While we were in LA for Shop.org this year, we checked out retailers that were off the usual track around Melrose and and Abbott Kinney, opting instead to check out La Brea and DTLA. Here are the top 5 stores we found interesting.

Shinola, Arts District
825 E 3rd St, Los Angeles

As a brand that’s strongly driven by a purpose to redefine the American manufacturing sector and bring back a sense of pride and future to Detroit, we were keen to see how this brand purpose translated into its physical stores. On entering a Shinola store (we visited a few), the first thing you notice is the clinical precision of the visual merchandising, and how welcoming the space is. The welcoming feeling is added to by the staff saying hello and offering you some house-made cola to sip on while you browse.

After a while it was clear that strong visuals aside, what really brought the purpose to life was how the people in store spoke to you and how they spoke about their brand – as if it was their own, and with extensive knowledge about the craftsmanship that goes into each product. You get ‘wow’ feels from just walking around the store yourself, but you really form a connection with the brand when you talk to someone – Shinola clearly understand the role physical stores still have in brand building that can’t be replicated online.

Image: Monogramming is offered as a complimentary service and showcased where customers can see it being done in store.

Sandast, DTLA
1205 S Hill St, Los Angeles

If you’ve never seen ‘art’ and ‘store’ done well together then you need to see this store! A true testament to using all the five senses to create the ultimate retail experience, this local brand really nailed it. Walking in, you get the sense that it’s actually more of art gallery than a store and the artworks are the leather goods so elegantly crafted in the workshop next door.

As you browse to a Mozart symphony mixed in with the sounds of the workshop, the smell and feel of quality leather draw you deeper into the store to see what other fine pieces you’ll want to take home. There’s very little written communication around the store except for the product tags which play a supporting role to the very strong visual displays that exhibit the high quality workmanship.

Founder Chris Pak was kind enough to take us into his workshop and talk us through how each piece of leather is individually distressed before being made into a unique piece that gets richer with time. Personalisation is also key at Sandast, and you can just feel Chris’ passion for making pieces that he and his customers treasure. For Chris, “I love the gifting part of what I do because when customers come in to collect their items you can just see the excitement on their faces and you really feel it”. That’s certainly something you can say about how this brand expresses itself throughout the whole store, you can really feel it.

Acne Studios, Eastern Columbia Building, DTLA
855 S Broadway, Los Angeles

Swedish fashion brand famous for doing things a little differently, greets you at the entrance with an art installation that is a three-in-one mushroom sculpture “Giant Triple Mushroom” by Belgian artist Carsten Holler. It sets an appropriate scene for what the rest of the store is like, which is definitely a little different!

The 460 sqm store is segmented into small alcoves that host their own little stories amongst steel fixtures which make your feel like you’re in someone’s industrial walk-in wardrobe. The fluorescent lighting effect makes it feel very edgy and futuristic, at the same time making a dramatic showcase for the collection.

Next door is a full service cafe, busy in the middle of the weekday and very on point, complete with $10 hand crafted organic local kombucha and little succulents on every table.

Sake, La Brea
114 South La Brea Ave, Los Angeles

Local LA skate brand, Sake is a one store wonder that also doubles as a concert venue hosting emerging talent. The store oozes attitude before you even go in with an angry snowman on the door. Sake is a store that definitely knows who its audience is and could care less if you don’t like it.

Anthropologie, The Grove
6301 W 3rd St, Los Angeles

This store was a really great example of successful visual merchandising in stories that runs across product categories. Whilst quite a large store, it was nicely laid out in sections with their own distinct looks that encouraged exploration and discovery. The artwork on the walls added to the artisan feel of the product and it seemed there was a different candle fragrance wafting through each section, taking you to another subconscious world each time.