The power of omnichannel retailing is well documented: even primarily DTC companies are realizing that they can benefit from flagship stores to enable brand discovery and build loyalty among customers in high-profile cities. However, running even one store adds a complicated layer to overall operations, from staffing to stocking, which is why specialty apparel company Collars & Co. looked for a partner when it opened its first physical location in May.
The retailer, which specializes in polo shirts with collars that are comfortable and look good even when worn under a sweater, got its start as a side hustle dreamed up by Founder and CEO Justin Baer. He created a TikTok to advertise his idea and made $40,000 in sales during the first month with just one style in one color. The brand has since appeared on Shark Tank and grown to offer a range of 170 shirts, pants and other products available through both DTC and wholesale channels — and in the process, it outgrew its pure-play ecommerce roots.
“We drive most of our traffic with digital media, but digital media cost for acquisitions is going up and we’re getting to a point where we feel like we need to be omnichannel,” said Baer in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “We’ve always wanted to test out a retail location. We know there’s a lot of our consumers that don’t shop online and that aren’t on Facebook, Instagram or TikTok that would love our shirts and love to experience the brand, experience the colors and see the difference.”
Collars & Co. was already a well-established brand online — it’s currently on its third warehouse, a 20,000-square-foot space near Bethesda, Md. — but the jump from digital commerce to brick-and-mortar operations is a daunting one., so the company partnered with Retail-as-a-Service solution provider Leap for its inaugural store. The company handles the day-to-day operations of the physical store, from staffing to POS, to help digital retailers dip their toes into physical stores with less hassle.
Two Data Sets Together Determine the Perfect Store Location
Leap worked with Collars & Co. as it waited to find the right location within the solution provider’s real estate portfolio, ultimately choosing a shop off Michigan Avenue in Chicago. The location was in a city where Collars & Co. has an established fan base, and Baer noted that the brand identifies with Nordstrom customers — making a location near an existing Nordstrom the perfect place to attract shoppers who would be natural Collars & Co. fans but who just hadn’t discovered the brand yet.
Unlike some DTC-turned-omnichannel companies, Collars & Co. wanted to have stock available in-store to let shoppers try items on and experience the look firsthand, as try-ons are an important part of the in-person experience. This meant that locations designed primarily as showrooms for digital orders wouldn’t meet its needs.
“What you wear is important, and what you wear matters, so we want to make it easy for guys to come in there and look great, but feel comfortable as well,” said Baer.
The process took about a year, during which time Collars & Co. and Leap worked together to dig through their respective data to determine that optimal location.
“We have 105 stores that are up and running across 11 markets,” said Amish Tolia, Co-founder and Co-CEO of Leap in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “Across those stores, we have a lot of hyperlocal intelligence that gives us a good sense for shoppers’ behavior. Who is shopping? What are they shopping for? How much are they spending? Where are they coming from? What are they buying, and what are they not buying? That data gives [us] an informed perspective around what the local consumer is doing in a particular market, and we’re able to use that information with prospective brands’ ecommerce data.”
Once the location was determined, Collars & Co. worked quickly to get the store up and running. The retailer’s average customer is a male between the ages of 30 and 65, with a large percentage being fathers, which made launching in time for Father’s Day important. While the companies spent months waiting for the perfect site, it only took about 90 days to get the store operational once that site was found.
“From day one we were just perfectly aligned,” said Baer. “We both understood the mission of the brand, the mission of the store and the design and aesthetic of it. It was pretty flawless. We were running full speed pretty quickly with their design team and their visual merchandising team.”