Game Changers: The Showroom Is The Test Lab
Volume 2: Andres Modak, Co-Founder of Snowe
At The Next Brick, we’re deeply interested in companies that are transforming retail through technological innovation—companies that are changing the game by elevating customer experience, streamlining the path to purchase, enhancing loyalty programs, or rethinking store layout (among many other efforts)
We chatted with Andres Modak, co-founder and co-CEO of the startup Snowe for a firsthand look at the origin and evolution of their company. Snowe is a digitally native brand that simplifies the process of bringing together home essentials across multiple categories to create an exceptional home.
At the heart of Snowe lies The Whitespace, the New York City loft that Modak shares with his partner, co-founder and co-CEO Rachel Cohen. The space is seamlessly connected to the company’s robust e-commerce catalogue and doubles as a shoppable showroom for the company’s product offering, making Snowe the perfect blend of in-person and online shopping.
Tell us about how you started Snowe and the inspiration for why it exists.
Rachel and I started Snowe for people just like us. When we moved in together after graduating from business school, we knew we wanted to create a home that could host epic dinner parties or off-the-grid evenings at home with the same ease. But like most young couples just starting out, we had a budget. The more we looked around, the more we realized that there was a hole in the market.
First, we felt like the price-value equation was kind of broken. It was either entry level, disposable quality, ubiquitous design, or it was very expensive luxury items. The second was that the experience was painful; it was incredibly over-merchandised. The third was that there was no brand out there that resonated with us. We didn’t want to compromise our love of great design for functionality or practicality.
Andres and Rachel’s motivation for founding Snowe is relatable for anyone wanting to turn their home into a place of simple luxury.
You started the company online. Did you have an inkling that there’d be a physical space?
In our online approach, content follows the paradigm “Instruct, Inform, and Inspire.” We definitely felt like this kind of experience lends itself very well to physical. And when we launched, it was right around the time that a lot of direct-to-consumer brands were forced to go into physical. Some of their business models didn't actually lend themselves so well to digital and worked better for physical.
We didn't want to over-capitalize the business out of the gate, so we said, "Okay, how do we incrementally test this?"
We'd find scalable ways to do it. We'd work with other people's homes and our investors, taking over their home to “Snowify” it, and basically have customers come in in person to shop in an intimate setting over a glass of wine.
Finally, we opened the Whitespace at the beginning of last year.
Tell us about the Whitespace.
It took three or four months to get up and running, but it came down to the fact that we wanted to test it in an environment that felt like it was manageable, and we wanted to treat it like a lab.
Customers are guided through the space, which gives them a sense of the entire offering. Our products are merchandised throughout, but everything else is context. It’s all meant to just bring our products to life.
And since it’s all super versatile, we have the chance to regularly change up the space in ways that get customers excited, and show them how pieces can live in their homes with their personal style.
The Whitespace provides customers a real-life experience with the items they can purchase for their own homes.
Does the one-on-one experience at the Whitespace give you customer insights beyond basic transactions?
Yes. What we’ve found in an experience that is as immersive and high-touch as this is that you're also filtering for certain kinds of customers. The people who are intrigued by an immersive retail space like this tend to want to learn about and connect with the brand on an emotional level, or they already have a very strong sense that they want to make a larger purchase, but crave an increased comfort level to get over the threshold.
For every single appointment, we tack on additional time to break down all of the learnings from it. So, the sales associate will actually take notes on all of these different data fields that we've created in a template that allows them to focus on demographic information, the type of customer, anything they can pull from them, what they were shopping for, how they were shopping, and any feedback related to the product.
It's like a mini focus group happening, one after another, after another, after another. It’s all super qualitative.
Are there insights you’ve taken from what you see working in your digital and ecommerce efforts and applied to the Whitespace?
Yes,– certainly. We’re thinking about UX and UI as it relates to how people shop online and off. It comes across in our merchandising as well as our product bundles, that allow you get everything all at once, and at the greatest value.
Lastly, another big area for learnings online to off is content and guidance. If we see that certain content angles are resonating very well and driving a particular category of conversion, we'll arm our sales associates with that information.
Snowe’s Whitespace helps ensure nothing is lost in implementation when customers bring products into their own home spaces.
What are your technology needs at the Whitespace vs a street-level pop-up?
At The Whitespace, it’s really been about simplifying the capture of information and transactions. That’s been the number one priority because everything else was meant to be more of an analog immersive experience.
When we got to the street level, our priorities fell into two buckets.
One was the basic metrics that would help us confirm whether it was a success or failure. So, in-store traffic and circulation. Essentially, we tried to use heat mapping, with numbers of people in circulation at any one time.
The other bucket was enabling interaction between associates and customers. This tool allowed customers and associates to build an order together on their phones or iPads. Customers could come in with a wishlist, interact with the products, and then make selections. Theoretically, we’d then be able to re-target them using their data, the same way we would if they went to our site.
What kind of advice would you give to retailers that are dealing with tech suppliers?
My advice would be prioritize your learnings, what your focus is, and what your objectives are.
We tried to do everything at once. When we go into our next pop-up, it's going to be really focused in terms of our top objectives: this is what we want to learn, this what we want to get out of it. Since our timelines are way more compressed than a lot of the big guys, we’re able to take chances on new technologies that help us hit our goals.
Are there strategic areas you think technology may help solve in the future?
Yes, especially in terms of creating a seamless customer interaction on- and offline. For example, if you go to a site and it shows you product that you were interested in while you were in the store, that benefits you just as much as it helps me from a targeting and digital marketing standpoint, right? You get something you were genuinely interested in and we make a sale. It's a win-win. The on- and offline shopping experience is now so fluid that optimizing data capture and operationalizing those insights need to happen quickly and in a way that’s scalable. For now, it's a huge burden for companies like us.
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If retailers can use their physical space as a “lab” where they test merchandising, customer experience, and customer service, they can be that much more creative, applying e-commerce learnings to brick-and-mortar—and vice versa.
Home decor e-tailer Snowe is setting the example, finding new, cost-effective ways to scale their expertise both online and offline. With a livable showroom that operates as the heart of their brick-and-mortar presence, Snowe brings an especially mindful approach to real estate, looking not just to expand their footprint but to continue telling their story.