Birmingham’s Complex Latest in Pop-Up Retail

Variety Stores: Not long ago, pop-up stores were the hot new concept in retail; now there’s another retail model in store

NOT LONG AGO, POP-UP STORES were the hot new concept in retail. But there’s another retail model, one embraced by entrepreneurs Doug Schwartz and Annie LeBlanc, who created The Complex Boutique in downtown Birmingham.

The weekends-only Rust Belt Market in Ferndale is a similar version. Both allow an affordable option for small retailers and cottage industries.

Complex’s bi-level 6,000-square-foot space serves as a mini department store, of sorts, featuring eight separate boutiques under one roof.

Schwartz and LeBlanc, whose combined experience includes retail, retail buying, and real estate, began in 2007 with The Annex shop in Royal Oak, which offered unisex jewelry, accessories, and home décor.

“The Annex was our first concept store,” Schwartz says. “Now, the Annex is one of the boutiques contained within the larger Complex, which opened in November 2010.”

The Complex currently draws more than 1,000 people through the door weekly and still more via its website, Schwartz says. To help market the businesses contained in the space, Schwartz and LeBlanc publish Complex Globe, an online lifestyle magazine.

In addition to The Annex, the current assortment of Complex retailers includes The Lab (an interactive music lounge featuring gadgets and lifestyle goods), Maple (men’s apparel and accessories), Garment Society (contemporary women’s apparel), Platform (women’s shoes), Rococo (private-label women’s clothing), Mint (trendy accessories), and Parlor (unisex beauty-products).

“I modeled The Complex after Fred Segal’s stores in Los Angeles and Collette in Paris,” Schwartz says. “Each upscale boutique within it is neatly branded, high fashion, and the space is unintimidating, not overwhelming, as malls can be.”

For their next act, Schwartz and LeBlanc say they’re working on creating Complex Chicago and launching Complex private-label lifestyle product lines.