Brick-and-mortar retail is back on the rise. Store openings now exceed store closures as consumers crave more personalized, in-store sensory experiences.
This is especially true for younger consumers: In the US, 81% of Gen Z shoppers say they prefer shopping in physical stores to discover new products, and more than 50% say in-store browsing is a way they can disconnect from the digital world .
One brand doing this well is ear piercing and earrings brand STUDS, which offers a highly consultative ear-piercing experience in-store.
Their goal: To fill the market gap for the demographic of buyers who’ve aged out of a brand like Claire’s and want a place to get a safe, sanitary ear piercing that isn’t a local tattoo or piercing parlor.
STUDS took its retail concept and opened sixteen locations nationwide—fifteen of which opened during the pandemic. While thousands of stores and companies went bankrupt or closed down during the lockdown, STUDS thrived.
STUDS co-founders Anna Harman and Lisa Bubbers credit their focus on experiential retail for their success. “Our stores themselves are our marketing, and they’re doing the advertising for us,” Bubbers said.
In-store, STUDS shoppers will find Instagrammable displays and tactile features like silicone ears, which help customers build their own custom “Earscape.” Earscaping is a term Bubbers coined that refers to personalized ear piercings and earring stacking, resulting in a form of unique self-expression.
Seeing as one can’t get an ear piercing online, this service-based aspect of STUDS’ operation gives people a reason to visit them in person.
Once there, customers receive extensive education on the placement and earring options for ear piercings, a consultation with a trained ear piercing expert, and the opportunity to select and buy a variety of earrings.
For shoppers who want more privacy and exclusivity, there’s also an option to rent out a STUDS store for private piercing events, which further encourages shoppers to make piercing a celebratory, fun, tactile experience that can be shared with friends.
But the brand’s approach to experiential retail isn’t limited to its brick-and-mortar stores.
In the summer of 2021, the brand launched Studs on Wheels—a mobile trailer that travels around the US to bring the brand’s piercing and earring shopping experiences to new locations.
Thus far, locations included NYC’s Chinatown, Greenpoint Terminal Market, UCLA, and Sorority Row on the USC campus. The success of Studs on Wheels has Harman and Bubbers hinting that Studs on Wheels will show up on more campuses (and possibly events at events like Coachella) down the road.
Beyond its core offering of experiential ear piercings in-store, STUDS also leverages its relationships with influencers and celebrities to drive foot traffic to these locations via special events.
For example, in November 2021, STUDS hosted a Friday meet and greet with influencer Serena Kerrigan.
The event featured an earring collection STUDS designed in collaboration with Kerrigan and a hot chocolate bar. This activation drove a 50% gross revenue increase in studio sales compared to the average one-day gross sales for in-store purchases.
So far, STUDS’ approach is working. 34% of all STUDS customers are returning buyers, and 40% of customers who get pierced repeat organically online or offline. Furthermore, STUDS is on target to pierce six figures worth of ear holes in 2022 alone, more than doubling the number they pierced in 2021.
Data echoes why this approach proves so effective: One report showed 91% of consumers are more inclined to purchase a brand’s product or service after participating in an in-store brand activation while 40% feel in-store experiences make them more loyal to a brand .
So what can other retailers learn from STUDS’ success?
If you can provide customers with a shopping experience to remember, they’ll keep coming back.