If you had to come up with the most counter-intuitive business strategy ever, it might start with opening a small shop when many are folding and include lengthy, closed-for-business periods while you radically redecorate so that no one recognises it.
This is the premise of Koibird which opened last summer off the beaten track lane in Marylebone, London, as a fuchsia drenched, one stop beach holiday destination, then shut its doors for two months and reopened as a one stop ski mecca.
Not to be confused (as if anyone would) with Snow+Rock or other big ski-world players, Koibird goes to the mountains is all about the niche and the undiscovered. Its founder, Belma Gaudio, persuaded some of the 63 brands she’s stocking to design exclusive collaborations for her relatively tiny store and others to do fake fur trims where previously they only worked with real fur. She has meticulously sourced a mixture of functional high tech pieces from performance brands such as Fusalp and Timberland alongside more whimsical items, including transparent suitcases from Case (for meticulous packers only) and Lingua Franca’s apres-ski cashmere sweaters with customised slogans.
Come March, the boutique will close for refurbishment again. Gaudio’s not saying yet what the next theme will be, but it’s a safe bet that whimsy is on the cards. “It could be Koibird goes to the Gym, or Koibird goes to Vietnam….” The décor and stock will transform three times a year.
It might sound elitist – Debenhams it is not. But the playful interiors (summer’s fuchsia has been repainted an equally demonstrative cerulean blue and scarlet red) seem to suck in customers on all kinds of budgets. “Hopefully it’s making retail fun again,” says Gaudio, an unabashed shopper who had almost lost faith in her favourite pasttime before she launched Koibird.
“Convenient as online is, it means everything is available everywhere 24/7. It’s created an environment where retailers don’t want to take risks and everything looks the same, wherever you are in the world. It’s lost any sense of discovery. Koibird is about restoring that. I hope I’ve made it feel a bit like visiting an art gallery. We’ve certainly had customers coming in, staying for a coffee and just hanging out with their friends.”
The omens are encouraging. After Koibird’s summer iteration, she was approached by several big department stores asking her to set up something similar for them. For now however, she’s keeping her focus on her own little pocket of shopping nirvana. But does it add up to a profitable business? “It has to,” insists Gaudio, a former hedge-funder who hit the financial markets aged 20, straight out of college. “It’s not a plaything. I’ve got two little children. I don’t need to fill my time.”
What happens though, if you’re going on a cruise rather than skiing? Or Venice instead of Vietnam? Isn’t Koi-bird’s skew a bit too specific? That’s where its new e-tail site comes in. Gaudio was torn about going online – “it takes away some of that sense of discovery” – but realised commercially, that she had to. Customers will find a fully comprehensive holiday offer there which goes beyond the boutique’s stock. But the store is where the intrepid will go. “The world certainly doesn’t need another shop,” says Gaudio matter-of-factly. “But it does need enjoyable experiences.”