Chongqing Coolest Boutique SND launches into department store format – WWD

SHANGHAI— Retailers are changing their retail strategies in post-lockdown China. Example: SND, a fashion boutique in the southwest region of China, is making great strides in expanding into the department store format.

WWD can exclusively reveal that the Chongqing multi-brand fashion retailer is launching the Super Normal Department on Friday, one of its largest stores since it opened nine years ago.

“I want it to be a fun and social space. It’s not about how much money we can make here. It’s more about trying out a new retail model, something that young people would be interested in,” said Will Zhang, the founder of SND.

Dubbed the coolest designer concept store in the Southwest, the retailer’s sales reached 5 million renminbi, or $705,950, in May 2020. Due to the acceleration in store openings, SND’s sales have doubled in 2021 year-on-year. The company now has 12 stores in first- and second-tier cities, including Chongqing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Guiyang and Sanya.

A visual illustration of SND’s new Super Normal Department business.
Courtesy

The new store, located near a touristy part of town known as the “Chongqing Bund”, occupies the former French naval barracks, which hosted a Louis Vuitton Bags & Trunks exhibition last March. The space comprises three independent buildings and a courtyard garden, spanning 10,800 square feet. The space, with its minimal design, was renovated by its long-time collaborator, the Shanghai Archive architecture studio.

Originally occupied by restaurants and bars, Super Normal Department is part of the Changjiahui Shopping Park, an open-air mall known for attracting tourists. Pedestrian traffic has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, so property developers, Hongkong Land and China Merchants Shekou decided to rejuvenate the area with something that could attract local visitors. They tasked Zhang with reorganizing the historical site.

The project also became a chance for Zhang to experiment. SND will launch retail outposts for streetwear brand They Are and Guangzhou designer Wukou Su’s OK Center, as well as store management for lifestyle boutique Tavn and a popular local cafe. SND, the fashion boutique, occupies only two floors of the main building.

“These types of brands struggle to fit into a mall, let alone meet the mall’s per-square-foot standards,” Zhang said when explaining his branding choices. “And for designers like Su, he probably doesn’t like the mall atmosphere.”

Super Normal Department will also be a testing ground for new retail categories.

SND Sight and Scent Room, the retailer’s perfumery and bookstore, will mark the brand’s foray into art and culture. A gallery space will be managed by Su or the SND team, which will host monthly art exhibitions. It could also be occupied by SND’s Hyper Market branch, which will introduce street style and sportswear brands at prices ranging from 300 to 1,000 renminbi.

Zhang’s bet is that by creating a space for culture and art, selling streetwear suitable for Gen Z, fashionable housewares at low prices, candles and books, SND will attract a new cohort of buyers. “Many of these brands are competitively priced to appeal to the general public, not just the fashion crowd,” Zhang said.

With a population of 32 million, Chongqing is the largest city in the southwest, known for its hot pot and rising rap scene. Chongqing is also one of the original “influential cities,” a term that has emerged in recent years to describe photogenic cities popular on Chinese social media.

A visual illustration of SND's new Super Normal Department business.

A visual illustration of SND’s new Super Normal Department business.
Courtesy

According to Douyin-owned data research firm Ocean Engine, Chongqing recorded the highest employment rate among Douyin’s second- and third-tier cities last year.

Chongqing’s GDP exceeded 639.8 billion renminbi, or $99.8 billion, in the first quarter of 2022, a year-on-year increase of 5.2 percent. Chongqing was ranked seventh in the China Fashion Consumption Index released by the China Chain Store & Franchise Association in 2021.

According to Zhang, 70% of SND’s clientele are young people who have studied abroad and have developed their own sense of style. They prefer European and Korean brands such as Marine Serre, Hyein Seo and Our Legacy. “The remaining 30% are the new middle class who prefer local brands such as Eenk and Immi, which are fashionable but also work-friendly,” Zhang added.

SND has gained popularity as a boutique known for bringing brands like Y/Project, Raf Simons and Lemaire to the mountainous megalopolis. It quickly expanded to four stores, including two Concept Stores, a Stance Shop and a pop-up store. Unlike Chengdu or Shanghai, where many fashion boutiques compete for customers’ attention and money, SND had a first-mover advantage in an easily overlooked market.

Guangzhou and Shenzhen have also become important markets for the retailer. A store in Shenzhen opened two years ago and a store in Guangzhou last year.

“Shenzhen customers are ready to splurge on clothes. They don’t compare. They will buy anything,” Zhang said of the New Rich clientele. “But Guangzhou buyers are different. They seek out and want the hottest new brands, local or global.

Guangzhou has the highest percentage of male customers for SND, even more than Shanghai. “The men there really like to dress up. Avant-garde designers such as Rick Owens or Y/Project do better in Guangzhou.

A visual illustration of SND's new Super Normal Department business.

A visual illustration of SND’s new Super Normal Department business.
Courtesy

SND also launched a Tmall store in 2018, which accounts for around 35-40% of sales.

SND is in full expansion mode. WWD can also exclusively reveal that the retailer is expanding into the Shanghai market, with two pop-up stores set to open in Puxi, Shanghai’s traditional downtown.

The company is also planning a new store in Shenzhen in August. “We have had a pop-up in the city for two years. I think it’s a good time to open an official store.

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