Store of the Future   //   February 22, 2024

Rowan unveils plans to double its store count this year

Piercing studio Rowan is accelerating the expansion of its physical retail presence this year.

Rowan — which offers piercing services done by nurses — plans to open up to 30 stores across the country this year. By the end of the year, the company expects to have over 60 locations. Over the past few weeks alone, Rowan has opened new shops in cities like Chicago, Bethesda and Austin.

Rowan has experimented with a few different tactics over the years to deliver as many piercings as possible. The company was founded in 2018 initially as an at-home piercing service. But in 2019, the company switched to a brick-and-mortar model to fill the demand for physical locations and eliminate the issues caused by at-home services like sudden schedule changes. It briefly tested out a shop-in-shop concept at 300 Target locations in 2021. But, according to the company’s website, Rowan no longer offers piercings through the big-box retailer. Instead, the company is now focusing on its own standalone stores. Thanks to its investments in retail, Rowan’s sales have more than doubled year-over-year.

“This is a really needed business,” said Louisa Schneider, founder of Rowan. “The research that exists indicates that upwards of 30% of ear piercing ends in a negative outcome. That’s not terribly surprising when you look at who’s typically doing the piercing and the lack of education around it.”

In addition to offering piercing services, Rowan also sells “several hundred” SKUs, such as earrings, necklaces and piercing aftercare products. Customers that have their ears pierced at Rowan cannot bring their own earrings. Rowan has raised over $30 million in funding to-date from Kevin Durant’s Thirty Five Ventures, as well as Beechwood Capital.

Customers that come into a Rowan store can pick which earrings they want from its assortment and choose whether they want to be pierced by a hand-pressurized instrument or a needle. The company’s earrings have been tested to ensure there is little to no nickel or brass as well as allergy-inducing alloys. A nurse at Rowan walks customers through the piercing process.

When it comes to where Rowan is opening stores, the company is looking at data on how many families with children live in that area, in addition to the typical household income and education level. Rowan is opening stores in different types of locations, such as malls and lifestyle centers. It plans to open stores in places like the Mosaic District in Fairfax, The Summit at Birmingham and the Tempe Marketplace in Arizona.

The stores themselves are relatively small. Each Rowan store is roughly 900 square feet to 1,000 square feet. The stores are designed based on the state’s requirements, so some locations are required to have a private piercing room and others do not. The decoration around each store is also inspired by the city they are in. For example, Rowan’s Bethesda, Md. store integrates crab in its decor as a nod to the city’s delicacy. 

“We think we could have 1,000 locations based on the data that we’ve been able to run and analyze,” Schneider said. “We’ve intentionally opened in very different areas to understand if the brand would resonate.”

Rapid store expansions can help retailers build their brand reputation, said R.J. Hottovy, head of analytical research at He added that small format stores can also help brands keep expenses low as it generates brand awareness. 

A smaller store also means fewer workers. Rowan’s stores typically have four or five store workers during busier days of the week like Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. On less busy days, Rowan will only have around two workers in the store.

“It costs less to build, it has cheaper leases and it has cheaper operating expenses in general than a larger store format,” Hottovy said. “If they’re able to get a sufficient amount of volume of people coming into the stores, the profitability and the return generally can be pretty strong.”

Apart from its stores, Rowan has also been making strategic hires. This month, the company hired a chief marketing officer, a chief technology officer and a chief of staff.

“We’re hiring a lot as we’re growing,” Schneider said. “We’re just really, really excited with thinking through our business, which is pretty unique in that we are a service and a retail company.”