Last weekend, I discovered TopShop, the clothing retailer that recently invaded New York City.
Prior to my inaugural visit, I had never heard of the store. Opening its first US store last month, TopShop had the entire city anticipating its arrival. The store opening on 4/2 in SoHo was a spectacle, with giddy shoppers queuing around several blocks. Twice. Why? I hear the same message from everyone: “I Love TopShop.”
So what’s the deal with this store; why is it so popular? When I walked in, it seemed like any other retailer, except that the sprawling 4-floor building was crammed with frantic women carrying arm-fulls of garments and a 45-minute wait to enter. The prices are contrary to any marketing framework–they have $15 t-shirts and $800 dresses on adjacent racks.
TopShop, on the surface, is just another high-turnover retailer like H&M and Zara. As one that does not follow the fashion scene, the pervasive love for the brand escaped me. But after some research, here’s what I learned:
TopShop is an established UK-based retailer, founded in 1964. In the 1990s, the mainstream considered it unfashionable, cleverly labeled “FlopShop.” But it recently turned business around, even hitting profitability in 2008 when almost every retailer was in the red.
It’s run by Sir Philip Green (recently knighted), a retail mogul that owns several other clothing businesses. Like H&M and Zara, TopShop operates on an incredibly fast product cycle. New products are designed, manufactured, and shipped every week (Imagine Apple doing the same–creating a new laptop every week!). This high-turnover allows TopShop to stay on the cutting edge of fashion, where trends emerge weekly, not seasonally.
By stocking both $15 and $800 items, stores are packed with a spectrum of fashionistas, ranging from tweens to pregnant mothers (yes, they have a maternity line). Most clothing retailers segment and target by age group, but TopShop seems to focus solely on intelligent, savvy bargain-hunters. The $800 dress is still a fraction of the cost for the real thing. They openly copy major designers who would charge $8,000 for the same dress, and TopShop may even bring to market faster, starting the manufacturing process right after it debuted on the runway in Paris. This copy/innovation amounts to 7,000 lines every season.
Sexy Brand + Brilliant Marketing = Emotional Devotion
But what is unique about TopShop from H&M and Zara? I believe that this is where TopShop’s brand and marketing are critical to driving loyalty.
Even though TopShop manufactures new lines weekly, runs are intentionally reduced, creating a “‘dynamic of desperation’ that has customers feverishly zooming in on sought-after items.” And every week, they send 300 limited pieces of clothing to TopShop’s flagship store to make them “desirably rare.” In short, there’s some good marketing going on: manufacturing scarcity, prestige, and exclusivity via the availability of product. The in-store experience is also Disney-esque. The NYC store has a hair-salon, DJ booth, weekly parties, and style consultants.
But how did TopShop create such awareness and loyalty that customers would line-up and circle blocks before it even opened its doors? From my perspective, it’s nothing special–just time-tested tactics. Before the NYC store opening, a van canvassed the city, handing out gift cards and bags. It created such a buzz that bloggers tracked van sightings. TopShop also plastered the city with billboards and advertisements–manufacturing brand awareness. And they threw a fancy party with celebrities on the eve of the store’s opening (it’s old-school, but hey–it worked). It all culminated into press coverage and live blogging of the NYC store opening.
In short, TopShop created consumer devotion that parallels Apple and Harley-Davidson fanatics. Combine unique manufacturing and scarcity marketing to a trendy industry like fashion, and you get obnoxious brand loyalists. How often do you see statements like this about brands (even the popular ones)? “I love you, Topshop, and I thank God each day for the love that has bound my heart and life in the fellowship of dressing-up. I will love, honor, cherish and visit you always.”