Why Some MULO Brands are Going Online-Only Street Fight

Why Some MULO Brands are Going Online-Only

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This week, Outdoor Voices announced that the company is closing stores and migrating its business to online only.

Will they re-brand “Indoor Voices?”

Joking aside, the move appears essential for the popular athleisure brand to remain alive. They are hardly the first brand to go from MULO (multi-location) outposts to just the screen.

Athleisure is a popular category, valued at close to $400B and growing. 

But the competition is stiff. The company apparently had leadership changes, and as we know, sometimes new management is brought in when companies are struggling to stay on an upward climb (or even to stay in the race).

What other factors are leading popular brands from the physical storefront to the screen?

  1. Inventory costs
  2. Rent costs
  3. Cost and shortage of qualified retail team members.
  4. The movement of consumers from cities to remote areas, which began during the pandemic
  5. Locating stores in the wrong areas or areas that are no longer well-trafficked. (See #6.) Up-and-coming brands should use data and professionals for site selection
  6. Ineffective marketing strategies. The competition is super-stiff these days, and brands can easily get lost amidst a sea of influencers and messaging

The key to making bold moves like this is staying even closer to your loyal shoppers and fans, letting them know that you’re still available to meet their shopping needs. You could also bolster the quality of your customer care to ensure that everyone is well-served (which may, in fact, be even more important in online-only plays).

Retail brands are also experimenting with smaller physical footprints.

Over the years, we’ve seen many online-only brands (Bonobos, Warby Parker, etc.) expand into retail, and now we’re starting to see the revealing of that trend.

This writer believes the ultimate MULO solution may be micro “outpost” locations (including some in unexpected areas rather than traditional shopping malls) combined with exemplary online shopping experiences.

However, the spending that would otherwise go to rent and retail salaries must be effectively deployed to brand-building, consumer research and targeted marketing, customer care, and innovation.

Just because the “foundation” of a brand is no longer built from cement and merchandising fixtures, the principles of branding, service, and selection need to live on — long after the physical doors are closed.

Nancy A Shenker, senior editor with Street Fight, is a former big brand (Citibank, Mastercard, Reed Exhibitions) marketing strategist and leader. She has been featured in Inc.com, the New York Times and Forbes.