For a custom earphone company that does all of its business with a smartphone app, opening a retail location may seem like an odd choice. And opening it in expensive New York real estate seems even odder, but Normal isn’t a normal company and they aren’t the only internet business that is looking for a life beyond the internet.
The way Normal works is pretty simple. You download the app on your smart phone, snap some pictures of your earlobes, pick your color and style, and Normal will custom 3D print earphones designed to fit perfectly in your ears. How does that translate into a retail environment? Well, it doesn’t immediately lend itself to a retail experience, but that doesn’t mean a storefront is necessarily a bad idea.
The Normal store resides in an 11,000 square foot space that serves as retail location, an earbud factory, and the company’s corporate headquarters. The design is what you would expect for a company that trades in high tech products. Just like the Apple store that it’s clearly reminiscent of, it’s a modern space with simple, clean and Spartan finishings.
Customers can come in and the retail employees will help them take pictures of their ears and place an order. They can also see exactly how the headphones are made, and watch the large bank of 3D printers working. While that sounds like a wonderful store experience, to me, it also sounds like an expensive experience that serves no immediate purpose despite what Normal CEO Nikki Kaufman suggests.
“During the preorder period, we got feedback from customers that they really wanted to see this,” said Kaufman “We’re super, super confident in this physical location,”
I think there is a place for Normal retail locations, however most likely not as stand-alone stores. Even at $200 a pair, I personally believe that full size retail stores are most likely going to be vanity stores not profitable spaces. But could you see a Normal kiosk in an electronics store or a shopping center? I sure could, and I’d wager that Kaufman is thinking similarly. In my opinion, the app is only going to reach so many customers before business starts slowing down. There is only so far a phone app and some weird advertising is going to take you:
But selling customized ear buds, as other companies are aware, is still an extremely viable business idea. The trick is finding a way to bring it to as many consumers as possible. It makes sense to find a way to create a physical space to order them and see how they feel and work, and it makes even more sense to test out a store experience before rolling out the idea. What better place to do it than in your corporate HQ where you can keep an eye on it personally? And where better to do it than New York City?
If you live in New York City, you can visit the Normal Store at 150 West 22nd Street. You can find out more about their product on their website, and you can download the app from iTunes and from Google Play.