Shopify's First Flagship: Why We Opened a New Space for Business Owners in Downtown L.A.
by Lindsey Peacock Updates Nov 29, 2018 11 minute read Leave a comment Email Pinterest Facebook Twitter LinkedIn
It’s the night before the grand opening at Shopify in L.A., and the 1,600-square-foot space hums as dozens of business owners and VIPs mill through an excited crowd.
Merchants big and small have descended on one of L.A.’s trendiest shopping destinations to get a sneak peek of Shopify’s first physical flagship and learn from a panel of influencers and successful Shopify brands.
Equal parts educational center, coworking space, and technical support hub, the Shopify flagship in L.A. is a multi-use space designed to help business owners upgrade their skills. And the night before the grand opening to the general public, organizers swung open the doors to celebrate Shopify’s first permanent space with select VIPs.
More than 150 merchants and influencers turned out to celebrate the milestone—and to sate their curiosity.
“I wanted to come and support Shopify as you have been supportive of me, and see what you guys are up to,” said Mehera Blum, owner of luxury handbag brand Blumera.
A communal space for entrepreneurs
At Shopify, we believe a far more diverse group of people will come to adopt the mantle of “entrepreneur.” Our vision for Shopify in L.A. is to make mentorship and in-person training readily available for this group of creative problem-solvers so they, in turn, are equipped to navigate the fast-changing landscape of entrepreneurship.
Shopify’s space in L.A. is a culmination of multiple initiatives, including previous iterations of Shopify’s traveling Shop Class and Retail Tour event.
In years past, Shopify visited major cities across North America and the U.K. to offer one-on-one support and a variety of educational workshops for merchants. It was here that the idea for a permanent space was born.
“Shop Classes and Retail Tours were really the most inspiring drivers of the L.A. space, because we saw how much our merchants, and the larger entrepreneurial community, valued that kind of face-to-face interaction with Shopify,” said Satish Kanwar, Vice President and General Manager of Channels. “Those experiential initiatives really laid the groundwork for what Shopify’s space in L.A. has become.”
In 2017 when Shop Class toured eight provinces as part of the Canada 150 celebration. Merchants traveled hours to attend, appointments regularly booked up, and other face-to-face feedback further demonstrated just how much budding entrepreneurs valued one-on-one, in-person support.
“We were blown away by some of the results we just found by doing Shop Class,” said Cody DeBacker, Commercial Lead for Retail.
On average, over 20% of the people who walked through the door of a Shop Class session started their first store while there. Another 15% of attendees were able to make their first sale thanks to lessons learned from Shop Class.
Cody and his team realized a permanent space could amplify these positive results and help even more entrepreneurs to reach their goals.
While Cody’s team toured multiple cities for a total of eight months, Shop Class was only open to merchants for a cumulative 15 days. With such positive results from just over two weeks in operation, Cody realized the potential impact of a permanent space.
“I started to think ‘What if we were able to create this in a permanent fashion, and then took that to one of our largest and thriving merchant communities?’”
Shopify’s space in L.A. reflects our full confidence in retail’s bright future—in-person selling offers more opportunities than ever and what better way to demonstrate the advantages of going URL to IRL than with a permanent, physical space of our own.
Expert attention from Shopify Gurus
To offer entrepreneurs as many tools as possible to help them succeed, the space brings together multiple “zones,” all individually built to assist business owners in a targeted way and all located in one physical space.
One of the space’s primary draws is in-person technical support. Gurus, who are the authorities on all things Shopify, are the heart of Shopify in L.A. As educational guides, trained in both online and offline selling, Gurus are the frontline experts available to help eager entrepreneurs with technical issues or even offer ideas for new products.
Hustling to successfully sell online and offline means merchants often need support both online and in-person. While Shopify has long offered 24/7 support via phone, email, and chat, this is our first foray into a full-time, permanent space for that purpose.
Josh Barcenas, who handles marketing and ecommerce for LA-based furniture brand Modernica, agreed that there’s inherent value in connecting Shopify experts with entrepreneurs in the same room. “You can’t always express yourself over chat or email the same way you can in person,” Josh said.
“You can sit down with one of our Gurus, who are knowledgeable in everything Shopify and have a great grasp on the entrepreneurial market,” Cody says. “We realized even though our support is readily available through online channels, there’s something special about working alongside other entrepreneurs, visionaries, and creatives—there’s an irreplaceable facet of personal, in-person interactions that makes people more comfortable and open.”
It’s at places like Shopify’s L.A. space where entrepreneurs can get that much-needed one-on-one attention.
And because a business owner’s time is often in short supply, we’ve made it simple to book a session in advance or see someone the same day. With nearly 100 daily appointments available, entrepreneurs won’t wait long to get the help they need.
“I want our merchants to leave here empowered by what they’ve learned,” says Kyle Foster, a Retail Guru who teaches workshops at the space. “I think that kind of support goes hand-in-hand with the motivation needed to start and run a business. I see that as our purpose—to bring people that connection. Business owners often just need somebody to confirm they’re on the right track, or to help them get back on course.”
In-person workshops to build your skills
Businesses frequently plateau when founders run into hurdles they’re unsure how to overcome. One of the surest ways to help entrepreneurs unlock new growth, then, is to help them with the problems they face today.
That’s why Shopify in L.A. features a custom amphitheater where merchants can attend free classes, workshops, and talks. Small classes provide entrepreneurs with tangible skills they can immediately use to run their business better. The current curriculum includes courses on topics like increasing reach through organic marketing or learning the basics of product photography.
Entrepreneurs can also opt for one of special events hosted in the space, where successful merchants and industry pros share hard-won advice, best practices, and their take on current trends. For example, retailers can learn how to compete with Amazon.
Build new products in the ‘Creation Station’
Merchants eager to create a new product (or launch their first product) can make a beeline for the back wall. Aptly dubbed the “Creation Zone,” aspiring entrepreneurs can work with experts to create new products to sell in their own store.
Each quarter, a new partner will host the station so merchants get regular access new creative services. Our first partner, Printful, helps merchants put their logo, branding, designs, or stock images on a variety of merchandise. While there, entrepreneurs get a glimpse of the possibilities of print-on-demand services and walk away with a customized product sample like a T-shirt, pillow, or hat donning their own design.
“Print-on-demand is a really interesting and accessible way to start a business without capital, without overhead, and without any existing products,” Cody said about why we chose Printful as the first partner. “We’ve partnered up with them to be able to provide a free sample of your brand. You can actually come into Shopify’s L.A. space, create products within an hour, and leave with your business in hand.”
Next up, the Creation Zone will host a station for basic product photography, where visitors can expect to see partners like Foldio, Canon, and Google.
Rub elbows with fellow entrepreneurs
Since the L.A. space is meant to serve as a hub of entrepreneurial activity, its lifeblood isn’t just the tools and training—the space is also meant to help merchants plug into their local entrepreneur community.
Designed with camaraderie in mind, the space features a coworking lounge that encourages entrepreneurs to mingle and work side-by-side. Anyone building a business can find refuge after a long day to connect with fellow founders and tick off tasks from their to-do list.
“The journey is not always easy,” Shopify’s Satish Kanwar says. “Entrepreneurship is sometimes lonely. Meeting and networking with other entrepreneurs is such a special way of being able to go through that together, and it’s why we’ve created so much open workspace—so people can hang out and hopefully connect or work side-by-side with someone who’s going through the same things.”
Community is central to Shopify in L.A.’s purpose, and the lounge can serve as a meeting spot for entrepreneurs to collaborate and connect.
It’s precisely this built-in community that excites Mehera Blum, Shopify merchant and owner of Blumera. “I think that there are like-minded people, and there’s help and there’s support. I think it’s really important to an entrepreneur to have that,” she said after touring the space.
Downtown L.A.’s entrepreneurial hub
But why Los Angeles? Since Shopify has more than 600,000 merchants scattered across the globe, choosing a home for our first flagship proved to be a challenge.
Ultimately, the decision came down to the numbers: L.A. is a hotbed for hard-hustling entrepreneurs. With thousands of merchants within a 200-mile radius of the city, an L.A.-based flagship could serve the most merchants per square mile.
“Once we were here, we knew downtown L.A. was the right place,” Cody said. “After we got to The Row, we realized we had the opportunity to be a part of this almost like micro-city.”
The Row: Joining a growing community of makers
Just minutes from L.A.’s downtown core, the Shopify space is nestled on the corner of ROW DTLA, a 30-acre cluster of historic buildings. Known as “The Row,” the mixed-use shopping district was originally known as Terminal Market and straddles the boundary between the Industrial and Arts districts.
Although the recently converted historic structures prove to be a great draw for foot traffic, what makes The Row special is its community feel and curated mix of merchants. The Row boasts a variety of mom-and-pop merchants like coffee shops, eateries, indie apparel brands, and high-end housewares sellers.
“The Row is one of those places where everything feels cohesive. Each of the shops are curated and positioned in a way that makes you feel like every one of us would be sitting at the same table at lunchtime,” said Greg Okawachi, Retail Operations Manager for sustainable menswear brand Banks Journal. “So, all of us have these shared interests and passions.”
The Row is a self-contained community of small businesses and retailers that mostly cater to consumers, but Shopify’s mission meshes well with its neighbors’.
“We want to be a part of the community,” Kanwar said. “What’s great about The Row is over half of the retailers here are already using Shopify. It’s a space people come to shop, eat, hang out—it’s really kind of a centerpiece, in terms of where it’s located in the rest of the L.A. area. And so we want to be here for retailers, but we’re also here for the kinds of people that come to shop and spend time with small businesses and independent retail—those that are more likely to be interested in Shopify.”
The Row embodies the entrepreneurial spirit—a community of indie brands offering unique products and services they’re proud of.
“What I personally like about The Row is we’re all pretty independent,” said Victor Go, Regional Manager for art and design brand Poketo. “Our work to complements each other, and that’s definitely why we decided to open up here. We’ve had a lot of positive feedback and a lot of people who comment and discovered us here. So we’re excited to see how we can anchor in more.”
Go and the Poketo team, who have a location next door to Shopify in L.A., are eager to investigate the space and take advantage of its offerings. “It’s exciting to see all the programs available,” Go said. “I think there will be something for everybody to learn and to participate in.”
Moving in to help you move up
Whether merchants visit to fill their bags with hardware, create a product sample with Printful, or get one-on-one advice, Shopify in L.A. is another way to get a little help on the long (and sometimes lonely) path of entrepreneurship.
“We’ve built this for them. That’s what Shopify is here for,” says Cody DeBacker. “The tagline of the space is ‘We moved in to help you move up.’ And I believe that’s true. I hope entrepreneurs can walk away with a sense of clarity around the journey that they’re on.”
Making the commitment to build a business can, at times, be as scary as it is thrilling. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that requires resolve, creativity, and an obsession with solving problems for your customers. We believe community is often the missing ingredient, one that can provide business owners with support and a sense of belonging when they need it most.
“I just hope entrepreneurs feel welcome here,” Cody says. “I hope they feel like they’re not alone, and that Shopify is truly here as a partner for them.”
Visit Shopify in L.A.: Whether you’re one of our new neighbors or you’re in L.A. for the day, come to check out our new space. Sign up for a 1:1 Guru appointment, consult with a retail expert, or attend one of our classes or community events.
About the author
Lindsey Peacock is a writer, editor, and American expat invading the Great White North. When she isn’t helping entrepreneurs build their businesses, you’ll find her at the nearest dog park with Charlie, her ginger husky pup.