Examples of invite- or appointment-only "retail stores"?
May 13, 2018 7:44 AM   Subscribe

I'm considering opening an appointment-only retail "store" out of my Toronto loft (legal in my building, which is zoned for commercial, and verified with my landlord) and am looking for examples of people doing similar around the world. I recall a few years ago reading about a kid who was doing so with skateboards (in NY?), and another with sneakers, but cannot now find those articles. What are some examples you know of of people doing likewise? Articles, websites, advice appreciated. Better description in the more inside.

I seem to have a knack for finding unique things that people are always asking me where I got or how they can get, etc. Often these are things that are very hard to find or are made in such limited supply that they're no longer available.

(I used to own a traditional brick-and-mortar record store that was very well-loved so have lots of experience in retail (35+ years) so am not looking for regular "new business" advice -- I also am semi-retired living off the money from having sold my last store so do not need a "full" income, but am looking for something fun and unique to do with my time.)

What I'm thinking of is building a website with a list of a rotating inventory (rare records, out of print books, mid century modern furniture, limited edition new items from select suppliers, large-scale paintings and photography, hand-made porcelain and pottery, etc) and when people see something they like, they can book an appointment and come by and make a purchase.

I'm not having a lot of luck finding examples of others doing this, but assume there must be at least some around the world. (I suck at Google). So, I'm turning to the hive to ask if there are examples you know of.

Is there a "store" like this in your town or that you know of in your travels?

As an aside, if you frequent such a business, what are the things you like/dislike about it?

posted by dobbs to Shopping (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
it has some similarity to what lularoe does maybe? I have a neighbor who sells Lularoe. I think she has the merchandise at her house year round (not sure) and periodically she sends an email that has pictures and a "reservation" system for the inventory. I indicate what I want to "reserve", then I go to her house and pick it up in person (or I could ask that it be shipped for a fee.) She also sometimes has open house events.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:52 AM on May 13, 2018

I bought two beloved pieces of furniture from a store like this in Brooklyn about 10 years ago. It doesn’t exist anymore, so I can’t show you their website or anything, but it worked like this: I was searching Craigslist for a certain item, clicked on an ad for something that looked right and got a reply from the seller who directed me to her website for more and better pictures. Her site was a sparse but lovely affair that listed a small selection of furniture and decorative arts, all styled and photographed really well. I decided to go see the item and she invited me to her apartment. She lived in the parlor floor of a brownstone and the front room was set as her shop, everything from the website arranged just so, according to her aesthetic, all of it for sale down to the rugs and lamps. We chatted and I discovered this was a side business for her (her main work was as an architect, if I recall correctly). Anyway I bought the mirror I had come for and later a bookcase that she featured on her website a few months later. I would have bought more, but she left the city and her stock got pricier. But it was a really fun experience for me, one that I recall fondly all these years later.
posted by minervous at 8:02 AM on May 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

The store called Tuesday Morning used to do this in the 80s. They’d put a quarter or eighth page ad in the paper showing what days and hours they’d be open.

Maybe more recent examples you could look to are pop up boutiques too.
posted by tilde at 8:04 AM on May 13, 2018

This is very common in Orthodox Jewish communities in the U.S. (I don't know about elsewhere). They sell products for the Orthodox market (like long-sleeved shirts for women and girls, wigs, long skirts, or good prices on underwear for guys). A woman will get a wholesale order and then advertise that her hours are 1-6 Sundays (for example) or by appointment. I have never personally been to such a house, but in Brooklyn people will set up their basement (down the outside stairs) as a shop.
posted by 8603 at 8:55 AM on May 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Lularoe is a MLM.

I’ve seen independently owned antique stores with limited hours as well as “by appointment”, and a few wellness stores (massage therapist, acupuncture, etc) that also sell some retail goods but operate mainly by appointment, as opposed to having someone man a counter all day in the event of walk-in traffic.
posted by Autumnheart at 8:56 AM on May 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

Also--since you're a retailer, I'm sure you've seen this--my uncle ran his antique shop essentially by appointment as he got closer to retirement. It was a traditional commercial storefront, but it was anybody's guess when he'd actually be open. Good customers just called him and he would open for them (if they could get him on the phone!!!!!!!).
posted by 8603 at 8:58 AM on May 13, 2018

Bridal boutiques are often appointment-only so that the staff can focus on one customer at a time.

There was a store in NYC called Kiosk that had regular hours but did sell an interesting assortment of things at various price points gathered during the owners' travels. They now sell online but only ship once a month, which seems like a way of doing things that might suit you.

Personally, I'd prefer a shop that was open for limited, but regular, hours, so that I could come browse. Having an appointment sounds like pressure to buy the thing I was interested in.
posted by xo at 9:14 AM on May 13, 2018 [6 favorites]

Brazenhead Books, New York's “speakeasy bookstore.”
posted by D.Billy at 9:16 AM on May 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

I think you should sell online, because I think your store sounds cool but I would never make an appointment to go shopping in a private residence. That just sounds like an awkward social situation for so many reasons. The suggestion of shipping in a big batch once or twice a month is a good one.
posted by potrzebie at 9:27 AM on May 13, 2018 [7 favorites]

I've seen a lot of sole proprietors doing vintage or furniture utilizing Instagram. First person to comment gets the item or something like that. I think it definitely drives sales since it forces people to make an immediate decision. If you wanted to incorporate this into an appointment only model, you could say that merch is in your loft for like, a month before going up on the page so in person people get first dibs. The major thing is getting followers, but that is really the challenge of a private store anyway and social media is a way of driving that traffic. Anyway I'd love to do something like this, lucky you!
posted by decathexis at 10:48 AM on May 13, 2018 [6 favorites]

I have seen bespoke furniture makers do this. They don’t have a massive number of customers or a big heap of stock to sell - just a few pieces for you to look at and then maybe a chance to agree on a design. A variant of this is some retailers who exist as a retail space only in a mobile context - such as at festival stalls.
posted by rongorongo at 12:31 PM on May 13, 2018

Bijan in Beverly Hills is appointment only.
posted by brujita at 2:29 PM on May 13, 2018

Not quite the same, but there's a business called Real Deals Home Decor, which is a franchise model. As far as I can tell, all shops are open just two days a week. But they are consistently open the same two days every week.
posted by hydra77 at 4:00 PM on May 13, 2018

I think it sounds like a really interesting idea. This is essentially how people sell their stuff on craigslist but more organized, especially if you can have a set aside room or space where everything is for sale. It might be good to have regular “open house” hours, like on a weekend morning, where people can come and browse.
posted by permiechickie at 4:38 PM on May 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have seen lots of rare book sellers who are "open by appointment".
posted by Altomentis at 5:02 PM on May 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

There is a long and rich tradition of high-end "by appointment only" retail. It is absolutely standard for bridal. It is common in antiques, and indeed my grandfather ran a hobby antique store by appointment only for 40 years. Here is an example of vintage clothing sold out of an LA home.

PS: I would look at 1stDibs.com for listing your items.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:25 PM on May 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

I've seen everything from computer shops to clothing stores to furniture stores doing this. Many of them have very limited opening hours one or two days a week, but are otherwise by appointment only. It's also pretty common in professional services, though by no means universal.

Point being there are definitely people who are used to doing business with people who operate this way. You will lose out on some potential business from people like me who aren't going to make the phone call, but since you don't really care given your business model, it sounds like a good fit for you!
posted by wierdo at 10:16 PM on May 13, 2018

There are also "trunk sales" where someone hosts a party and you bring inventory, or pop up stores, where you rent an empty, ideally cool, space. Sounds fun and potentially successful.
posted by theora55 at 5:29 AM on May 14, 2018

Thanks, everyone. Much appreciated.
posted by dobbs at 6:17 AM on May 14, 2018

Here to back up decathexis - I found some mid century furniture for sale on Craigslist. Now follow his Instagram to check out his wares (https://www.instagram.com/edmund_and_son). The fellow rents out a small storefront, where he keeps and shows the the furniture, and the transaction can take place there. Might help with some people’s reluctance to do a transaction at a residence.
posted by 6ATR at 1:36 PM on May 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

LN-CC is a canonical example of a shop that uses "by appointment" as a way of connoting that going there is a special experience. See also this Telegraph article about it), in particular this quote "This isn't a 'walk in off the street' kind of place owing to the nature of the space and location. It’s not exclusive, far from it in fact." They probably benefit from the fact that, having made an appointment, you are likely to spend a decent amount of time there; it is embarrassing to turn up to your appointment and then shuffle off after a couple of minutes.

There are also places such as The Modern Warehouse that work mostly by appointment for pragmatic reasons; they have a small staff and are out of the shop at unpredictable times making deliveries/collections. Note that they have a very good website with a very up-to-date stock list. They used to be appointment-only, then moved to advertising occasional "open days" on their mailing list, and have gradually moved towards being open without appointment on most Saturdays.
posted by Jabberwocky at 3:46 AM on May 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ended up doing it. Here's the project page.
posted by dobbs at 7:49 PM on June 19, 2018

« Older Discount contacts website, without a prescription?   |   Last minute birthday present for almost-estranged... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.