For centuries shopping meant one thing: shopping. But now a new generation of menswear shops are asking: Why not add booze to the equation?
"Offering guys a drink takes the edge off," says Brian Trunzo, co-founder of Carson Street Clothiers. "It lets people feel comfortable, like they're in a non-confrontational environment."
Since it opened in March 2013, the Manhattan store has had a dry bar that includes shelves of drinking glasses, a large mini-fridge, and a rotating selection of craft beers and liquors for salespeople to offer to customers.
"Hospitality's the best word for it," Trunzo says. "People treating people right. "And it's impossible to have a beer like that while shopping online, so think of it as a reward for leaving the house to go shopping." __
Serve Local Libations and Make It Masculine
Alton Lane stores across the country stock alcohol specific to the area—Dallas patrons can look forward to TX Whiskey, and Bostonian customers sip a seasonal Sam Adams while watching games on a large flatscreen from the comfort of a custom leather couch or a secret poker room in back.
"Our goal is the re-masculinization of shopping," CEO and co-founder Colin Hunter says. "When we analyzed why most guys hated shopping, it wasn't the clothing, it was the experience—the retail stores with the fluorescent lights and all the people. Most guys can relate to the concept of the home bar. It's a comfortable environment. And if you're comfortable, you're going to buy more."
The long-term payoff is that, even if someone buys nothing on his first, second, or third visit, when he does decide it's time to get a new shirt or jacket, he's going think fondly of Alton Lane when he considers where to go, Hunter says.
"The relationship is the most important thing for us," he says. "We encourage them to come by and stop in and just say hello, or watch the game. We want to be a place you'd want to come in with your friends on a Thursday or Friday night."
Men notice the extra effort you go to make them feel at home, says David Coggins, editorial director for Freeman's Sporting Club in Manhattan's Lower East Side, where staff are known to break out a bottle of Scotch to share with customers.
"They feel comfortable enough to take their time—they're not being dragged there against their will," Coggins says. "They get to sit down and relax, and drinking goes along with that. I think men appreciate that."
Of course, serving alcohol at a men's shop has its complications. Stores have to be careful about not offering to the underage. Most places won't charge, partially because it violates the sense of welcome they're striving for in the first place, but also because selling beer or liquor means running afoul of local licensing regulations. (Hunter said it was more akin to the free wine and beer at a museum or gallery event.) __
When to Bust Out the Bottles
Perhaps the hardest part of offering boozy shopping is knowing when it's appropriate to crack open a bottle—something that requires staff with a strong ability to read the room.
"It does seem a little sales-y to start offering people drinks as soon as they walk through the door," Trunzo says. "So it's really up to the subjective feelings of the sales associates."
Alton Lane typically offers drinks only to customers who've made an appointment. At Freeman's, on the other hand, it's more about the time of day and feeling on the street.
"If it's 7 o'clock and there's a couple of guys in there, we'll just do what's natural and have a drink all around," Coggins says. "They don't even have to buy anything, it's just neighborly."
And then there's knowing when enough is enough. Trunzo, Coggins, and Hunter say that's rarely, if ever, an issue.
"We've actually never had to use the rule for cutting people off," Hunter says. "It's as if you're coming into our living room. We're not a bar."
But M. Lang, in Cleveland, now is.
When the city's Theater District lobbied to make more liquor licenses available in the neighborhood a few years ago to attract more nightlife, shop owner Michael Lang ponied up the $3,844 and put in a full bar in the middle of the 25-year-old store, which focuses on tuxedos and executive attire. Now customers share beers at the counter, or while considering their options in shoes and waistcoats. The awning outside now reads, "M. Lang Clothing & Cocktails."
"Does my license allow me to be a rock star or LeBron James?" Lang joked. "Possibly, yes. But I can't party like a rap star like I used to."
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