How Neon Boulevard is changing technology retail

11 Dec 2016

Apple aside, tech stores are rarely known for a memorable shopping experience. Neon Boulevard’s mission is to change that. Founded by three young female entrepreneurs, Grace, Tamar and Therese, Neon Blvd is reimagining technology retail as a fun, fashionable shopping experience. Their pop-up in Notting Hill brings together smart new tech products and beautifully designed digital accessories in an environment that focuses on playful exploration.

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Therese Cappelen, Neon Blvd’s Creative Director, explains “Traditional technology shops can be so stark and unfriendly, but the most exciting new tech products are not only those making our work more efficient but also those that can make our homes more welcoming, our style more creative, and our lives more playful.”

The three founders have drawn on backgrounds in retail, design and tech to bring the store together. Grace Gould, who has worked for Apple and Index Ventures, adds “we started by curating different products from our network. Products we wanted to use and have in our lives. This is less about what technology is doing wrong and more about what fashion boutiques are doing right. We want to cross-fertilize the industry and apply what they do well to tech.”

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Neon Blvd’s Notting Hill store, with its wooden floorboards, painted walls and plants, looks more chic boutique than tech store. In Grace’s words: “we wanted to create a warm environment that’s interactive. We love the phrase adult play. There’s nothing about the space that’s too tech focused, like all open circuit boards. I think that often ends up being intimidating. Instead, we wanted to create a space that was playful and accessible.”

Warmth is key for Grace, who creates it using “colours, relaxing music, good lighting, exposed wood, and plants.” Essentially, the opposite of an Apple store. But it appears to be working. “We’ve found that customers who visit our store, spend around 25 minutes exploring the space (bear in mind this is not a big shop). On average they’re spending around £150 – on products they’ve never seen before. The sales have been above what we forecasted,” says Grace.

The secret to their success is in part down to the locals. Grace explains, “We originally thought Notting Hill would be a good location because of Portobello Market, but we discovered a real community instead. There are two schools close to us, which helps. We’ve got this five-year-old kid who comes in to visit us every day on his way in. What we didn’t expect was how powerful the Mums of Notting Hill’s network is. One brings in the rest! They’ve all been recommending the store to each other and coming down to visit.”

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For Grace, Tamar and Therese, the big learning has been how little people know about the products. “I couldn’t believe people hadn’t heard of these companies or knew things like a simple key tracker exists. What’s great is how much these products have resonated with people, who haven’t encountered them before. One product we got on a whim, a portable espresso machine, has become one of our best-sellers,” says Grace.

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What’s next? As this is Neon Blvd’s first pop-up, the founders are treating it as a test to learn more about their customers. Grace continues, “we used the store to finesse our concept and find out what works and what doesn’t. Next year, we want to test a bigger store in the US. Ultimately, it's all about reaching more people and connecting them to beautiful products.

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Interestingly for a tech retail business, there are no plans to start selling online. For Grace, this is a strategic decision. “We want to focus on creating the best experience offline before we sell online. We want to do it this way first so we can dig deep and find out who the customer is – a bit like a focus group. Once we understand them in our stores, I think we’ll understand them better online. This a space to build relationships, so we can tailor ourselves to them."

Discover Neon Boulevard at 142 Ladbroke Grove until December 18th.

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