5Qs: Kit and Ace Co-founder on the Brand’s Expansion in Detroit

Published July 2016, dbusiness.com

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Kit and Ace, a Vancouver-based clothing retailer that focuses on fashionable technical apparel for men and women, has expanded its presence in Detroit with a new 3,300-square-foot retail showroom that’s now open at the southwest corner of Woodward Avenue and Clifford Street. The brand, which has more than 50 showrooms across the United States, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere, previously operated a smaller test showroom in MidtownDBusiness Daily News spoke with JJ Wilson, co-founder and head of brand at Kit and Ace, on the company’s decision to expand, its involvement in the local community, and why national retailers should consider creating a presence in Detroit.

1. DDN: Why did your company decide to expand its presence in Detroit?

The approach to Detroit was that we went in with that small little pop-up (store) in Midtown and now, after a year of testing, (we) felt really confident going into Detroit in a much larger location, with a longer term lease commitment. I think that for us we look at what the sales of that branch are actually doing, we look at traffic, (and) general e-commerce demand. To coincide with that, what it ends up being is a little bit of a real estate game. We’re of course looking for the right location on the right street that has to be the right size, and we’re really trying to make sure that our second entry into the market is really a statement, and we want to do it right. Part of what occurred in Detroit is that the exact location on the corner (of Woodward and Clifford) came up, and it really is perfect.

2. DDN: What is the new store like, and why should people check it out?

We’re really trying to maintain the integrity of the building, and really what the original designer or the original design ethos of the area has put forth. One thing we definitely do, and what we did in our pop-up in (Midtown), is that we spent a lot of time working with the local community. Roughly 33 percent of all of our stores are actually designed by local furniture designers and local artists. We really do a lot of work to make sure there are some significant local elements within all of our showrooms. We have a table in all of our showrooms where we host dinners, and there’s a local light above that that’s been designed by the (Detroit-based) Nordin brothers, and we also have a cash desk light that’s also been designed by the Nordin brothers. In all of our showrooms we have a featured wall artist where we feature a local artist from the area, and we have an artist right now (in Detroit) by the name of Marlo Bro.

3. What makes Kit and Ace a good fit for the Detroit market?

We’re offering something that’s entirely new to the marketplace. It’s like an entirely new category of clothing that I think people are really interested in, and I think the types of products that we’re offering really complement the way people are living their lives. Specifically, if you look at an emerging city like Detroit where people are moving all day, every day, they’re going from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., they’re exploring the city, they’re going downtown, they’re going out of the city, they’re commuting, and really the product that we’re offering, and how we’ve combined technical with fashion that actually keeps up with your life and how you live everyday, I think is a cool thing that people are really drawn to right now.

4. What have your thoughts been since entering the Detroit market and deciding to expand?

I think Woodward Avenue in itself is really becoming something notable (for retailers). I think that we’re seeing a lot of diverse restaurants, retailers, and creative (firms) merging in that specific area. The new railway that’s coming into the Woodward Avenue area (QLINE is scheduled to open in early 2017), I think is super important to the new businesses that are coming in and how the area is developing. The new Red Wings stadium is being built, we’re seeing tons of residential development, and I think in general that hub, that area of downtown over at Woodward Avenue, is really picking up. With my experience building out retail and getting a little bit ahead of the curve, being in those type of locations as they’re developing and as you’re seeing density occur, that’s a great place to be.

5. What advice would you give to other large retailers thinking about establishing a Detroit presence?

I think it’s a perfect opportunity for anybody in Detroit. I think it’s a growing market, and I think there’s huge opportunity. I think if we looked at any city and any expansion of really a true real estate, retail destination area, that getting in now and getting in fast at the beginning is really going to add a lot of value to them, especially when lease rates are quite low. I also think that if you looked at the landscape of how people are moving in Detroit, people are moving back into the city. So you’re seeing that density, you’re seeing that real estate development occur, and if anything, once you see that density start building that also is a good find for a place to be and a place that’s going to grow, develop, and then merge even further. With the high-speed rail line coming in, more people are going to be coming to the area, you’re going to need more offerings, and you’re going to definitely need more things for people to go out and do. The social aspect and dynamic of a thriving downtown core is really just, I think, on the verge for Detroit.

Kit and Ace is open 11 a.m. Monday to Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, visitkitandace.com

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