From the Newbury Street sidewalk, the new Goodlife storefront looks like any other: a glassy window display with faceless mannequins and tri-blend T-shirts for sale. But the New York-based apparel brand never signed a lease in Back Bay. In fact, they don’t even have any employees in Massachusetts.
What they have, though, is Leap, a startup that shoulders the brunt of the burden for e-commerce companies opening traditional storefronts. The “leap” — pun intended — is from digital to physical.
Since 2018, the 100-person platform has partnered with 55 direct-to-consumer brands that started on the web, such as Social Tourist and Frankie’s Bikinis. For a monthly operating fee and typically a 15 percent cut of the revenue, Leap does the hard work: It scouts brick-and-mortar locations, hires retail associates, and signs a lease. E-commerce brands just show up, stock up, and pay the fee.
This month, Leap first arrived in Boston with storefronts for Goodlife and ThirdLove, a size-inclusive women’s intimates brand, on Newbury Street near the Boston Public Garden. It already operates dozens of spots in New York, Miami, Chicago, and beyond.
Goodlife CEO Andrew Codispoti said the benefits are already panning out at its eight Leap locations nationwide. Normally, an apparel brand like his would have to take on a multi-year lease with a hefty security deposit to land prime real estate. (Several direct-to-consumer brands — Warby Parker, Mejuri, and Everlane, for example — have done just that in the Seaport recently, thanks to an influx of venture capital funding.)
But Leap puts the lease in their name, taking the biggest risk and fronting the biggest costs, Codispoti said. In case of a recession (or say, a pandemic that sends the world into lockdown), he added, Goodlife has “a pretty easy out.” The company could simply leave the Back Bay store if sales plummet. And Leap could theoretically refill the space with another brand that might be a better fit. (If they can’t find a replacement, the startup faces the consequences.)
Leap cofounder Amish Tolia sees the strategy as a monumental shift from the way retail has run, well, forever.
“All of the component parts that go into a successful and profitable retail operation — those parts haven’t dramatically shifted for a century-plus,” he added. “This is an opportunity.”
In his view, Leap solves a few problems. Internet-savvy companies can offload the financial risk of opening a storefront and save that capital for expanding stock or paying vendors. That’s more vital in COVID times than ever before, Tolia added, as “consumer behavior changes at lightning speed. The way people are purchasing may look very different six or twelve months from now.”
Brands also do not have to deal with finding and retaining their own employees amidst the labor shortage. Instead, Leap workers have the flexibility to move between stores that the startup runs in the region. Tolia said, “they can go from furniture to apparel to homewares if they’d like.”
The operation is fueled by Leap’s growing database of consumer statistics, collected from the e-commerce companies in its portfolio. That helps Tolia and his team figure out where a brand’s most loyal customers are and where it makes sense for a company to set up shop.
ThirdLove cofounder Heidi Zak, for example, said that Leap brought them the Boston walk-up space as a potential retail location, based on their research.
“They have relationships with landlords already,” she added. “So we can give them ideas, but for the most part, they do all the looking.”
ThirdLove, 175 Newbury St., Boston; Goodlife, 115 Newbury St., Boston
Bye bye, big brands
After a dismal decade in the shadow of Amazon, Barnes and Noble is back in force with two upcoming locations in Dedham and Lynnfield. Here’s the irony: The bookshops will open in storefronts vacated earlier this year by Amazon Books when the e-commerce giant shuttered its fleet of brick-and-mortar locations.
CEO James Daunt shies away from insulting Amazon. (“Any way books are in people’s hands, that’s a good thing,” he said.) But Barnes and Noble’s rebound is a promising sign for a chain once in decline. Barnes & Noble launched just 15 new stores between 2010 and 2019. In 2022 alone, it opened — or is set to open — 23.
Amazon Books was “in the right places but didn’t have stores that worked for them,” Daunt added. “Frankly, we’re thinking we can do better.”
Unlike in the past, Barnes and Noble is now decentralizing its buying, Daunt said, allowing sellers at each store to stock the shelves to the needs and personality of its customers. In Dedham, it’ll be launched in Legacy Place, while the Lynnfield store will be situated inside Lynnfield Market.
A somewhat similar story is playing out in Chestnut Hill, where Korean entrepreneur James Park opened a coffee shop in what used to be a Starbucks. The former Northeastern finance major launched Glazed Bytes — a play on the term for computers’ binary digits — on October 1. It sells coffee (dubbed “third wave” as a mark of high-quality) and croffles, a mix of croissants and waffles topped with ice cream.
Park’s wife, Lizzie So, who interpreted for him in an interview, said the endeavor was inspired by the couple’s time in Korea earlier in the pandemic, when Park trained under the Specialty Coffee Association overseas.
“This has been his dream for a long time,” So added.
Glazed Bytes, 199 Boylston St., Chestnut Hill
A golf club for any skill set
Parson Xtreme Sports, an Arizona golf supplier, opened an expansive facility in Framingham earlier this month. At over 7,000 square feet, it boasts three fitting bays with simulators for golfers shopping for custom clubs — plus hats, bags, and polo shirts to match. There’s also a fitting studio specific for putters and a practice putting green.
Nick Jankhe, PXG’s vice president of US Sales, said it’s all so a golfer can find the perfect club, “fitted 100 percent to your body and style and level of skill. Think of it like getting tailored for a fine suit.”
Similar PXG facilities already exist in Scottsdale, Ariz.; Chicago; Philadelphia; and more. Boston, the sixth-largest golf market in the US — at least, according to Jankhe — was a natural next step. “It’s a golf hotspot,” he added, with 90 golf courses within a 20 mile radius of the Framingham store.
571 Worcester Rd., Framingham
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