The new 902: all about this warehouse-chic opening in Medellin
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Concept stores, disruptive formats, retail experiences: with the world growing evermore digital, brick and mortar store owners have been forced to create experiences with a bit of added value. Luckily, Medellin concept store founder Claudia Correa has always been a bit averse to the traditional. Her design shop, 902 Showroom, was founded ten years ago on the idea that people appreciate a well-conceived concept, and an alternative to the same old mall format goes a long way. Her latest project is the new —and improved— 902 Showroom, a reformed warehouse with all the trappings of a non-traditional design venue. Kriteria sat down with Claudia to discuss her design journey over the last ten years in Medellin, and how things are rapidly changing for the industry. 902showroom.com
Translated from Spanish.
“Today’s formats do not need to be brick and mortar. Now, experiences can be more intangible. It’s how you keep creating those little experiences that matters for a brand.”
- Claudia Correa, founder of 902 Showroom
How long ago did you open 902 Showroom and what did you hope to achieve with this project?
902 Showroom is run by me and my husband, Francisco. Our priority was always to work for ourselves, to be able to start a business, that was really what motivated everything. Fatefully, he lost his job, so we decided to start buying things in the United States to sell at home. I was an industrial designer, and he, the engineer, dealt with the finances. We were the perfect team.
Back in 2009, I left my job to get a degree in marketing, and started working on the business. We gave it the name 902 Showroom– for the apartment number from which we sold everything. I have always had a preference for more disruptive formats, because I had worked in a retail store for a long time, and had grown to reject it a bit. I didn’t want a commercial space, with a typical way of displaying products. So we started with a concept that we felt allowed us more options. Having an apartment in a loft, where we simply had to sell everything inside, made it easier. In this business model, everything was imported.
In 2010, we set up the business, and we focused on marketing imported products. We had a very nice mix of items, from stationary to pottery. We knew the concept was very good, but we realized we could not be so inaccessible: we were hidden in an apartment, where almost nobody knew us or could find us, and Facebook was our only marketing tool; Instagram didn’t exist yet.
In 2010, lots of entrepreneurs began to pop up in Medellin. And as the only ones offering a place to sell their products were a store called At Home and us—in two very different formats— we suddenly realized we had an opportunity to market local brands. From there, everything became about the local designers, and in 2011, we changed to a store format hidden on the second floor of a street behind El Poblado park. Who was going to find us there? I’ll admit, at the beginning, it was difficult for people to find us.
“We have managed to create the shopping experience of our dreams, and anyone who wants to experience it is welcome to come in. Behind our door is a universe, but you need to be curious enough to discover it.”
- Claudia Correa, founder of 902 Showroom
Eventually, we positioned ourselves as a concept store exploring a disruptive format, and we suddenly became pioneers in Medellin. Since we started, there have been colleagues who have disappeared, others are still around, but the coolest has always been our space; it has become a reference for other, cool things to happen. Many people travel from Bogota and all over Medellin, or even from out of the country, to visit the showroom. We no longer worry about getting people to find us.
During the seven years that we spent in our last location, we always thought "What do we do next? How do we grow? How do we know that this intimate format works and how can we become even more intimate?” An opportunity popped up to do something in Bogotá, but we definitely did not want a typical, commercial space. My goal has never been to open franchises all over the country, but rather, invent a format that is 100% independent, where we not only have a place to sell our products, but we also create an environment where anything can happen, where we create relationships with artists, designers, and put on many types of events for everyone.
There are some places in the world where you want to visit, and you are always willing to go, so my dream is that the new 902 Showroom will become one of those. When I was in school, the teacher told me, 'You should create an experience where people want to pay to enter, even if they do not pay.’ So, that's what we're aiming for. We want to be one of the world’s beautiful concept stores.
“We want to be one of the world’s beautiful concept stores.”
- Claudia Correa, founder of 902 Showroom
Is there a style that defines the aesthetic of 902?
The style is very much mine, very personal. As an industrial designer, I have developed my own particular aesthetic. I like to mix textures, colors and formats, I believe in variety, in places that tell a story, and I really enjoy color and geometry. 902 reflects our soul, that of my husband and I, and the products we represent. We have a very broad product portfolio, and what we can offer depends on what exists in the market. We have traditional brands, contemporary brands, independent brands and our own brands, Quinta Edición and La Revolución Industrial.
Are all the brands local?
They are 80% local. We import a brand called La Revolución Industrial which we co-founded with a Spanish partner to import furniture that cannot be made in Colombia. For example, curved wood cannot be made here, because Colombia does not have the technology. So, we have dedicated ourselves to knowing what can be done here and what must be imported, what is more profitable, etc., because at the end of the day, we are a business!
What places do you recommend in Colombia or Medellin for design lovers?
For finding cool products in Medellin, I recommend The Blue House, Perceptual, 5AM, La Guardia, Diamantina y La Perla, and Makeno. For restaurants, across the street is Jardín Latino, which I highly recommend; they are all small entrepreneurs making their way. I also love Halong, it's a delicious Vietnamese restaurant, great for drinks with friends. Another favorite is Justo, and then there’s the Korean BBQ up the street.
How has the design environment in Medellin changed during your time with 902 Showroom?
When we started, there was not a single brand in Medellin. There was a very nice store called At Home. It was the same dream many have, which is to start with an atypical format and work their way into a mall. We did not want that. By 2010, many entrepreneurs began to arrive in the city, and that’s when we began to change our portfolio to reflect the local offer.
Today, we have managed to create the shopping experience of our dreams, and anyone who wants to experience it is welcome to come in. Behind that door, is a universe, but you need to be curious enough to discover it by yourself.
Social media and the internet have changed the market a lot, too. The shopping experience has changed, and today what people want the most is an added value experience.
How do you see the industry evolving in 5-10 years?
Formats are changing a lot, and I think in eight years, traditional retail will cease to exist. In fact, I'm doing a conference with a friend in a few days about the future of entrepreneurship, and which businesses will be sustainable in five years, in such a changing world, where form matters less and less, and digital dictates everything. Take us for instance: in three years, we hope to sell 70% of our products through e-commerce.
We know, however, that we cannot live in a completely digital world because people will always crave the physical in some way. But I do think everything is migrating to a very digital format, where experiences will matter but only when they have some added value.
Today’s formats do not need brick and mortar. Now, experiences can be more intangible, and they can take place in a marvelous venue, but it does not have to be in the city’s largest warehouse or convention center. It’s how you keep creating those little experiences that matters the most for a brand.
Address: Cra. 43d ## 10-50, Medellín, Antioquia
Phone Number: (+57) 312 889 4725 / (+57 4) 311 2429
Follow them on Instagram: instagram.com/902showroom
Brands include: 5AM, Alejandro Tapias, Ames, Coca y Trompo, Criolla, Diamantina y La Perla, Fango, Gres, La Bestial, Masala, Morro Contento, Sativa, Tybso, Verdi, Vida Util, and others!