Starting an online-only retail business provides a number of advantages: Lower startup costs, lower fixed costs, a chance to test a variety of product and marketing strategies, etc.

That's why many brick-and-mortar retailers have reduced or even eliminated physical locations and shifted to online-only channels.

But some startups actually do the reverse. They add brick-and-mortar locations to their already-thriving business models.

Prime example: Brian Berger, the CEO and co-founder of Mack Weldon, makers of my favorite polo shirts and (although it feels odd to write) my favorite underwear. (I've written about Mack Weldon before, both here and here.) They offer hundreds of items of men's clothing, including socks, T-shirts, bathing suits, active wear, and accessories. 

Now Mack Weldon has opened the brand's first brick-and-mortar location at 20 Hudson Yards in NYC. Hudson Yards is a $25 billion renovation project that will include residential and commercial buildings, parks, and a new school.

All of which makes it a great time to talk to Brian about the next phase in the evolution of the Mack Weldon brand.

Clearly, the brand is thriving: You've sold millions of units and enjoyed triple-digit sales gains every year since its launch. So: Why shift into a completely new channel?

That's a fair question. At the beginning we embraced a digital strategy. The decision to build a store had to fit within an overall strategic framework.

The key is to not just follow a herd, to not just decide to do something new, but to think strategically. Maybe you're trying to offset an aspect of your digital business that you can accomplish more strategically in a store -- like if you sell eyeglasses, say, or if your return rate is extremely high and a storefront would streamline those operations.

For us, opening a store is strategically relevant. Our goal is to not just complement and improve efficiency, but to accomplish a lot more. 

Like?

The store has three basic purposes. The first and most obvious is commercial: In a reasonable period of time we expect the store to be economically viable and self-sufficient. 

The second is from a brand perspective -- we see this as a great opportunity to amplify the Mack Weldon brand and product story beyond what we can accomplish online.

The third is to take advantage of hyper-local activation and all the opportunities we'll have to engage with the community of businesses, residences, and other brands located in and around Hudson Yards. Beyond foot traffic, we'll be able to interact with some of the big brands nearby, with some of their employees.

So, in effect, there's an incubator aspect to it: You can build relationships with brands both in and outside of your industry. 

Compared to some of the businesses in the area, we're tiny. Some are huge. But everyone has bought into the philosophy of building a business community here: Building a next-generation retail, commercial, and residential experience. 

This won't just be where you work. It will be where you shop, where you work out, where you eat. We get to help create a fully-immersive experience, and that really resonated with our own perspective and philosophy.

Setting up a physical location requires a very different skill set than selling online. How did you bridge that gap? 

You're right. Picking a location, negotiating a real estate lease, hiring staff, training staff, building out the customer experience, planning activations. It took us well beyond our core operations. This was a pretty distinct kind of project compared to everything else we've done. At times, it seemed overwhelming.

But that's the thing about entrepreneurship. Being an entrepreneur prepares you to be overwhelmed. [Laughs.]

You often stare into uncharted water where you have no experience. But over time you build a collective set of experiences that make you comfortable with the unknown. It's like not knowing how to do something, or how it will turn out, is normal. [Laughs.]

The confidence that comes from having done something you didn't think you could do definitely makes it easier to jump into the unknown the next time.

There is a certain degree of muscle memory involved. [Laughs.]

Sometimes it's like you're firing on all cylinders. Things are happening. Everything just flows. 

Other you're grinding it out: Acquiring new customers, creating loyal customers, launching new products, just trying to do things right, each and every day. And then one day something big happens and you realize all that work paid off.

This will be one of those moments for us. The narrative it will create for the brand will be huge. 

So it has been exhausting, but it's a lot easier when you truly believe in what you're doing. And we definitely believe in what we're doing -- we're sure the impact of the store will be exponentially greater than the 850-square feet it lives in. 

Published on: Mar 15, 2019
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