Last year was a brutal one for the retail sector. Nearly 7,000 stores shuttered around the country, up almost 200% from the year before. The big question this year is whether these malls and shopping districts will stay empty forever or whether new blood will flow in these retail graveyards?
We’re beginning to get answers. Case in point: The Tie Bar, a Chicago-based brand that specializes in selling high-quality menswear at reasonable prices, is investing heavily in brick-and-mortar. Last year, while many other companies were declaring bankruptcy, The Tie Bar noticed that its pop-up stores in Boston and New York were turning a profit. The company had initially envisioned these shops as a marketing tool, but has since converted them into permanent stores. And this year, it is opening new stores in Chicago and four other cities across the country, with more planned for 2019.
The Tie Bar launched in 2004 as an online-only operation. CEO Allyson Lewis explains the new stores have been a way to boost the digital experience. For instance, the company tests new shirts in stores before launching them online. It has also learned about what customers want from in-store stylists, using that data to improve the website’s “chat with a stylist” service. And importantly, The Tie Bar has a treasure trove of data that allows it to be very strategic about where to set up shop.
“We’ve discovered that men who buy both online and in-store end up being our most valuable customers,” says Lewis. “So we are carefully studying where our customers live, what they are buying, and where potential customers are located.”
All of this shows that it is much easier for a brand to start online and move into physical retail than the other way around. We’re likely to see more of this over the next few years.