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Friday 22nd May

In this week's edition: Cross-border shipping, the rise of dark stores and how to release tension and stress from your body.

Dealing with being kicked out of your international warehouse.

A month ago, Matt Brown, co-founder of British grooming brand Thomas Clipper, received an email from his Chicago warehouse telling him they had restocked to satisfy pandemic-centric demands – and that he had 24 hours to find a new home for his products. After negotiating with the warehouse to wait for a month, he and co-founder Antonio Weiss explored their options. Realising that building a relationship with a new distribution partner would take significant resources, the pair decided to bring all the products back to the UK and focus solely on British distribution – despite their alcohol-based products requiring ‘hazardous goods’ shipping costs. Brown immediately offered US customers a 50% discount for a fortnight to reduce volume and chased stock the warehouse had misplaced. The company’s global expansion plans are on hold for the medium-term, but Brown and Weiss are optimistic about focusing on one market. As Brown says, ‘putting our entire budget behind a single campaign lets the algorithms learn much faster, which helps us react quicker to a rapidly changing retail landscape locally.’ Their US stock isn’t yet back, but the brand’s UK  direct-to-consumer sales are up 114% – more than counterbalancing the temporary loss of their international customer base.

How businesses around the world are adapting, evolving and reopening.

Kottayam, India. Manorama Weekly, a family entertainment publication, has seen record sales and a 30% rise in circulation thanks to a collab with the Kerala government which entailed free vegetable seeds included in every copy.

Singapore. Creative agency BBH Singapore has developed an Animal Crossing campaign for the popular holiday island of Sentosa – the country’s first branded virtual destination on Nintendo Switch. It’s been ‘painstakingly’ designed to reflect the realities of Sentosa with 36 bookings available each day.

Amsterdam. Vegan restaurant Mediamatic Eden is trialling a new method of socially-distanced dining with diners seated in separated greenhouses overlooking the water, named ‘serres séparées’ .

London. Transparent screens, hands-free doors and an in-house barista: some of the measures that architecture and design studio Weston Williamson is bringing into its office –  outlined here  with some excellent illustrations.

New York. Condom company Trojan has  launched a free online cookbook called ‘Rising Time’, including sensual bread recipes and food photography. Recipes include 'Get A Pizza That Booty' and 'Knot Without A Condom.'

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‘You don't need to have your shit figured out today – building something really takes time.’

Clayton Chambers, Entrepreneur
New York

A check-in with the co-founder of Elliot , a 'no code' e-commerce platform that's gearing up for a public launch on 18th June.

A lot of stores have had to abandon their physical presence and are now selling online. How many of Elliot's customers are first timers?
The majority. That's just the nature of the space we operate in – the ‘no-to-low-code’ space. But yeah, with what's happening with Covid, we've seen businesses that were brick-and-mortar now pivoting online and we’ve released features to support them, especially in hospitality. Restaurants are coming to us wanting to sell things – we’ve got a feature for local pick-up and delivery along with radius pick-up, for instance.

What's the deal with Elliot’s unusual marketing?
That stems from the camaraderie we have as co-founders – me, Marco and Sergio – and our experience working in Saas, e-commerce, fashion and tech over the years. Tech just feels square, serious, boring and faceless. We wanted Elliot to feel human, relevant and up to date with how internet culture works.

You guys handle cross-border shipping and nitty gritty logistics. Is that a nightmare at the moment?
Not necessarily. Sergio's [Elliot’s CEO, Sergio Villasenor] background over the last decade was building out cross-border functionality and supply chain tech for enterprise-level businesses. He took all of that knowledge and just sort of productised it into Elliott – things like being globally compliant country by country, being secure from a privacy standpoint, being able to pull in carrier data from different shipping carrier networks, giving you duties and taxes auto-calculated, being localised in terms of currency and language, etc. Those are normally different apps and tools that you pay monthly subscriptions for to plug-in to your existing store. What you get is a sort of patchwork which, when you need to do something, you need to install another app. We wanted to remove all that friction – that’s stuff we've just built out of the box.

What have you learned in the last few months?
Having empathy for the people on your team and the people you're selling to is something you can forget about – but it's really important. This is just a weird, strange time for literally everybody. And so it's easy to take offence or see things from the wrong perspective. Another thing is that you don't need to have your shit figured out today. You know, building something really takes time. It's hard to see the forest for the trees, right? When you're above it, when you're outside of it, you can obviously see how different things are pieced together. But that's really difficult when you're in the thick of it.

Releasing tension from the body. Leading body and posture expert Dr. Liza Egbogah outlines simple techniques for relieving stress and alleviating tension.

Good reads, links and advice.
The six builders who will thrive in the new world . The pizzeria owner making money from buying his own product on DoorDash. Emerging consumer trends accelerated by Covid-19. The flour company supplying our sourdough obsession . Distractions and quarantine diaries from the New York Times. When ‘ grin and bear it ’ isn’t the right answer.  This presentation slide from SoftBank is… interesting. The rise and fall of the office.  Gradually, then suddenly : the story of US e-commerce. Our lockdown behaviour is wreaking havoc on machine-learning models. Every episode of The Office, recreated in Slack. And the new New York – will it be  better ?

On the rise of dark stores and ‘multifunctional retail’

Brodie Meah, the owner of north London wine and small plates bistro Top Cuvée, is already planning his next space. And this time it won’t be a neighbourhood restaurant. ‘We’re hoping to find a multifunctional warehouse space, where we can prepare food, bottle cocktails and process deliveries, but also hold events and have a beautiful shop.’

Top Cuvée – a collaboration between Brodie and Max Venning, the owner of east London cocktail bar Three Sheets – had been a hit since opening in February 2019. But after lockdown struck, the team of five transformed the business in less than a day, relaunching as Shop Cuvée, delivering restaurant-quality ready meals, biodynamic wines and ready-mixed cocktails, from Three Sheets but also bar brands like Mr Lyan and Tayēr + Elementary.

With more than 2,000 unique customers in less than two months, Brodie has discovered a whole new scalable business model. ‘It’s been a crash course in retail,’ he says. ‘We’ve had to perfect a completely new kind of service, using bike couriers to get great products to customers at Amazon speeds. But we’ve also learned it can be a viable business, which will be part of our long-term plans, even when we reopen Top Cuvée.’

In the short-term, Top Cuvée has gone from being a bistro to a packing station, shop and kitchen preparing ham hock terrines, pork and fennel tagliatelle and more for delivery. The bar has become a production station for mixing and bottling cocktails; tables have been moved to the back of the bistro and become packing stations; and the shelves at the front have become a fancy bottle shop for socially-distanced shoppers.

In some ways, Top Cuvée is a case study into some of the biggest global trends in retail at the moment, including the shift online and the increased use of spaces as fulfilment centres for click-and-collect and deliveries – or dark stores, as they are starting to be called.

‘Before lockdown, there was already a big focus on e-commerce supply chains, with companies everywhere looking at the most efficient ways to get products to consumers,’ says Victoria Buchanan, a senior analyst at the The Future Laboratory. ‘This has just accelerated the process, as people get used to doing even more shopping online.’

Ever since Amazon showed consumers that one-hour delivery times are possible, companies across sectors have been racing to get products closer to buyers, from Walmart’s mega-stores for online customers to Deliveroo ghost kitchens in inner-city car parks. Companies have sprung up to feed a growing obsession with hyper-localised supply chains: like San Francisco-based Darkstore and New York-based Ohi, whose business models are based on finding unused spaces in offices, malls and storage facilities, and turning them into data-driven delivery centres.

The Covid-19 lockdown has accelerated this trend by effectively turning many consumer-facing venues into dark stores. Levi’s and Whole Foods are just two of the many brands that have turned stores into fulfilment centres. But it is trickling down to smaller, independent businesses too.

Canlis, the iconic fine-dining, family-run restaurant in Seattle, has successfully shifted to selling burgers and bagels to drive-through customers, as well as sending out grocery boxes and delivering everything from Wagyu meatloaf to Manhattan cocktails. Industry Of All Nations, the sustainable clothing brand based out of Los Angeles, is also rethinking its strategy. According to co-founder Juan Diego Gerscovich, the company is looking at shifting more closely towards a fulfilment centre model in Europe, at least, rather than opening a bunch of expensive stores solely for customers to shop in.

Whenever lockdown ends, the big question is how many of these venues will return to the way they worked before. Canlis, like Top Cuvée, plans to reopen the restaurant but keep working on online deliveries to satisfy a newfound demand for quality dining at home. But other companies will change more significantly.

‘Whatever happens, this has forced brands to be more agile,’ says Victoria. ‘They will be thinking even harder about their physical spaces, and what they’re for, and I think we’ll be seeing more and more nicely designed hybrid spaces. Some stores might become more like warehouses, designed for local needs and with more of an emphasis on collecting than browsing.’

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Illustrators: Yosuke Yamauchi  | Giulia Sagramola  | D enae Diaz

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