The holy grail of marketing is crafting an experience that others want to share. Here is my story about how mystique, 2 hand stamps and a queue on a New York City street led to a highly memorable retail experience.
(Originally posted on davidpaull.com)
To the Supreme…
If you’re not familiar with Supreme, it’s a streetwear brand from New York City that has developed a cult-like following. They produce limited-run items and collaborations with other brands that fans and resellers go nuts for.
While I’m by no means a streetwear connoisseur, I’ve always been intrigued by the brand and the fervor they manage to drum-up. On a recent trip to NYC a friend and I decided to check out the store and see what all the fuss is about. I know they are notorious for long lines so we made the strategic decision to head there at 2pm on a Monday afternoon. Easy-peasy, right? Yeah, sure!
When we first arrived I was struck by how small the store was relative to what I was expecting. By reputation I thought this would be a gigantic place. But it’s a pretty small storefront, sparsely decorated inside, with relatively few items for sale. I admit I was starting to wonder what all the fuss was about.
There were five people cued up when we got there and while I was surprised to see anyone lined-up on a Monday afternoon, I was glad to see it was only five people. We got in line and made it seven. That’s when Giant Bouncer #1 (GB1) approached and asked to see our hand stamps (yes, stamps, with an “s” — more on that later).
I said we haven’t any stamps and he said we needed to get hand stamps before we could get in line.
I asked where we could procure said hand stamps and he pointed to the corner at the end of the block.
Now, remember, it’s 2pm on a Monday, there are only five people in line, and the store isn’t that full. OK…
We walked to the end of the block and found Giant Bouncer #2 (GB2). I asked the Hulkian gentleman if we could please have our hands stamped. He said that he was the blue stamp guy and first we needed a red stamp. Hmm. By this time I was becoming less and less surprised by the silliness so I just asked from where we could obtain the red stamp. He pointed across the street. Of course…
What the hell, right? We’d come this far. Let’s see how this plays out.
We crossed the street and stupidly looked for some kind of sign or any indication of where the red stamp situation might happen.
Nope. No sign, no flashing neon arrow, nothing. But, there was a giant bouncer-looking dude — let’s call him Giant Bouncer #3 (GB3) — sitting on a stoop outside a nondescript building.
So, we did what anyone on a scavenger hunt to enter the Supreme store would do — we approached and asked if he was the red stamp guy. While he was a man of few words (and by few, I mean zero), he did motion for us to extend our right arms and make a fist. We did as shown and were bestowed with the stamp of a red check mark inside a red square. Behold, the red stamp!
I have to admit, I felt pretty proud of myself. With my newfound pride we sauntered back across the street, approached GB2, and boldly presented our right fists for blue stamping. But rather than laying it on us, he pointed once again and said, “Gotta get in line.” I said, “What line?” He said, “This line,” gesturing to three people cued up. Now, remember, we’re not yet back at the five-person line in front of the store. We’re still at the end of the street on blue-stamp-guy’s corner. Before getting in this new mystery line I peaked down the street to see if the line if front of the store had magically grown to 20-people deep in the few minutes that we’d been on our stamping adventure. Nope. Still just a few people. Copy, that…
As we became the fourth and fifth people in a seemingly superfluous line, another guy showed up (much smaller than his colleagues — we’ll call him normal-sized bouncer — no initials nor numeric designation necessary as he’ll be the only one to keep track of — promise.).
He said, “Right hand on the rail.” He was referring to the guardrail set-up to keep the hoards of us dutifully in line.
All five of us did as we were told and we were rewarded with the blue version of the checkbox stamp from GB3 on the stoop. BAM…both stamps!
After about thirty seconds GB2 let two people in front of us head toward the store. After looking around to be sure everything was OK — at 2pm on a Monday — he then let the other three of us go. Getting there…
As we got back to the front of the store, the line was still about five-people deep. We got in line and vigorously extended our right arms until GB1 acknowledged that we had, indeed, accomplished our mission. We got the nod and knew we were righteous!
We finally made it into the store and the last head-scratcher was when I asked if I could buy a basic logo tee (which would probably go to my son — I can’t pull off this brand!) and was told they don’t have any “right now.” In these circles the Supreme logo, while very simple, is quite well-known. You’d think they’d sell a ton of them every day. But, if everyone had one it would no longer be cool and coveted, now would it?
So in the end I settled for the only thing under $500 with their logo on it — a $10 sticker (that what would normally be a $5 sticker, but priced double to match the madness of the whole situation).
So, why did I regale you with with this tale of Supreme madness? Because it was a hoot and in the days since I haven’t stopped thinking about the whole escapade. They accomplished what I call, Mystique Marketing.
During a new drop, or maybe on Saturday evenings, I can totally see how that place would be all kinds of crazy. And maybe there is some method to the madness to setting up two separate lines and two separate nondescript stamping destinations in order to pace and control the crowd. But no so much at 2pm on a Monday, and even during times of craziness I suspect that it’s as much mystique as necessity.
What this relatively small and simple store has accomplished, even on a boring Monday afternoon and with none of their go-to merch in stock, was to make us feel like this was something special that had to be earned. It’s all mysterious, all the time. Sure, they could have just let us in. And, sure, they could have just let us on the first line without two separate stamps. But how normal and unremarkable would that be? Completely. So, what started out as me questioning whether this place was indeed the cat’s pajamas after all ended up with me marveling at the experience they have chosen to create, all the time.
The takeaway for us marketers is that there are always ways to create unique, memorable, and remarkable experiences if we just get a little crazy, have some fun, and add a bit of mystique. The challenge I’m giving myself, and to you, is to look for an opportunity as soon as possible and give it a shot. If you report back with what you tried, or other experiences you’ve had, I’ll be sure to share in a follow-up article. Good luck and get your stamps on!
Thanks for reading! I’d also like to hear your feedback in the responses on how this story relates to you, or hit me up at david[at]dialsmith[dot]com. Thanks, again : )