Couch company Burrow does experiential retail with a store for sitting

Hot tip: If you’re looking for a place to relax in New York City, Burrow, a couch company, has you covered.

In its new store in SoHo, you can sprawl across a Burrow sectional on the main floor and enjoy a free cup of coffee, or you can make your way to the basement and kick back in a room full of Burrow chaise longues and watch free Netflix all day. In this new store, Burrow wants nothing more from you than to sit back and relax. Oh, and maybe buy one of their couches in the future.

Welcome to the latest installment of experiential retail — that is, the hot and trendy shopping concept where brands offer experiences with the goal being less about a shopper purchasing a brand product and more about the brand purchasing a shopper.

Today, it’s pretty hard for a company to make a sale. The internet has given way to an overload of products, making the shopping industry more competitive than ever. Fast fashion and the rise of Amazon have made shoppers expect discounts on everything. Add to all this shoppers’ insatiable appetite for the latest trends and it’s easy to see how brands big and small are having a hard time reaching customers, especially when anyone can target customers on social media.

And so companies must give shoppers a reason to come into their stores — an interactive installation; a free service; an “unforgettable” moment that is actually probably pretty forgettable, except that it’ll gain lots and lots of likes on Instagram.

Experiential retail is everywhere. The mattress company Casper recently debuted a store that sells $25 naps for 45 minutes, dubbed the Dreamery. Coach had a pop-up that peddled tarot card readings instead of handbags. The beauty brand Winky Lux opened a store in New York City over the summer that features colorful room installations similar to the Insta-famous Museum of Ice Cream.

Last December, Dyson opened a showroom on Fifth Avenue where shoppers can test the brand’s famous vacuum cleaners by dumping out jars of dirt. American Eagle announced a few months earlier that it was letting customers do laundry inside its Times Square location while they shopped for denim. The luxury outerwear company Canada Goose recently announced it was installing freezer rooms inside its new stores so customers can test its coats in minus 13 degree temperatures.

In the case of Burrow, the company is peddling relaxation, which is meant to mimic the actual experience of owning a couch.

Burrow, which launched in April 2017, was founded on the premise that it could make the sofa purchase easier. Its couches, whose prices range from $495 for an armchair to $1,545 for a king sofa, come delivered in pieces and in several boxes. During a recent store tour, Burrow CEO Stephen Kuhl said the company intends to be the opposite of mainstream online couch shopping, which he calls “a nightmare.”

“They will take several weeks, if not months, to ship, and with curbside delivery, you’ll have to get a big, bulky couch into your home unless you pay a few hundred dollars for a white-glove service,” he says. “We didn’t want to reinvent the sofa; we just wanted to make a way for people to get one faster, for less money, and then get it into people’s homes easily.”

The Burrow store’s Relax space.

Burrow claim to be “the most adaptable furniture in the world.” It couches don’t require tools to be put together and are delivered in about a week. The couch-in-a-box business, as it’s been dubbed, has been growing steadily, pulling in about $3 million last year.

When Burrow expanded into retail, Kuhl says the obvious location was SoHo — the land of direct-to-consumer, with neighbors like Warby Parker, Away, Everlane, and Allbirds. Kuhl also knew the company had to dabble in experiential retail.

“Nobody really wants to go to a traditional store anymore,” he says. “The best way for people to interact with your products is to have them just experience them organically.”

Kuhl says the Burrow store is “our expression of a home, and the entire point is to celebrate moments of relaxation.” In typical experiential retail fashion, the place has its own kitschy name, the Burrow House, and is split into four sections — Shop, Relax, Play, and Watch.

In the Shop section, there are several fully built couches hanging off the wall sideways, followed by walls of couch legs and cushions, displaying Burrow’s ability to make couches in different colors and materials. The Shop section is right up front; customers have to walk through it to get to the rest of the store. They also have to pass bookcases with Burrow pillows and blankets available for purchase that are adjacent to the kitchen, where coffee and tea are brewed for browsing customers.

The Relax section, at the back of the ground floor, looks like Instagram IRL: Two gray Burrow sectionals bathe in sunlight under a greenhouse ceiling, flanked by plants, woven rugs, paper lanterns, fluffy Burrow pillows, and a brick fireplace decorated with fresh flowers. Customers are invited to lounge on the couches and read a book, or snuggle up with a Burrow blanket while listening to music coming from the Amazon Echo nearby.

Downstairs, the Play section has a camera set up in front of a Burrow couch and a green screen with moving backgrounds, so shoppers can Instagram exactly how they’d look sprawling on their new couch (this is the store’s noted “Instagram bait,” Kuhl admits).

The Watch section, at the back of the basement, is where the Netflix (and hopefully none of the Chill) happen. Red Burrow chaise couches are lined up in a dimly lit room, facing a projector screen framed by burgundy velvet curtains. Burrow has a deal with Netflix and plays movies and TV shows in this makeshift movie theater all day long.

A map of the store, which you can pick up at the back of the room, invites shoppers to “sit, relax, read a book, or catch a movie in the screening room.” Store associates are instructed to greet customers with fresh coffee, tea, and water and chirp the brand catchphrase: “Make yourself at home!”

Kuhl acknowledges such a store concept has risks, especially for such a young company. Although it’s not as costly as pre-retail apocalypse prices, SoHo store rent is expensive. Plus, asking customers to simply lounge on couches with a book or enjoy free Netflix downstairs without actually spending any money is practically like inviting all-day, everyday squatters (hi, I watched half of the movie Shrek during work hours).

But Kuhl believes experiential retail is the best way for customers to get to know the Burrow brand, and in many ways, he’s right. For couch shoppers, the quality of such a piece of furniture may be determined by the ability to lazily recline in front of the TV, or curl up with a book, for long periods of time. The concept of investigating a purchase IRL before dropping cash on it online has become such a common shopping practice that it’s developed its own retail term — showrooming — and stores hate it. But why not get ahead and control the experience?

“The point of this store is not to sell; it’s to get people to experience our brand,” Kuhl says. “Hopefully, when they’re in the market for a couch, they’ll buy online later on.”

The makeshift movie theater in the Burrow store basement.

Plus, he adds, Burrow hopes to cultivate a community of people who are eager to hang out in the store, thus becoming couch evangelists, or something like that. The Burrow House will soon begin hosting free yoga classes and meditation sessions, and Kuhl is allowing tech companies to “work from Burrow home” on certain days so that the store’s couches will be constantly occupied. The goal is for word to spread that a Burrow couch chill is the ultimate couch chill. If all goes according to the plan of experiential retail, people will come to the store and post pics to their Instagram story. Word will spread, and the sales will come.

Will they, though? I, for one, am not in the market for a new couch. I am, however, absolutely in the market for enjoying beautiful, comfortable spaces, especially when they are free. And so after spending a recent workday morning perfecting my sprawl across several Burrow couches, I left the store considering that I may, indeed, buy from Burrow the next time I am shopping for a couch. But that might not be for a few years, and so Burrow isn’t getting my spending money anytime soon.

Before I left the store, though, I posted a photo of the Relax section to my Instagram story, boasting to my followers about how I spent the morning relaxing in a free and beautiful living space for work. A few hours later, I found that I had more than a dozen replies from friends asking me the same question: “Where is that?!”

Burrow will have to wait and see, like everyone else, if mentions on social media translate to sales.

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