Liam Casey’s next big adventure: Fab.com pop-up bricks and mortar stores

11 Mar 20157 Shares

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A week after it was confirmed that PCH acquired Fab.com, Siliconrepublic.com has learned that PCH intends to roll out pop-up Fab.com stores in cities around the world to sell electronics goods.

Last week PCH confirmed its acquisition of Fab.com for an undisclosed amount of cash and equity and plans to use Fab.com as a sales channel for hardware created by start-ups. Fab.com’s 35 employees – including engineers, merchants, graphic designers and marketers – will become members of staff at PCH.

Fab.com, once the darling of the tech start-up scene in the US, was founded in 2011 but managed to burn its way through US$300m in cash as marketing costs spiralled out of control.

Speaking with Siliconrepublic.com said that PCH’s plans for Fab.com extend to selling goods offline as well as online.

“We think it’s a good channel and there’s quite a lot we can do with it. We are intent on creating great experiences online and offline through bricks and mortar pop-up stores.”

Casey said these stores will make the most of PCH’s global supply chain that can see goods delivered from factory to doorstep within three working days.

PCH has revenues of more than US$1bn a year and masterminds the design, manufacture and distribution of hardware, from the initial online order to the delivery at the customer’s door, anywhere in the world. The company employs 2,800 people worldwide, including 80 people in Cork, where PCH International is headquartered.

Convergence between entertainment, fashion, technology, commerce and editorial

Casey said that there is a change occurring in how electronics goods and services will be bought and sold and implied that “editorial and curation” will be a key driver for footfall and clicks to offline and online stores, respectively.

This can be seen through the example of fast-growing Chinese smartphone maker OnePlus’s use of audience building online and how it sells its phones through coveted invites once a week. Dimensions of this emerging model can also be seen through Apple’s recent hire of BBC DJ and “tastemaker” Zane Lowe whereby audience curation and music discovery will be key.

“Again, editorial and curation will be important and we will have the right people in place to curate it and make sure the right brands and products feature online and offline.

“For us it will be all about how we create the events and the uniqueness of what’s going to be different about it. We can create specific events in key cities around certain product categories and possibly around certain events like Paris Fashion Week or a Formula 1 in a city. I have spent 10 years of my career in retail and I know that the creation of great experiences is very important. In Grafton Street Dublin you have 12,000 people an hour passing the store but you only have seconds to capture their attention the moment they walk in off the street.

“In today’s world you can manage those experiences from end-to-end and we can do it with Fab.com as the platform.

“We just ran a hackaton in Toronto last weekend and we will hold a bunch more this year in cool cities and we can also run pop-ups in similar cities. The way we look at it is we are three days from all the factories we work with and we are three days from all the consumers that buy products. We can control that end-to-end experience and create a pop-up store that will be a phenomenal event and we can do it in a very short time frame with great products that you can’t get on any of the online stores or in a bricks and mortar store.

“You can drive traffic with an online community; a loyal online community where you can drive traffic and we can see the convergence between entertainment, fashion, technology, commerce and editorial. And with those you can drive traffic to non-high street locations.”

Casey said that the plan is to base the pop-up retail experiences on loyalty and taste.

“The people who turn up will have to discover it, they can’t just wander in. The people who want to be there will find the stores and will do so because they are part of the community. The brands themselves are anxious to have their story told and articulate the product in a way that people would understand it.”

Free shipping is not innovation

One way of separating the wheat from the chaff, Casey explains, will be the use of questionaires on Fab.com. For example, one of the first will as “Do you like beautiful products or do you prefer free shipping? “Those that click on ‘free shipping’ will be directed to one of the other mass-market e-commerce stores.

“We are very focused; free shipping is not innovation. People who appreciate beautiful products are our focus. If it’s free shipping it’s not innovation, that is desperation. If the only innovation we will have achieved is free shipping then we will not have succeeded. We want to bring the best products on the planet to the consumers who want them.

“We will have categories of products that will be invite-only.

“We will have creative retail experiences consistently in cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Jakarta, San Francisco, new York, Sao Paolo, London, Dublin and Cork. We can go anywhere and we know we can create these experiences that will be consistent and will have the right curation to excite people.”

The future of publishing – moving magazine covers

Last week it also emerged that PCH also collaborated with AnOther Magazine editor Jefferson Hack and Alexander McQueen to create a moving magazine cover with built-in audio featuring Rihanna. The HD display showed Rihanna performing in Alexander McQueen, filmed by Inez and Vinoodh.

Described as a “unique design object”, the magazine, which has an LCD screen stitched onto a paper magazine, went on sale last week at Colette, Selfridges, Fab.com and Yoox.com. Only 1,000 numbered, limited editions will be distributed.

However, the venture has already sparked the interest of technology, media and entertainment brands around the world who are keen to experiment with the new genre.

Casey said the idea came about over dinner at last year’s Web Summit where Jefferson Hack discussed it for the first time.

“This for us was a great project to work on because it displayed all of our skillsets, in a very short time frame. Speed, time-to-market, three and a half months to do something like this from a conversation to actually getting it done, all the R&D, selecting the technologies, the video structure, the electrical requirements to do it, the battery requirements …

“It was quite a lot of stuff to understand and the great thing, what made it possible was that Jefferson was consistently clear in what he wanted. What he talked about at that first dinner was exactly what he talked about right up to the delivery.”

He continued: “We work with a lot of great editors and they are product people but Jefferson was one of the best we have worked with and his clarity of what he wanted was very consistent right down to the video on screen.

“We could put a 10 or 15 minute video on that screen but all he wanted was 90 seconds. The curation and the editorial around that screen and the video was phenomenal and it was to attract people and to hold people. When you sit with people the video for the first time, they are watching the video half way through the third loop before they talk or react. It creates an illusion.”

Casey said that the magazine created a buzz not only among the fashion media but other technology, media and telecoms brands are taking note.

“We have received some serious calls from media and digital agencies but what made this work was Jefferson’s clarity of vision. We would be very careful about embarking on this kind of project unless it has the same clarity of vision. A lot of projects like this can start but often scope-creep occurs and it ends up being lipstick on a pig.

“What was great about Jefferson was his clarity – he knew what he wanted – perfection. The result was a beautiful product because he was crystal clear about the outcome right from our first conversation.”

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com