Innovative Retailer: Cuyana

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The Name: Cuyana

The Place: Well, lots of shops obviously. But this particular one iscurrently on an automobile trip round America.

The Story: Have you ever wanted to be a rock star and shout “Hello Florida!!” from the front of a huge stage?

No: I see. How about “If it’s Tuesday it must be Culver City!”?

Still no. And I don’t even know where that is: Tough crowd eh? Well, you obviously don’t have the showman instinct of Shilpa Shah and Karla Gallardo – the founders of high-end fashion brand Cuyana in the US. Because that is exactly what the store staff in the ‘mobile manifestation’ can do every morning – should they wish to.

And what in god’s name is the ‘mobile manifestation’? That is the innovation we are championing. Imagine, if you will, a travelling showroom – a curated edit on wheels.

Is it a truck with a shop on it? Maybe, but at the same time so much more. Several stages further on than the old hat shipping container (yawn), and several stages further on than the usual pop-up (seen them all). It combines the two.

Tell me more: Some of those things that sound really simple can be logistically very troublesome. But Cuyana has teamed up for this one with none other than Toyota Motor Corporation. In fact the column could just as easily have been about Toyota with Cuyana merely being the first tenant. Anyway, Toyota is savvy enough to realise that less car usage and sustainability and closed shops and Covid-19 and the whole perfect storm of it is going to preface what it calls “societal changes”. It is therefore designing “future mobility solutions” via a new offshoot called Toyota Agile Space (TAS).

And the first retail test pilot is…Cuyana. Correct. So shopping malls have increasing amounts of underutilised space – whether it is those vast American car parks or the huge atriums inside the centres – and they are looking for new ways of monetising that space. Enter the flatbed truck with built on shipping container stage left which will “measure the opportunity for disrupting the way land and space is used, configured and transacted”.

Right. Does that last bit mean no long leases: Effectively yes. This Cuyana showroom is going on a long, long road trip lasting until the end of 2021. During that time it will do month long stints at various places – usually quite Chi-Chi locations – and it won’t require the normal long commercial leases at all. The other great element of this idea is, of course, the data it generates.

How so? Instead of wading through swathes of analysis of the retailers already there and how they are doing etcetera Cuyana will have a location tester giving it very accurate measurements on where it might be worthwhile investing in a shop and where not. This thing could zip between all the malls in one county and then just pick the one where it had the most footfall or most positive reaction.

But how quick is it to set up? At the moment it takes eight parking spaces and three days to install or dismantle. The floors, racks and counters all fit onto the flatbed truck. However, Toyota are working on it and according to an interview given to Bloomberg Businessweek are confident of getting this time-frame down to one day.

Back to the fashion side of things what exactly is in it? Fewer, better.

What? That’s what’s in it, according to the founders. It means a curated edit of the best stuff. So you won’t be wading through the clearance section but you will get a flavour of the brand.

The question the world is asking is can you actually buy stuff in it? Umm. There are no cash transactions in the container but you can order online whilst in there and it will be dispatched to you. But if you mean can I walk away with something from inside the mobile manifestation (or MoMa as I would like to call it) the answer is non.

Costly? Cuyana are keeping schtum about the exact costs. But one thing is for sure – the traditional pop-up tour involves very costly fitting and refitting over and over again in different locations to achieve the same effect as Cuyana who have only had to pay once. So basically whatever it cost it was a pretty sound investment.

And completely in their control so full customisation to its brand requirements (which is the major downfall of some of the more fancy pop-ups) and no restrictions on how they can sell: No sir. Overall, I think it is safe to say that Cuyana will be watching the progress of this little baby MoMa very carefully with eyes on a potential fleet of them if the data gathering proves as successful as they hope.

And behind them…Toyota and any other retailers interested in saving costs on bricks and mortar units.

Hello Newport Beach! That’s not until November.

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