Why Love, Bonito is banking on brick-and-mortar for growth

Two years after launching its flagship store in the very crowded and cluttered arena of Orchard, once online-only fashion brand Love, Bonito opened its second retail store in Singapore, located at JEM. With the retail scene in Singapore being highly competitive leading to many brands pulling their physical stores, the move could be described as daring by many.

Marketing spoke to chief commercial officer of Love, Bonito Dione Song on its bold reason to launch its second brick-and-mortar store. Song said that despite the exponential growth of e-commerce, traditional brick-and-mortar still makes up for a huge portion of the retail pie. Moreover, many consumers prefer having the ability to touch, feel and try, particularly more relevant in the fashion space.

The team spent couple of years toying with pop-up stores in the region and pushed forward to physical stores upon seeing the value in having a strong omni-channel strategy.

"With our first store, we made the decision after a couple of years of testing through pop-ups. That allowed us to better understand the upside and also very importantly the required operations and retail best practices when it comes to running a store, which is pretty different from managing an online site," she added.

In terms of marketing the launch of its second store, the team initially ran a teaser campaign across organic and social media in a bid to spread the word to its existing customers living in the west. Taking a integrated and holistic approach to marketing, the team organised intimate tours for its media partners, influencer community, partners and VIP customers, providing a first-hand exclusive preview of its new retail space and experience.

Last year, the brand also partnered with 72andSunny Singapore to refresh its image after the brand secured an additional US$13 million in Series B funding led by Kakaku.com, together with existing investor NSI Ventures. The new investment strengthens Love, Bonito’s bid to become Asia Pacific’s leading women’s lifestyle brand.

With no major differences between both the stores, Song explained. She added that the aim of the layout was eventually to "bring out the values and spirit" of the brand itself. Given particularly the higher rentals and operating expenses in Singapore, Song said that one needs to be cognizant of profitability metrics and payback period when opening a store. These include customer feedback, geographical distribution of its current online orders, relevancy and potential of the catchment area and mall location. The team at Love, Bonito saw demand from customers who were situated in the west of Singapore, thus chose JEM for its high footfall and relevant audience segment.

In addition, she explained that should one decide to expand into the offline retail scene, it means making a commitment to consistently provide a first-in-class service and experience to the consumers.

"Fundamentally, it also means dedicating sufficient time and resources to the training and development of your retail team. It’s not an easy move, should you want to create a differentiated retail experience. It requires a high level of attention to service and details. We see this as an important pillar of our Love, Bonito brand and strategy as we believe that the future of retail and brands has to be omni in approach, and through our stores, we can better create authentic and intimate experiences and connections with our community," she added.

With a current team of 80, Love Bonito has presence across Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia, while also shipping internationally. Song also said that when going offline, one should be wary of the temptation to accept status quo and have a cookie-cutter approach to the offline store experience. She added, "We truly believe that the offline experience needs to be differentiated, delightful and considerate - something we don't see many brands doing."