Alana Branston is the kind of person who believes retail isn’t dead. After all, she used to work in a toy store.
But on Episode 26 of the Loose Threads Podcast, Branston talked about co-founding Bulletin, a start-up that is rethinking retail by providing emerging brands with turnkey storefronts and brick-and-mortar locations where they can reach audiences offline.
"We basically wanted to build something that felt more curated and had a big focus on content,” Branston said. “The types of brands we were working with, they all had this incredible story, they worked in these amazing studies and there was so much to show. They just needed help differentiating themselves.”
Growing up working retail jobs on Long Island, Branston didn’t arrive at her vision for Bulletin by accident. She and co-founder Ali Kriegsman realized that the online marketplace they were originally building wouldn’t allow them to help brands tell their stories, nor would it help brands transcended the noise created by similar platforms like Etsy.
In discussing company sales patterns, Branston and Kriegsman realized that many of these brands were reaching the majority of their consumers at weekend markets like Renegade and Brooklyn Flea.
“That’s where the bulk of their revenue was coming from. It was because there’s built in foot traffic you can see their products in person, you meet the maker, it was this whole experience,” Branston said. “We were trying to understand what the issues were with the existing market model. We figured out that it’s pretty expensive, you usually have to pay just to apply and they don’t happen that often.”
But Branston’s company sought to do more than just built another neighborhood store. And it started by keeping costs low when Bulletin was just starting out.
“We looked for the cheapest possible space we could find, so it would be like parking lots and warehouses, just looked for a really cheap and big space,” Branston said. “We came up with this really simple model where brands could pay a flat fee of $300 a weekend to get access to 10 square feet of space. We’d provide tables and chairs and just run these markets every weekend."
Launching their first market in December of 2015 as a holiday pop-up, Bulletin didn’t get off to a roaring start. Despite bringing together over forty brands from throughout New York City, Branston and Kriegsman realized that generating foot traffic would be an early challenge.
One of the biggest things that allowed Bulletin to evolve from their early “weekend-market” model was expanding and separating different locations by category. By segmenting companies by category, Branston created a way for each brand to more effectively tell their stories to relevant shoppers and bring in more people.
“How we’re starting to think of it is retail as media. So our job is basically to curate these brands together, tell some kind of story for why their connected and what the point of the space is, and then design the store in a way where they’re really shining through and celebrating them,” Branston said. “We’re really trying to figure out what the future of retail is and this new, democratic way of accessing retail space.”