Q&A with Kai D. on His New Retail Store in Williamsburg
"Buy less, but better." That's one of the guiding principles of Kai D., a Brooklyn-based menswear label that makes apparel that's built to last for today's modern artisan. With a focus on durable coats and jackets, comfortable pants and shirts to live and work in, the brand is hitting the mark with creative types and those immersed with their trade.
This past holiday season, he opened up his first store in Williamsburg. With a range of lifestyle products and his namesake label thoughtfully merchandised throughout, he has translated his utilitarian aesthetic into a retail space that's winning over Brooklyn locals and the international crowd that makes their way into the borough to experience the neighborhood.
We sat down with Kai to learn more about the store and hear what it's like to now be a shop owner.
Why did you want to open a store?
I feel it's important to create and control the total brand experience from concept, to merchandising to informing product features/details, to customer service at a more personal level. As a customer myself, I know how frustrating it is to go into a cluttered store with no point of view and getting no help from the salespeople. I want our customers to be completely satisfied and impressed from the minute they walk into my shop.
What are some of the new learnings of being open for a little over two months?
The biggest learning is that almost everyone expresses the importance of making products locally. More than half of them asked about the country of origin. They like the idea that we are also 'makers' of our products. I also learned that the customers are extremely savvy. They appreciate great materials and details and very very critical of the fit.
What’s been the biggest challenge with the store?
To be able to offer complete size range from small to double extra large.
Can you talk about some of the things you do to offer a good customer experience?
We offer free hemming and alterations (adjust sleeve length and bottom opening of pants). Since I am the designer of the clothes, I know every single garment and how it fits so I am able to efficiently help our customers with style suggestions and fit suggestions.
What have you learned about merchandising?
Our windows draw a lot of customers into the shop. I would say presentation of merchandise is extremely critical as the attention span of the customer is usually very short. If they are not impressed with general presentation, they usually won't spend time checking the product. Another important thing that I learned is the 'art' of pricing and to carefully adjust pricing without spoiling the customer to expect markdowns.
How does it feel to be on the sales for selling in addition to designing?
In the beginning it was a little uncomfortable for me as I will need to hear both the positive and negative feedback directly from the customers. However, it has helped me tremendously to help customers, learn about their needs / body types as well as their thought processes.
How does it feel to be a buyer?
I love being a buyer! It's definitely a change that I am very happy with. All of a sudden I have a wider selection of brands / products to choose from without worrying about all the production limitations. To be a smart buyer, I have to think about seasonality, prices, budget, merchandising, and stock level and I am still learning. I want Kai D. to be a multi brand lifestyle store.
Can you provide some tips for someone pitching you now that you are buying?
I would say number one is to know your customers! It's hard to be a brand and satisfy all the customers so being a designer is to identify a group of customers and get to know everything about their lifestyles and their needs, their body types, and their price sensitivity. Also it's better to do one thing extremely well and be known for than to do too many categories in the beginning.
What would you say/advice to someone that wanted to open up a store or a long-term pop-up?
Learn more about the local customers. Ask around the shops in the neighborhood. Invest in fixing up the store front to be inviting. Have a unique and cohesive concept for the store. Be smart at pricing. Spend time with the customers (they are your best resource for everything you need to know).
How did you translate your aesthetic into the store?
I have always been very particular about my work environment. Every single office / showroom I had, I transformed the space into my aesthetics from the consistent color scheme (grey/white/brown/black), to the utilitarian furniture and shelving, to the music and the scent of candles. My signature touch is my big inspiration rigging board that I set up in my shop to show the concept of my collection.
Has the store helped your online business?
We see an increase of traffic but it hasn't translated into increase of sales yet. We haven't had time to reflect the multi-brand merchandise into our website.
What are some of your best sellers and signatures?
The best sellers are all our jackets from the unconstructed blazers (Porter Jacket), to the Explorer's Parka, the Crombie Coats, and the Marlon Buffalo Plaid work jacket (just to name a few). Our shirts and pants are also doing very well. The grooming products from Brooklyn Grooming, candles from P.F. Candles, and gloves from Lee Parks are best selling accessories.
We are bringing in other brands that compliment our Kai D. Collection into the shop. My designer partner, Hye Sun Mun, is creating a small women’s collection to be introduced in middle of March. We are developing more accessories (iPad case, stationery, scarves).
Learn more at Kai D.
Visit the store at 230 Grand St, New York, NY 11211 (Brooklyn) Hours: Tue - Fri: 1 - 7pm. Sat: 12 -7pm, Sun: 12-6pm. Mondays: closed [googlemap width="620" height="340" src=https://maps.google.com/maps?q=Kai+D.+Utility&ll=40.715794,-73.959489&spn=0.008311,0.017402&client=safari&oe=UTF-8&fb=1&gl=us&hq=Kai+D+store&hnear=0x89c24fa5d33f083b:0xc80b8f06e177fe62,New+York,+NY&cid=18334430560713222064&t=m&z=16&iwloc=A]
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