The Lure of Local
Riding on the popularity of the locavore movement, five small businesses get to test their wings at San Francisco mall kiosk.
Five San Francisco, CA manufacturers were welcomed into the Westfield San Francisco Centre this past June through October; their products displayed at a pop-up kiosk on the heavily trafficked second floor, at a hugely reduced price, says Janet Lees, senior director for SFMade, a non-profit organization in San Francisco, CA. This program is but one example of SFMade’s mission to support local manufacturers that produce eclectic and innovative products embodying San Francisco and its people.
From a list of many, Westfield San Francisco Centre narrowed it down to five. To qualify, all candidates needed to be certified by SFMade as a local manufacturer, could not have a retail footprint of their own and could not exceed gross annual sales of $2 million. Once these conditions were met, concepts were chosen for the diversity and excitement they offered the center, says Shelly Schembre, vice-president and senior general manager of Westfield San Francisco Centre.
“These are new and upcoming brands people don’t know about,” says Lees, especially appealing to the tourists and locals alike.
The first manufacturer to debut was Wildebeest, whose pet and lifestyle products include machine-washable rugs, bandana collars and leashes and poop bag dispensers.
“It’s been a great opportunity for us to meet our customers face to face,” says Jane Lee, owner and founder of Wildebeest. Lee received direct feedback on her line of products, and learned about the needs and wants of pet lovers. She adds that the kiosk acts like a tradeshow booth noting that some retailers in the mall have started carrying these manufacturers’ products in their own stores.
Slated for the month of July, manufacturer Drip Module creates a limited production of modern minimalist designs for everyday living, including clocks, coffee tables, trays, bowls and pet feeding stations. Designs, inspired by the frozen shape of water droplets, are simple, architectural and functional.
clubfife followed in August, specializing in knickers and loungewear, made with modal, an all-natural, hypoallergenic fabric. The last two manufacturers to debut were Lady Alamo, with colorful, eye-catching totes, reversible bags, T-shirts, and pillows, and Wood Thumb, manufacturer of wood ties from reclaimed wood.
Since the project launched, Lees has gotten a large response from SFMade brands that want to be part of the program should it continue, she says.
For future manufacturers, or any retailer taking part in a pop-up venue, Lee offers some tips: “Connect with your customers as much as possible and soak in the learning experience. And be sure to have a sign-up sheet for future correspondence to keep in touch with anyone who’s interested in what you do,” she says.
If this partnership sounds as if it is a great idea, and you are a manufacturer wishing it was in your area, it just might be. Similar initiatives are starting to take place in other cities including New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. The Urban Manufacturing Alliance, of which SFMade is a co-founder, shares best practices with cities across the country to help them have similar successes of their own.