In a yr that has consumed a few of the largest and oldest malls and pushed many retail chains to the brink, the LetterJ boutique — a single-location menswear boutique in New York Metropolis’s Chelsea gallery district — has managed to outlive and thrive the place others have failed.
In response to proprietor and retail business veteran Jason Somerfeld, who has labored in retail since he was in highschool in Lengthy Island, being small and nimble has made all of the distinction for this eight-year-old enterprise, which has an internet site and social media presence however eschews eCommerce gross sales.
“I really feel there’s an enormous benefit to being a brick-and-mortar as a result of we react with the instances instantly,” Somerfeld informed PYMNTS. “If we see a pattern occurring or one thing sudden occurs — just like the pandemic, the place all people is immediately sporting informal and we wanted to alter on a dime and regulate our inventories to fewer blazers and fewer costume shirts to extra comfy-casual — we’re in a position to try this shortly.”
The outcome, per LetterJ’s catalog-like web site, is a “casually cool males’s boutique with an industrial artisan vibe” that Somerfeld mentioned makes a speciality of hand-picked types and merchandise that buyers cannot simply discover wherever else.
Many years of Change
Wanting again on his three-plus decade profession, Somerfeld mentioned the retail enterprise is “evening and day” completely different from when he was beginning out, and that has had a “domino impact” on the business.
“Vogue has modified. Communication has modified. Editorial has modified — and all of that has had a domino impact on vogue retail,” he mentioned. “Folks used to need to go to shops to find issues and discover new issues and appears. It was enjoyable,” he added, lamenting the lack of the division retailer and brick-and-mortar shopping expertise by the hands of on-line retailing.
“That’s why we work actually exhausting to seek out exclusives and distinctive manufacturers that solely promote in a single retailer per metropolis, and it is why we journey the world to curate a unique expertise for the consumer and for the shopper,” Somerfeld defined. “So when clients come right here, in addition to providing terrific private service, we now have merchandise which can be very exhausting to seek out wherever else — and we’re additionally concerning the contact and really feel.”
In fact, that wasn’t doable through the pandemic, so when longtime city-dwelling clients discovered themselves marooned within the Hamptons or Florida for months slightly than weeks, Somerfeld — like a lot of the enterprise world — pivoted to Zoom calls to reinvent and restock their wardrobes.
Count on the Sudden
With a level from New York’s famed FIT (Vogue Institute of Know-how) and an expert background as a senior company govt at manufacturers together with Saks and Burlington, Somerfeld noticed a possibility to exit on his personal because the office-casual look was rising.
“Lots of people have been saying, ‘I haven’t got to put on fits to work anymore, however I work in finance, so how do I do that?’” he mentioned of serving the style problem that permits males to look comfy and complex on the similar time.
The place the long-lasting malls alongside Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue would purchase garments by the hundreds, it’s not unusual for Somerfeld and LetterJ to inventory simply six or eight items of a specific garment.
“With [the large retail chains and online stores], it is extra of a numbers recreation and an actual property recreation. It isn’t the place you go to seek out unbelievable stuff anymore. It is only a spreadsheet that on the finish of the day has to please the buyers,” he mentioned. “Whereas with small boutiques which can be regionally owned and operated, we actually attempt to concentrate on niche-driven markets and to supply a particular expertise.”
Not an Simple Enterprise
For individuals who have dreamed of opening their very own store, Somerfeld — who additionally taught at FIT for 5 years — has a couple of bits of recommendation: “One factor I all the time informed my college students is to positively observe your ardour, and solely go into this enterprise for those who find it irresistible, as a result of it’s extremely very exhausting work,” he mentioned, noting that his personal work goes past the shop’s 55-hour-per-week enterprise hours. “I’m within the retailer six days per week, however I like what I do. So for those who do not find it irresistible, retail is simply too tough.”
Apart from the work ethic, Somerfeld mentioned he has additionally discovered the significance of doing what works for the shop, slightly than what’s finest for himself. “There are manufacturers that I do not like shopping for from and there are individuals I do not like coping with, however on the finish of the day, it’s a must to do what’s finest for the enterprise,” he mentioned, as one instance of his front- and back-end job duties and choices.
“There are all the time issues which can be difficult and never enjoyable to do, however they’re all crucial. It takes numerous self-discipline to steadiness all of that — and fairly frankly, lots of people simply haven’t got it in them to do it,” he cautioned would-be entrepreneurs.
Briefly, Somerfeld highlighted the necessity to steadiness a mixture of nuanced traits which can be typically conflicting — such because the should be daring but additionally to be sensible — as keys to his success, together with an unwavering perception in himself.
“It isn’t the time in vogue and retail to play it secure,” he mentioned. “It’s important to take a threat and have a imaginative and prescient and be completely different and stick with it. That is what individuals respect — whether or not it is retail, a espresso store or a restaurant, individuals like one thing that is distinctive.”