WWD Digital Daily
Collars & Co. to Open First Retail Store in Chicago
● The "Shark Tank"-featured brand is expanding its product line and seeing growing sales.
When it comes to shirts, Collars & Co. founder Justin Baer came up with an idea novel enough to attract the attention of the judges on "Shark Tank." When he appeared on the program last November and unveiled his Dress Collar Polo — a traditional polo shirt with a firm English spread collar — he snagged a $300,000 investment and $700,000 line of credit from Mark Cuban and guest Peter Jones.
Baer's idea for Collars & Co. came about because the entrepreneur hated wearing dress shirts under a sweater or jacket. The bulkiness made him sweat and required frequent visits to the dry cleaner, leading him to look for an alternative.
He much preferred a polo, but it had to look professional. So he developed the Dress Collar Polo, produced 300 shirts and was convinced by his daughter to introduce it on TikTok. The shirts, which currently retail for $69 or $79, sold out in one day.
Fast-forward to today and Baer's company has sales of $25 million and a product assortment that has expanded to sweaters, button-down shirts, outerwear, accessories and even a small women's collection. Pants will be offered shortly as well.
And now, Collars & Co. will be opening its first permanent brick-and-mortar retail store in Chicago in early June. The 1,064-squarefoot store at the North Bridge mall will be located right outside of the Nordstrom anchor store in the center on Michigan Avenue. The store will be operated by Leap, a company that finds locations, staffs and runs retail stores for brands seeking to get into the brick-and-mortar space.
“In the past year, we've grown from around 30 or 40 styles to 150 in non-core categories,” Baer said. And while not every piece features the patented Dress Collar, the items are designed to complement the polos, which remain the heart of the business.
But the collar is featured on the Quattro Flex performance dress shirts, which have also garnered a lot of fans since their introduction. Baer said that most other performance shirts features “stretchy material” whose collars drop “like a `70s disco collar.”
But by using the Dress Collar technology, Collars & Co.'s shirts retain their shape.
As Collar & Co.'s assortment expanded and the acquisition costs of finding customers as a direct-to-consumer brand increased, Baer knew it was time to take the plunge into retail.
“As an online business, we're seeing rising acquisition costs in online marketing,” he said. Shipping costs have also risen and there are increasing privacy concerns when it comes to digital advertising. “We're still driving the majority of our business through Facebook and Instagram, but we're always looking to find new customers and channels,” Baer said.
In addition, having a physical store allows customers to touch and feel the products and try them on to make sure they fit. And the store will also allow the company to test and get feedback on new products and innovations.
He started having conversations with Leap six months ago and together, they found a space they believe will be successful for the brand.
Baer said they chose Chicago for the first retail store because when they analyzed the customer data, they saw that the New York metropolitan area and Chicago were Collar & Co.'s largest markets.
“The opportunity popped up and we jumped on it,” Baer said. The store has a bank of windows that will allow the brand to showcase its offering, and its location next to Nordstrom is a bonus.
“We align well with the Nordstrom customer,” he said, adding that Collars & Co. attracts a “slightly older” man.
Baer said Collars & Co. had tested the retail waters with a pop-up at the Galleria at Tysons Corner in Virginia last November, and was pleased with the results. But when it came to a permanent store, he decided to go with the experts.
Amish Tolia, cofounder and co-chief executive officer of Leap, founded the business in 2018 with fellow entrepreneur Jared Golden with $3 million in seed money from Costanoa Ventures, Equal Ventures and Brand Foundry Ventures. Right before the pandemic shutdown, it secured another $15 million in series A funding that it used to develop its technology, beef up its team and add brands and stores to its footprint. And last January, it secured $50 million in series B financing.
Once a brand signs on to work with the company, Leap finds a location, rents it, hires the employees, installs the point-ofsale systems, and partners with the brand to build a distinct retail experience. Once the store is up and operating, Leap takes a performance-based percentage of sales as its fee, he said.
Tolia said the company now operates 105 retail stores across the country for more than 60 brands including Mack Weldon, Hanky Panky, Malbon Golf, Naadam, Goodlife and Something Navy. Although its largest market is New York, Leap operates 12 stores in Chicago as well as a corporate office.
Baer said if the Chicago store is as successful as he expects, Collars & Co. will look for additional locations, with New York City first on the list. Since his customer is “a working guy,” major metropolitan areas are where the brand does best.
Collars & Co.'s move into brick-andmortar follows the path of other directto-consumer brands that realize physical retail is a necessary tool for growth.
“Retail hasn't gone anywhere, it's just transformed,” Tolia said. “Direct-toconsumer is not going anywhere, but people still want to experience a brand in person.” And in fact, the multichannel shopper has a much higher spend ratio, he said, especially when it comes to premium soft goods. And by offering d-to-c, physical retail and wholesale, it allows brands to have “all the chips on the table.”
Baer agreed, saying that Collars & Co. is also beginning to test the wholesale waters. “We're just starting, but we're getting inquiries from boutiques and golf pro shops,” he said.
The brand had previously worked with former pro golfer and broadcaster Nick Faldo, and now counts Tiki Barber as an ambassador.