WeShop: WeWork’s Secret Retail Startup

WeWork has created a billion-dollar company by getting professionals to shell out cash for plush, relaxed workspaces and an entrepreneurial community. Now two entrepreneurs, Ali Kriegsman and Alana Branston want to do the same for the world of retail, reports CNN.

The pair co-founded Bulletin, a startup that gets female-focused lifestyle brands to pay a monthly membership fee for placement in its retail spaces and online shop. Last year, it raised more than $2 million, and plans are unfolding to roll out a flagship store in New York this spring.

However, WeWork is on the founders’ minds.

“In total transparency, we know that they’re going to penetrate retail, but we don’t know exactly what that means,” Kriegsman said in CNN. “We’re eager to see.”

CNN also reported on two job postings that suggest Kreigsman is correct to guess retail will play a part of WeWork’s expanding empire.

WeWork is looking to bring two senior employees on board to lead a push into retail and e-commerce, as indicated by two job listings posted on the company website. The company wanted a VP to launch a “new retail experience” focused on food and beverages, according to one job listing. The role will mean one location in New York with plans to open new locations in other markets “quickly”.

WeWork also wants to bring a director on board to develop a strategy for merchandise such as apparel and other products, which would be sold in stores through a new “online merchandise shop.”

WeWork, which has locations in 20 countries, offers space running from private offices to desks on a tiered pricing plan. Trade publications have written about its retail ambitions recently. It opened a gym and partnered on a speakesasy last year while flush with billions from its founding. It spent $850 million on a Lord & Taylor‘s iconic department store to serve as a new headquarters. WeWork CEO Adam Neumann suggested he had plans to “re-energizing the traditional retail experience,” after this purchase.

“People from every walk of life are seeking spaces in big cities that allow for human connections. There is no reason why retail space should not be part of that movement,” Neumann said. “WeWork’s role in this big trend will be to reimagine and reshape places so as to foster collaboration, innovation and creativity.”

Miguel McKelvey, WeWork’s co-founder, said at tech conference in November that the company’s “first proposal”, years ago, for a building featured “a hotel concept, a restaurant concept, a barbershop, a fitness concept” and other amenities.

“It’s a means to an end,” Sucharita Kodali, a Forrester Research retail analyst. “Whether it’s a gym or a coffee shop, it’s about creating a better experience for the people at their WeWork spaces. Ultimately, you can charge higher rates, or people stay longer as tenants.”

Other initiatives that add up to a push towards retail are moving behind the scenes. An anonymous WeWork employee described constant talk of ways to make WeWork’s member companies to sell products to WeWork members, possibly through an online store.

While products are available at its Rise gym, there is on option for buying online. It is not clear how WeWork plans to tackle the challenge retail, an industry fraught with store closures, faces from Amazon and other online giants.

The company can afford to experiment, however, with a $4.4 billion investment from SoftBank, a Japanse conglomerate, even thought WeWork was not actively seeking to raise funds when the deal emerged.

These experiments have included backing a wave pool company, buying a coding school, and opening its own school, to “support the growth of our children’s entrepreneurial spirit.”