Ming Utility and Entertainment Group has set up shop, literally. The creative company founded last June by Commonwealth Creative Chairman and former McCann-Erickson CCO of Global Brands Linus Karlsson, CEO Brian DiLorenzo and President Tara DeVeaux opened the doors of a storefront next to its office space on Peck Slip in downtown Manhattan last night.
"The Store" will be selling a selection of products by British industrial designer Tom Dixon, whose work is included in permanent collections of New York's Museum of Modern Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
The new shop allows the Ming founders to check an item off the wishlist they had when they first started their company: to open a retail space selling the goods of local artists and other inspirational creatives. It will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Friday, and for the next few months will feature a selection of Tom Dixon goods, including items from his lighting collection and housewares line. After Mr. Dixon's run, the store plans to sell wares of artists in areas of fashion and electronics.
Mr. Karlsson and Mr. Dixon met through a mutual friend, Daniel Sachs, CEO of Proventus, a Swedish investment firm that had taken a majority stake in Mr. Dixon's U.K.-headquartered company in 2004. The pair previously collaborated on a huge project -- pulling McCann-Erickson's flagship office in New York out of the Mad Men era into the modern day, along with architectural firm Gensler.
For both Mr. Dixon and Mr. Karlsson, the Ming store is a creative experiment designed to bring them closer to consumers. "I felt really tired of hiding in a skyscraper," said Mr. Karlsson. "It seemed like a really good idea to have a business in a storefront. How cool would it be to have a place where people could walk in? I don't like the idea of advertising being so hidden. It comes back to this idea of transparency and being visible as a company working in communications."
By opening a retail operation, "I have a sense that I will learn something," Mr. Karlsson said. "Years ago, I was wondering, why do we divide things into 'above the line' and 'below the line'? I'm more interested in 'below the line,' just by my nature."
Mr. Dixon sees the new shop as an opportunity to explore new retail strategies as he looks to expand his brand in the States. His company, which has a New York office and until now, had no consumer-facing retail front in the U.S., creates a wide variety of high-end household goods including lighting, furniture, home accessories. It also offers interior design consultation and services.
"Particularly for homewares and furniture, the retail model is so broken," Mr. Dixon said. "With real-estate prices in the middle of town, it's impossible for someone selling slow-moving products, that take up a lot of space. So it gets harder and harder to justify having a contract showroom."
"It's so much easier to sit at home on your iPad and buy from there anyway," he added. "So you've got to fight harder to be relevant to people, and that fight is increasingly harder to do while you're in the city when the people you're fighting against are LVMH or whoever's got the money to spend on heroic flagships. So I like the idea of going into a communication agency environment -- and that agency isn't what you'd expect anyway -- and suddenly you're able to test out a new customer, a new way of showing stuff. Suddenly, you're unique and you're recontextualizing."
Rather than opening up a big showroom, "the way you get anywhere in the States is by rock and roll," Mr. Dixon said. "You're playing all the little radio stations, doing the little gigs. In that way, you'll get out what you put in." Breaking out is not "the big leap forward in America that everybody thinks it is. It's little steps, and human relationships."
Along with the store, Ming has been working on projects with Bacardi and Safilo eyewear, the world's second largest eyeglass and sunglass company, which creates frames for licensed brands such as Fendi, Dior, Saint Laurent as well as for proprietary brands including Smith Optics, Polaroid and Carrera.