These days of summer rest have led me with my family to London to remember the years we lived there more than a decade ago. The children are no longer that young and one of my them had the enormous illusion of visiting the store of a clothing brand (“streetwear” as he calls it) that apparently only has an European presence through a small shop in London and another in Paris. The brand in question is “Supreme” and the experience has opened my eyes to a world of exclusivity and experience in which the Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci’s, … of the world are mere apprentices ;-). I would like to share it because I think it has many characteristics that could be used to understand how human emotions work and how we could build an experience that seizes it. At the end of the day, experience is a matter of perceptions, and with perceptions all is fair.
The site I refer to is in the Soho, between Tottenham road and Regent street and is a “ramshackle” and little announced venue of no more than 50m2, without showcase, and with a small sign that names the place. It gives the impression of being in a temporary location where second hand clothes are distributed for the poors. But it is not true, neither one nor the other.
We went the first day and met a couple of security people who informed us that it was not as easy as we thought. You had to perform the ritual. Go next day and arrive an hour before the opening, when the queue started. We left with the hope that the next day surely we could finally access this “temple of urban fashion”.
We arrived not an hour, but two hours before the store opening. We did not see anyone in any queue and we began to think that we had rushed too much. We spoke with the security person (who was already at the door) and clarified the situation. We were not the first. Around 400 people! had arrived before us, but they could not stay in the vicinity (because it bothered the neighbors) and they had to disperse in the surrounding streets until a person, who could not be described to us, but who he assured us we would recognize, arrives at some point, in some indeterminate place of those streets, randomly distributing tickets to enter the shop that day. The clear instruction was not to be near the store when that time came.
Effectively we took a walk around and saw many groups of youngsters (and not so young ones) waiting in groups in the corners killing time chatting among them. Some seemed to be experts in the business and other more casual attendees, but all with the loose and careless image of today’s “coolest” rappers :-). In addition, skillfully distributed through the different streets, there were also a dozen security people in black suits, black shirts, burgundy ties and black hats, Samuel L Jackson’s (SLJ) alike. The feeling was of mystery and, if it were not in broad daylight (and it also depends on the number of movies you’ve seen), some vertigo and risk.
Finally, one hour before the opening, movement begins and people arrive from all directions and go to a certain corner. I ask one of the security guys and he tells me that the queue is starting to be formed. What queue? And why on a different street from the store? By inertia and imitation I came to the queue (approximately in place 100 of about 600!) and wait for my son to arrive (he had covered another area to increase the chances of meeting the tickets’ guy). Everything is done in silence, instructed by the SLJ in charge “threatening” to be throwed out of line if not behaved or compliant with the rules of the “Supreme’s game”, as he called it. If you don´t wanna play, you leave. Everyone, quite docile, answered in unison (but without shouting) “Yeah, We do!”
– you cannot make noise,
– you accept your fate (only 100 out of the 600 may enter that day)
– you cannot enter if you have already done so within the last 7 days. Store’s staff will recognize you (and right there he took out one guy close to us that had been there a few days ago)
– Only one person and his direct family can enter? (not even close friends allowed)
– they tell you that if you get to enter you will be approached by people asking you to buy something for them. You are forbidden to do so under penalty of excommunication…
Do you wanna play the Supreme’s game ??? Yeah, we do!
After a while a person dressed in the standard uniform appears with a marker in his hand. He is the “decider”. The crowd gets very nervous and adjusts the queue (which by then has a length of about 200 meters). All with a nervous smile and wishing they were the chosen ones. The procedure is explained: The decider will write a number in the hand of a person, and that will grant access, in order, to the store, where they will have about 20 min to make purchases. There will be 125 numbers and those without a number will have to try another day. He approaches a young boy next to us and puts the number 1 in his hand. Then to my son, and he gets the number 2! He almost died with the emotion! He felt touched by god. He tells me he does not think to wash it ever (ok, we’ll talk). And even better, with one of the first numbers we will not have to wait for hours to enter! Gathering around, you feel how everyone looks at his hand with unhealthy envy…
Those who are being “marked” are moved to another queue (this one only of the chosen people but sorted) and the rest continue to implore a scribble in his hand. Since I do not have a number, I have to say that I am the “payer” to be allowed to stay :-). In total there are three different queues that are formed with customers numbered. The last one at the shop’s door. You move from queue to queue as the opening time approaches. Once in the queue you consider yourself the luckiest person in the world and you are regarded as such by the crowd of onlookers in the vicinity. Even the security personnel comes to congratulate you on having managed to be one of the chosen ones.
The path to the final moment continues. When you reach the last queue, they continue to teach you:
– Buy everything you want, but check that you take everything wih you
– You will not be able to re-enter with any excuse
– Only customers in groups of 10 can enter, in order to keep a great shopping experience and a comfortable store
– When you enter, you have to leave everything you have on the floor next to the door. You cannot enter with anything in your hands
– Mobile phones cannot be used inside the store. No photos, nor videos.
An Arab couple arrives with their two children of about 12 years old when the numbers are given. For what they say is the fourth day they come (but the previous ones have been a different system of allocation of tickets online) and the woman loses her nerves and starts crying while protesting against the organizers. The SLJ that attends her very kindly tries to justify himself in the rest of the people who have gone through the process to deny their requests. He says what for me is the phrase of the day: “Ma’am please do not cry me for this. THIS IS JUST T-SHIRTS !!” (Great truth!). In a feature of humanity (and also flexibility with the procedure) he says later: “If tomorrow you’re still in the city and come with 3 hours’ time, I promise I’ll take care of your kids”
The great moment arrives. Door is opened and we enter. We leave our things and go down to the basement store. We find some fairly ordinary bookshelves with very little stock on them. No pressure, few people, little stock, loud music. 5 different T-shirts, 3 caps, 2 hoodies, 1 raincoat, 1 fanny pack, 1 sports bag, 8 shirts and 6 pants and 6 or 7 jackets. That’s all folks! Various colors. If you need a different size, they would ask a semi-naked and tattooed individual who, from the top floor, “managed” the boxes of the warehouse.
After twenty minutes (that we lengthened artificially so that the moment lasted) in the store we chose a pair of T-shirts and we left. After all, we had to buy something!. They included with the purchase a series of stickers that my son valued almost as much as the t-shirt (that he’s wearing nonstop for the last four days, I hope it washes well). When we left, with the feeling of not having taken full advantage of our goog luck, and we left the store with the bags, we began to be approached by people who ask us if we were selling something ¿? They offered to buy whatever we had gotten at the store. Any model, any size, any price …! That was where my dislike started ;-). We grabbed our bags and walked away from the place.
And then the experience was over. Well, the rest of the day my son wanted to appear in all the pictures with his Supreme bags. He left the adventure thinking that he had seized the opportunity of his life. I thought I had lost mine. 😉
The 10 keys to the experience:
1. You consider the buying experience as tremendously difficult. A challenge within the reach of few. You do not buy when you want or in a normal way. Everything is super special. A truly obstacles race where the prize is purchasing.
2. The process appears to you at all times as something totally fair (rare, but fair). Facing such a mismatch between supply and demand, there would be a thousand opportunities for “corruption”. However, they convince you that anyone has the same chance of success.
3. You feel super lucky throughout the process from the marking to the post-purchase. It´s as if you had the opportunity to participate in a contest that few people in the world can access. Even today the feeling lasts 😉
4. You see around you a lot of unlucky people. They look at you with great envy
5. There are a lot of security measures around the store. As if they were protecting something very valuable.
6. The “great moment” is approaching little by little. You start away from the store and, as time goes by, you get closer. In addition, it takes a long time to arrive, which makes the moment more desirable.
7. To get access to the product you have to accept a large number of rules. If you fail you lose the possibility to buy.
8. Whoever cannot buy, no matter how much money you have or how soon you have arrived, or even how many times you have tried. Only the lucky is able to buy. It is random. Goddess Fortune gives you the opportunity.
9. There is little variety of product and you feel “forced“, after everything you have gone through, to buy whatever, even if you do not like it. Despite this, you leave with the feeling that you should have bought more.
10. You end up super grateful with the fact that they allow you to give them your money. And it’s not that they give it back to you, eh! (They kept mine)
(And for the record that I have done everything out of mere scientific curiosity … and because of father’s love ;-).
Days after editing this entrance the store management published in Instagram the following video on the same location:
I got shocked by the futility of these actions. I will never understand the behavior of certain people.