Pay­ing is op­tional at this selfie-friendly store

Man­hat­tan’s Drug Store asks cus­tomers to pay via text sys­tem

Waterloo Region Record - - Business - ERIN GRIF­FITH

First there was self-check­out. Then Ama­zon’s cashier-free Go stores. Now there’s pay when you feel like it — we trust you.

At Drug Store, a nar­row, blackand-white-tiled store that opened Wed­nes­day in Man­hat­tan’s Tribeca neigh­bour­hood, there is no cashier or check­out counter. Any­one can grab a $10.83 ac­ti­vated-char­coal drink and leave.

But the bev­er­ages, typ­i­cally sold on­line by the case by Dirty Lemon, a startup that runs the store, are not free. Dirty Lemon has made a bet that cus­tomers will pay the same way they or­der its pricey lemon-flavoured drinks for home de­liv­ery: by send­ing the com­pany a text mes­sage.

In the store, cus­tomers are ex­pected to text Dirty Lemon to say they have grabbed some­thing. A rep­re­sen­ta­tive will then text back with a link to en­ter their credit card in­for­ma­tion, adding, “Let us know if you need any­thing else.”

Zak Nor­mandin, the com­pany’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, said he was not wor­ried that Drug Store’s hon­our sys­tem would en­cour­age theft. “I do think a ma­jor­ity of people would feel very guilty for con­tin­u­ing to steal,” he said.

When asked how much money Dirty Lemon was will­ing to lose to theft, Nor­mandin de­murred, not­ing that the com­pany would write down any losses as sam­pling costs.

Founded in 2015, Dirty Lemon counts 100,000 cus­tomers, around half of whom or­der at least a case of six bev­er­ages each month. Its high prices, text-mes­sage or­der­ing and beauty claims are help­ing it get at­ten­tion in a busi­ness lit­tered with new health-fo­cused drink brands. Dirty Lemon’s “sleep tonic” con­tains mag­ne­sium, a “beauty elixir” drink fea­tures col­la­gen, and an an­ti­ag­ing drink con­tains rose wa­ter.

The com­pany is clos­ing a round of ven­ture cap­i­tal fund­ing from celebri­ties and in­vestors, in­clud­ing Win­klevoss Cap­i­tal, Beta­works and the in­vest­ment fund of YouTube stars Jake Paul and Cameron Dal­las.

Nor­mandin said his con­vic­tion in Dirty Lemon’s store was so strong that he had al­ready made plans to open an­other one in New York and two more in other cities, all fea­tur­ing a sep­a­rate VIP lounge with a bar and spe­cial events. The com­pany has shifted al­most all of its $4 mil­lion an­nual dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing bud­get into its re­tail stores.

Dirty Lemon is forg­ing ahead into brick-and-mor­tar stores when many tra­di­tional re­tail­ers are clos­ing lo­ca­tions and in­vest­ing in dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing and ecom­merce. But Nor­mandin said his cus­tomers, who are mainly young women, were tired of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing that con­stantly pushed them to buy things. Rather, he said, they seek unique in-per­son ex­pe­ri­ences.

“They want to ac­tu­ally be kind of im­mersed in a brand, and take it all in, and maybe take a pic­ture,” he said.

Dirty Lemon’s Drug Store fea­tures a large, selfie-friendly mir­ror that re­flects a wall of cool­ers and stark, black-and­white-striped penny tiles creep­ing across the high ceil­ing.

So-called im­mer­sive pop-up stores and mu­se­ums, op­ti­mized for so­cial me­dia, have pro­lif­er­ated in re­cent years. This sum­mer, visi­tors to Rosé Man­sion in New York wan­dered 14 rooms of highly styl­ized In­sta­gram-bait, shar­ing geo­tagged pho­tos, GIFs, and videos of bub­ble pits and cava foun­tains. This month, 29Rooms of­fers an equally In­sta­gram-able “in­ter­ac­tive fun house” in Brook­lyn. The Mu­seum of Ice Cream and Candy­topia, both of them in New York and San Francisco, are com­pa­ra­bly pho­to­genic.

Nor­mandin said his com­pany’s plans went beyond lemon drinks and selfie mir­rors to trans­form­ing the bev­er­age in­dus­try’s dis­tri­bu­tion meth­ods. The com­pany as­pires to “re­build the in­fra­struc­ture that has pow­ered bev­er­ages since the 1800s,” he said.

That will take a lot of texts.

IDRIS SOLOMON NEW YORK IIMES

Cus­tomers use text mes­sag­ing to pay for bot­tles of Dirty Lemon at Drug Store, a store run by the health-bev­er­age startup in Man­hat­tan’s Tribeca neigh­bour­hood.

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