Founded by five like-minded guys in Austin, Stag is setting the pace.
Austin is unique. South Congress Avenue, once dangerous and rife with crime, is more unique still. Evolution over the last 10 years has transformed the neighborhood into an eclectic center of youth and creativity, akin to Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York, or Shoreditch in London. Corporate stores and chain restaurants that rule the roost along the asphalt-paved strip malls that litter the state are almost eerily absent, so accustomed are we to seeing their brightly lit blazons. And here, among the small boutiques and family-owned businesses, next door to favorite neighborhood hangout Home Slice Pizza, a menswear store only three years young has already attained worldwide recognition.“It really was kismet,” says one of the store’s five founders, Steve Shuck. “My partner Robert and I had looked at several business opportunities when we moved to Austin, and a menswear store was one of those. We were talking with some friends who said they would like to get involved, and we started the process.”
They weren’t going into this blind though. With 16 years under his belt in store operations at Gap, Shuck had significant experience in apparel retail. “Gap was a very different level of retail and a very different job. I wasn’t on the merchandising side of things, I had a lot of exposure to it, but it wasn’t where I spent my day. I was looking to do something smaller and more personal. I learned a lot from a really great company but wanted to do something of my own, and Austin is such an entrepreneurial place to do that.”
Robert Johns was no stranger to retail either, joining Whole Foods (founded in Austin) when the fledgling company had only 100 or so employees, and working across America in new markets throughout his 14-year tenure. But the real catalyst was an empty niche. Shuck explains, “None of us liked any of the options in Austin, and Austin’s a great town, it’s a young town, and as small as it is it’s still so sophisticated because you get so many transplants from New York, San Francisco, all people who’ve adopted Austin as their new hometown.”
As the brainstorming progressed, the friends met Don Weir, who was working on a similar idea, and finally, when one of their prospective competitors shuttered menswear operations to focus on its women’s business, the niche grew too big to ignore. The friends folded Weir into the mix, and together they launched their store.
Three years later, the fashion world is paying attention, and the store is doing brisk business. While announcing specific expansion plans would be premature, it is something the group has discussed, says Shuck. “We think we have a broad enough concept, and a broad customer base; the brand is really transferable, and we can tweak it as we enter different markets to evolve the brand without losing the core of what we are and what we stand for.”
E-commerce is also an area of growth, and while the bulk of their business is still brick and morter, due in part to heavy street traffic, limited buys, and some non-compete vendor clauses for online retailing, there is a steady increase. Online sales may also affect expansion plans in a less direct way, says Shuck. “Online orders really give us a way to gauge where the interest is. We see some very definite patterns which allow us to narrow our focus for where we might want to put a brick-and-mortar store next.” And while plans are far from fixed, the success of Stag and the team behind that success seem set to take the brand a long way beyond its boutique roots.
Stag at a glance
- Established in 2009 by Ted Allen, Robert Johns, Joel Mozersky, Steve Shuck and Don Weir
- Location: Austin, Texas
- Size: 2,400 sq. ft.
- Ratio: 100% men’s
- Assortment: 100% branded
- Category breakdown: 68% sportswear, 12% accessories, 10% clothing, 10% denim
- Top vendors: Barque, Burkman Bros, Hamilton Shirt Co., Imogene + Willie, Jack Spade, Life After Denim, Red Wing, RRL, Saturdays, Save Khaki
- Clientele: “Austin is pretty laid back when it comes to celebrity culture (which is why so many celebrities make it home), but the Black Keys, Arcade Fire and Radiohead all stop by when they’re in town. They haven’t made any public endorsements, but they’re repeat customers, so we’ll take that as endorsement.” —Steve Shuck