfield couch. The main issue is that it has to be edgy and not easy to find. Even better if we know who the person behind the brand is and where it’s manufactured. That’s the case for about 90% of our brands. Still, our range is not yet where I want it to be. A few things are missing, but we are working on it.
What is your USP? How is your concept different from others?
I would say our biggest different is our brand mix. We really try to dig out new stuff all the time. Unique things that are not comparable. Even though we work together with known brands (Obey for example), we still look for the edgier looks from their range. Good quality, high-grade prints. We’ve heard consumers go: “Oh, I didn’t know they did these kinds of things” lots of times.
And why is that? Because people buy similar stuff all the time. Furthermore, a big difference is in the way we choose our products. Of course you can find gin in the offer range of other concept stores, but that gin is most times also found in a well-sorted supermarket. One of our gins comes straight from Kapstadt, we went to a tasting there. Via the distribution in Amsterdam we could get our hands on a few bottles of it. We have vinyls that probably no one has ever heard of, real treasures. I guess that most of our customers don’t know much of our range and we want that. We want to give these products a platform because there are so many great things out there; just no one’s selling them. We want to reanimate people to explore, because life really is so diverse and full of facets. That’s how we want Backstage Market to be and you get what it says: Backstage is where the real fun goes down.
Which trade shows do you visit? Where do you inform yourself about trends? Where do you order?
The business with trade shows is: I don’t really need them anymore. Almost always you see just the same labels that you later visit at showrooms. I visit trade shows only to talk to people. Rarely will I find a new label there. In fact, a lot happens online. You know someone who knows someone etc. And of course traveling. Visiting cities is unbelievably valuable. And I don’t mean shopping on the usual big streets and in always the same shops. I mean little alleys, markets, exhibits. I don’t care for trends; I’m more in interested in timelessness. Ordering happens at showrooms or online via pdf. I think that depending on a brand’s range, the classic showroom is over. You can do so much online. Of course I want to see a beautiful, expensive cashmere sweater live. But a collection of T-shirts? It works just fine via photos and pdfs. Less time and money spent for everyone.
Last year, you opened an offline location, a pop-up store. Why?
I’m a child of retailing: I was born in a family of retailers and started out by taking over my parents’ store. Then I worked 10 years as a retail manager for Pepe Jeans and then as a consultant for retailers. Only after that I created Backstage Market, always with the thought of as much retail as possible. We would open a store if landlords would meet the market with these exorbitant prices. But that’s another topic. I find it important not to lose the trading part out of sight. We want so share products directly with the end consumer, make it an experience. Like this, you get new input and in the best case a new idea. Additionally, you can try on clothes and immediately see fit and color.
How did the store look like? What was special? What was important for you in terms of store design?
The choice of location is important. Just as online, we didn’t want to be average with our store. We were lucky to be able to rent an old butcher shop. It is more than a 100 years old and had the original counter, shelves and meat hooks still there. Everything was made of this old, white marble. The dressing room was the old cold store. It had such a weird charm to it and it worked really well with our products. Our customers loved this kind of disruption. You don’t have these kinds of things in Cologne usually like you might in Berlin or London. No one does that, but that will now change.
Are stationary places only marketing or actually valuable points of sales?
Total points of sales. We made really good revenue, much more than we expected. Even more remarkable: We had a conversion rate of 90%. It wasn’t always packed to the limit, but the customers who were there bought something. We reached exactly the people we wanted. On the one hand, boys who found a playground for edgy stuff, on the other hand girls looking for a special present for their boyfriend or husband. You have to think about that we opened our pop-up store only two months after founding Backstage Market. With hardly anyone knowing us. People were just interested in our new and exciting products. Some color, some bold prints…
For you, what’s the best part of pop-up stores?
Pop-up stores are exciting because you can choose a cool location, stay there for a short amount of time and leave again. No drawn-out rental agreements and no long-term staff, which is hard to get right now anyway with everyone wanting to become a YouTube star. If you’re lucky like we were, you can even use the original equipment. Otherwise you work with what you get. Of course you need a concept and some creativity beforehand. You want a profitable result in the end without spending too much money. You know, we don’t want our business to be pretty but die anyway.
What’s the biggest problem for retail right now? And how do you fight it?
As mentioned earlier, the toughest part is finding a good, affordable location. The rest should be easy. Good concept, interesting offer, events. An online shop has to be part of it today. If only just for pick And collect purposes where the customer chooses at home and gets it in the store. We also realized that internationally, interesting brands are much more important. And more sought after as well. In Germany it’s almost like a sport not to pay the full price anymore. So many discounts. Internationally, almost 90% is bought for the full price.
What are plans for the future (and where will the next pop-up store be)?
The plan is to do something, probably in June, in Cologne or Düsseldorf. Location will be made public on short notice, because landlords don’t really allow an agreement long before the event happens. We also have an invitation to Berlin which will definitely happen, but not this summer. Other pop-up events are planned, but nothing too concrete yet. We just had a baby and she’s our absolute priority right now. The store will happen this summer, the events maybe also just this autumn.