After first arriving in the DC market via a temporary presence on Bethesda Row in November 2012, innovative menswear e-commerce retailer Bonobos opened their first permanent Guide Shop in the DMV in Georgetown on January 29, 2013.
Here’s a look at their digs tucked away in Cady’s Alley across from Kafe Leopold, which set the stage for a rapid DC-area expansion to Bethesda, Shaw and beyond, and more on the alternative experience they offer to traditional retail.
(I first wrote this post to coincide with the opening of the Georgetown Guide Shop in January 2013 but have updated it over the years.)
What are Bonobos Guideshops?
Scattered around the United States, Bonobos guide shops are an attempt by the online-only retailer to give customers a way to touch, feel and try-on clothes before taking the plunge on an e-commerce purchase.
It is part of the retailer’s efforts, along with sending old-fashioned mail order catalogs, to transform from an online-only e-commerce brand to a truly omnichannel retailer.
Back when the Georgetown shop first opened, it sunk in that this Guide Shop concept requires some explanation as I described it to a friend who kept peppering me with questions about why anyone would want to go to a store where you are not able to buy anything on-site.
The purpose is to offer an “e-commerce showroom” for men to make an appointment to get to know Bonobos and understand how their clothes fit.
The company stocks representative samples for guys to try on, so if you’re interested in their Foundation navy suit in a 38R, the shop may only have the grey version in your size, though you can see and feel the color you want too.
After you identify the proper fit, a Bonobos personal shopper can help you place an order which will ship free (and quickly) to you.
It will be interesting to see how many guys — and women who want to buy for the men in their life — take to the concept. It’s not traditional retail and, as the conversation with my friend suggests, there is bound to be some initial confusion and skepticism.
November 2019 update: Bonobos has become one of the vanguards in this zero- inventory showroom installation and is helping to shape the future of retail and Brick-and-Mortar 2.0.
I’ve found over the past 6 years that this show-room concept requires fewer explanations and increasing recognition about the utility of the concept.
Reviewing the Bonobos Guide Shop Experience
Walking into the guide shop is more interactive and intimate than popping into a traditional retail store.
You are met by one or more guides who look you in the eye, have a conversation with you and walk you through their product line. They are knowledgeable about the brand, enthusiastic about the clothes and are tied into a company that is small enough that they can probably tell you what number hire they were.
That enthusiasm is infectious. Bonobos’ guides are good at getting you excited about the clothes — so much so that I went home and bought the Ishmael, a black-flecked cotton shawl sweater I tried on in store. (A light-grey version is pictured above.)
I’d imagine their conversion rate is pretty high for people who walk through the door. If the company is successful at enticing people to come into their showroom, it may be onto something. Bonobos must feel that way too, as it is opening new showrooms around the country and expanding its guide shop in Chelsea.
About Bonobos’ Georgetown Guide Shop
In December, 2012, Bonobos signed a long-term lease to install a permanent Guide Shop in Georgetown, taking over the space at 3320 Cady’s Alley that was formerly occupied by furniture store Yves Delorme.
Bonobos started out by emphasizing comfortable, well-fitting chinos and other business casual staples for men. (Bonobos has come to be one of my absolute favorite destinations for comfortable and stylish business casual outfits for men.)
As is clear from the Georgetown guide shop, they have since branched out into more tailored and professional offerings, from basic solid suits to more creative dress slacks in checks and plaids to ties and basic dress shirts. They also offer shoes, outerwear, and accessories, including a gorgeous padded tan briefcase from Billykirk.
Many of their offerings, including denim, ties, suits and Billykirk bags are made in North America. Their ties are made in the United States and, at 2.75 inches wide, as far as I’m concerned, the perfect width.
There are also a lot of bright colors and achingly preppy hallmarks from pink chinos to green polos that are — well — they are what they are. Like Brooks Brothers, J. Crew and J. Press, Bonobos manages to speak to multiple audiences and is putting out a range of garments and accessories that ought to have broad appeal.
Gina DiPetrio, Senior Public Relations associate for Bonobos, appreciates the diversity that DC has to offer.
In an email, she wrote, “We couldn’t be more excited to be in a city where guys wear bright colors just as well as they wear great looking tailored suits [and] to be in a vibrant city that is home to such great customers.”
See below for a few more views inside Bonobos’ Guide Shop in Georgetown’s Cady’s Alley.
Have a look for yourself at 3320 Cady’s Alley, Washington, DC 20007. Make an appointment by calling 877.294.7737 or visiting the Bonobos guide shop website.
Photos taken with permission
About JakeJake is passionate about exploring entrepreneurs' global journeys. He founded Modern Fellows in 2012 to get to know the entrepreneurs behind the innovative brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age. Jake has written about entrepreneurship, international business and/or fashion for outlets including Business Week, Forbes, Inc., Details Style Syndicate and Primer Magazine, and has provided analysis on international business for BBC Radio, NBC News, CNN and Time Magazine.
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