Unlike the mall kiosks of yesterday’s world, Studs, a new digitally native brand built around piercing and jewelry, opens its doors to a generation of consumers that want piercings in a more bubbly and welcoming space.
With a gleaming neon sign, a made-for-Instagram photo wall and private piercing rooms, Studs is entering a market long dominated by mall retailers such as Claire’s (which declared bankruptcy in March 2018 before getting back on its feet in October 2018) and Piercing Pagoda.
Studs isn’t alone in its endeavor, either. Other brands exist in the same space, such as Aurate New York and The Last Line, which are dedicated to elevating the jewelry experience, and Rowan, a company bringing in-home ear piercing to tweens.
But Studs doesn’t want to elevate the jewelry experience or the piercing category. It wants to combine both and make it a safe and fun experience, and it has raised $3 million in seed funding to do so, led by First Round Capital.
“Most places you get pierced, you can’t buy jewelry at the same time, and the only reason you’re getting pierced is obviously not to have a hole in your ear but to wear jewelry,” said Anna Harman, co-founder and CEO of Studs.
As part of the Studs bricks-and-clicks experience, customers can walk into its store in New York’s Nolita neighborhood, pick out a style of piercing (the brand is only focusing on piercings for the ear for now) and the jewelry that goes with it. Unlike tattoo parlors or other piercing shops, the jewelry is a bit more “stylish” than the usual silver or gold stud.
The piercing costs $35 for one hole and $50 for two, with the jewelry ranging from $30 to $180 per earring. The actual piercing is also done with a needle in a private room, as opposed to out in the open or with a piercing gun.
Studs starts piercing consumers at age 8 with parental or guardian consent; walk-in clients must be 18 or older.
“For us, the whole idea was on, ‘How do you create a whole new retail experience that feels fresh and different and really targeted at the audience?’” Harman said. “We tried to envision what does today’s late teen to early 20s want, so we did a lot of playing with light, materials and colors in a way that we wanted to feel fresh, but also a place that felt zen and spa-like, appropriate for what is effectively a small medical procedure.”
Some of the upstart brands in the space, like Mejuri and Kimai, also dabble in the realm of piercing, either holding a pop-up event once a month or a one-time deal, such as Kimai’s partnership with Reformation. But Lisa Bubbers, co-founder and CMO of Studs, argued that Studs is built around piercing services with needles to create an “earscape,” a term the brand is using to describe picking different jewelry to style several piercings on ears.
After getting a piercing, Studs customers receive a care guide and can further their experience by either shopping in-store or online and buying even more earrings, including special collections the company has with Susan Alexandra, Big Bang and more. Unlike other digitally native brands in the space, Harman said Studs is “always going to be an omni-business,” with a brick-and-mortar space.
Moving forward, Harman said Studs is looking toward using pop-up shops, kiosks and mobile units to bring Studs to more people in urban markets before moving onto secondary ones.
For now, Studs plans on using mostly organic content and influencer marketing to spread the word about the brand (and putting paid media dollars behind some of the content of its 75 ambassadors). Additionally, Studs is working on a Wildposting campaign in downtown New York and an OOH campaign at Iconic Magazines, a deli in New York known for selling all types of magazines.
Part of what Studs is banking on is owning the entire piercing experience from start to finish. The brand gets a consumer in the door with a piercing, and a few months later when the piercing is healed, they’ll come back to the site ready to buy earrings.
In Harman’s words, Studs collects the data, creates the relationship, and then continues the service digitally via styling and letting people mix and match its products.
Caitlin Strandberg, principal at Studs investor Lerer Hippeau, said the brand speaks to Gen Z because it lets them choose the earrings they want in an environment that’s an “exciting branded experience.” Rolling out in New York first, Strandberg said, was key for the brand to define consumer trends, and then roll out quickly beyond the coasts.
“In order to cater to that crowd, you need to have a branded experience but also an affordable and accessible point,” Strandberg said. “They’re testing and building a model that will be very easy to expand and launch in a way that those communities want to access them.”