Shopify built a $673 million-revenue business by helping entrepreneurs set up shop online, then expand offline into brick-and-mortar locations with the necessary back-end tools. Now Shopify is making its own offline move.

On Oct. 11 in Los Angeles the Canada-based commerce platform opens its first permanent physical shop, which COO Harley Finkelstein describes as a sort of "Genius Bar" for entrepreneurs. Part workspace and part demo center, Shopify's eponymous space is designed to offer a support and community hub for entrepreneurs who want advice on how to get a company off the ground--and presumably convert them into Shopify customers in the process. 

"We want to remove the perceived barrier to entry for entrepreneurs," says Shopify vice president of product Satish Kanwar. "Some things are just easier said and done face-to-face. So you can sit down here with your laptop and also see how our hardware products work in person."

Shopify will staff the space with "gurus" who will teach daily classes on subjects like setting up an online shop or integrating a point-of-sale software system into operations. The location also will feature free workshops taught by partner companies. Google, for instance, will lead a session on integrating with its Nest line of products. Another forthcoming workshop taught by packaging company Arka will focus on Black Friday/Cyber Monday package design.

 inline image

Kanwar says in this crowded retail environment--and particularly this holiday season--Shopify will be focused on educating entrepreneurs who come into the space on two big tasks: creating engaging in-person experiences for customers, and using social platforms like Instagram and Pinterest to build a brand and eventually drive sales.

"These days it's about being more agnostic as to when [a sale] happens and focusing first on educating customers and building a community," he says.

Shopify appears to be following its own advice in its brick-and-mortar space. Although it's a place where entrepreneurs can of course pay for Shopify software and hardware like credit card readers, the light-filled shop is designed to look and feel more like a co-working space. In one corner, wooden benches stacked amphitheater-style face a large screen--that's where the workshops will happen. Rows of tables offer workstations with large-screen Mac desktops (and Android tablets stuffed in the drawers). A lounge area is furnished with a plush velvet couch and leafy plants spilling out of large ceramics, all made by Shopify merchants. Each item is discreetly tagged with QR codes--scan it with your phone and you can immediately buy the item online. 

Kanwar says the storefront is an investment and not intended to be a revenue-generator but adds, "when merchants experience growth, we do too." 

Shopify chose Los Angeles because it's home to 10,000 merchants already using its software, 400 of whom each pull in more than $1 million a year in sales. The shop occupies a central storefront in ROW DTLA, an historic warehouse and market district featuring trendy retail brands, pop-up shops, restaurants, food trucks, and creative office space. More than half of the ROW's merchants also use Shopify for their point-of-sale software.

Kanwar says there are no confirmed plans to open additional Shopify spaces elsewhere.

"We want to learn and grow," he says.