‘Behind the Release’ is a new series we are running where we talk to retailers and boutique stores to understand what it’s like holding releases for hyped sneakers. We want to get a different perspective on the sneaker community and meet the people thinking up the systems for releases, planning the events and shipping you the wins and more often than not delivering you that L. To start off this new series we spoke to Erik from Stress - a boutique store based in Oslo that has been running since 1995. They were the first store to hold a Nike account in Northern Europe that wasn't a sporting goods store. With the mission to offer brands to young people that were previously unavailable which they still strive to offer today. Recently Stress opened its doors to the wider world having previously only offered to ship within Norway. They now offer worldwide shipping on everything they sell, so they are still relatively new to the online release space having previously only launched limited pairs through in-store raffles or online FCFS.
What lead to the decision to go global after 20 years of operating online exclusively within Norway?
"One of the main reasons was that for many years we kept getting emails from people asking if we shipped here or there. We had been wanting to offer it but only now have we realized how difficult and time consuming it is to set a site up to offer international shipping. It’s been the biggest task we've ever had, we started our first shop in 1995 so we’ve been through a lot of things on that journey, but nothing like this."We had to invest in two back offices to back-up the websites which we found to be a huge job, transferring all the data and creating content for all the products. We also built a new photo studio with the aim to take the best product photos in our segment, we want to compete with the big players.
"I remember the first day was like opening the flood gates with tonnes of emails and requests coming in from all around the world and for the first 6 months after the launch we were basically running 24/7 to handle it all and get orders shipped. We are small crew, we share all the responsibilities of taking photos, preparing orders and handling the store. This means we're sometimes a bit slower than we’d like with refunds or email questions. The real job starts now, to keep our site and brand relevant."
With the huge shift in online buying do you still feel it is important to hold in-store releases?
"We have a thing called the 'Oslo Allocation' where we keep a certain percentage of pairs for the people who want to increase their chances. They can queue up the night before with their friends, hang out talk about sneakers and music. We feel the in-store release is an important part of the sneaker culture and a way for sneakerheads to meet. For Stress, the future will be a combination of in-store releases and raffles online."Regarding events, we believe they are important but sometimes it's difficult to do a big release and host an event at the same time to make sure that the experience is cool for both our customers and our staff. For the big releases it's all hands on deck and we work until all orders are packed and shipped. Even though we only have a few pairs available we always want to have two allocations."
What is your opinion on people who purchase these limited releases with the intention to sell them immediately?
"Before we launched the new site we did all our releases in-store and people had to queue up and we saw people posting on Instagram or other sales platforms that they had a ticket or wrist band to get in line and secure pair and sold that pair. We cancelled their tickets and opportunity to buy as we really want to recognise the people who love and wear their sneakers. The whole re-sell thing is so big now, we are just a small slice in this market so we can’t really do anything to stop it."Currently, we do FCFS online which I think is quite unique. We plan to introduce raffles soon, I think two more FCFS releases and then the raffle process will be ready."
How do you find the site handles the traffic for these limited releases, do you filter out bots?
"We have a provider called Panagora that has been doing this for years and actually runs Naked's and Sneakersnstuff’s websites also. We scale the site so the capacity is able to take the traffic during these times. We understand that obviously, not everyone can get a pair but there is a lot of stuff set up within the platform to prevent bots and multiple orders. It only allows one item in the cart at the time, but it’s difficult to stop bots."
Now that you are getting access to more limited releases, are you ever worried as a business owner having staff backdoor pairs?
"As a small store at this stage, it’s very easy to keep track of the pairs that are coming in. We don’t get that many pairs so it’s not even been an issue and I have staff that I trust. What we do for staff is have an in-store raffle of maybe one pair to be won by staff, everything else is reserved for the customers."
It’s really great that Stress still sees the value and importance of in-store releases that give sneakers the ‘community’ element and that they are willing to invest the time and money into holding events for releases. It would be easy to just sell the pairs and make money but you can see these guys really care about the culture.This also extends to their online platform, although it’s in its infancy and FCFS online releases are not the best method of releases (with the current state of bots) they are constantly looking to enhance the opportunities to do everything they can to get pairs to the right people. Being such a small store it would be unfair to hold them to the same levels as End, FootLocker, SNS who have the resources to invest into constantly innovating and developing.We're really excited to see how Stress grows and develop over the next few years, the owner, Erik seems to genuinely love everything he’s doing at the moment and having people like this within the community is really great to see. When you shop anywhere you look for experiences and what this boutique store can offer is a personal experience that big stores, hidden behind support email addresses and phones lines, cannot do.We hope this gave you a small insight into some of the challenges at a small store.