Frank and Oak 2.0 Opens Vancouver Flagship Store with Plans for Further Expansion: CEO Interview

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Retailer Frank And Oak has opened its new Kitsilano flagship store –  the largest store yet for the retailer and part of a growth strategy initiated by the brand’s new leadership team.

The growth efforts are ramping up towards the end of 2021, with the first Frank And Oak store outside of North America now open in China with more plans for global expansion in 2022.

“A flagship for us means space – a 3,600-square-foot store, where typically stores are between 1,200 and 2,200. So every SKU and design – a full lifestyle collection – is in that store,” said Dustin Jones, Frank And Oak’s President and CEO of Unified Commerce Group.

Frank and Oak Kitsilano Flagship
Frank and Oak Kitsilano Flagship (Image: Suzanne Rushton

“That space. That area of Kitsilano is a Fifth Avenue of Vancouver for lack of a better term. We generally don’t put our stores in those locations. Most of our stores are not in the highest traffic centre locations. We have a lot of boutiques that do really well and they’re almost hidden gems to a certain degree.

“So putting ourselves that visible on a main street location in that size of space is part of that. In terms of demographics, we’re a digitally native company, so we collect and gather and analyze a lot of data and that area was the third largest zip code of our digital customer base.”

Unified Commerce Group acquired Frank and Oak in October 2020 after the retailer went through the bankruptcy protection process last year.

Frank and Oak will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2022. Currently, the brand has 15 locations. There are 12 locations in Canada.

Frank and Oak Kitsilano Flagship
Frank and Oak Kitsilano Flagship (Image: Suzanne Rushton

“Like most companies we were impacted greatly by COVID and used the period of COVID to pivot the foundation of the corporate strategy. We were predominantly pre-COVID a subscription based company with retail outlets and today through COVID we made a full transition away from subscription to a fully integrated omni channel retail model. A complete investment in new systems and capabilities, a complete investment in talents that we brought in to upgrade and move the brand forward,” said Jones.

“Frank and Oak is one of the leaders worldwide in sustainability. We had to during COVID make adjustments so that we could broaden the reach of consumers. And so going to a fully integrated omni channel retail model will allow us to expand more efficiently in North America and more efficiently in Asia and it will allow us to connect with the consumer on our reason for being – a full lifestyle brand dedicated to material science and changing the fashion industry towards a circular based economy.”

Jones said the retail expansion in Canada will be measured. The company will optimize Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto as it can. The retailer also has some outlying opportunities in places like Edmonton, Calgary that it’s closely studying today.

“Most of our focus in Canada is our digital growth complemented with physical hubs where we can now do fully integrated fulfillment, we can be closer to customers, more sustainable. But we have a very, very large growth plate . . . We’ll grow digital two to one,” he said.

Frank and Oak Kitsilano Flagship
Frank and Oak Kitsilano Flagship (Image: Suzanne Rushton

“Our focus for the global scale is going to be the United States and China. We have a significant amount of data that shows particularly in Toronto and Vancouver, there’s a large Canadian born Chinese customer that’s been wearing Frank and Oak, that loves Frank and Oak and is promoting Frank and Oak in China without the brand being in China. And so the founder of Frank and Oak is originally from Beijing. So there’s some natural roots there.

“And China is moving very, very quickly towards a conscious consumption economy . . . The timing for us is really well done for us to expand in that market. And the United States is 30 per cent of our business, we’ve just never gone after it. Most of that business is a digital consumer that’s buying across border and paying more for it. We opened our first location in Soho, a boutique. We opened a second location in Chicago in October. We plan to crawl before we walk and walk before we run. But we have high expectations for the US and China. The North American market and the China market that’s over 65 per cent of total retail consumption. Before we try other markets, we’re going to make sure we get these two right.”

Unified Commerce Group was officially launched in September 2019. Jones is a lifetime retailer with expertise in digitization. He has spent his entire retail career, just over 20 years, digitizing different areas of retail. His first 14 years was spent building and building Macy’s omnichannel. Then he moved to China for about five years working with the Alibaba group and a fashion portfolio group which owned 26 fashion brands.

Unified Commerce Group was founded by Jones and Wall Street veteran Greg Freihofner to build a portfolio of purpose-driven brands that connect with consumers on a global scale, and in the world’s most dynamic markets. The company has headquarters in New York, Montreal and China.

Dustin Jones & Greg Freihofner (Image: Frank and Oak)

“Our entire company is now doggedly focused on how we’re innovating in this industry, how we become the Tesla of the fashion industry in terms of the way we’re attacking the second most polluting industry globally. We’ve launched new product innovation this fall which were highlights of what we’re doing and what we’ve invested in as a business,” said Jones.

“From my perspective, our growth is a function of our ability to create impact in this industry and our ability to pioneer and lead the way for the rest of the industry to come along. We’re happy to share how we make our products, we’re happy to share the factories where they’re made. We know that from a market share perspective we’re a small company and it’s going to take really large companies to make a difference in utilizing the products and the materials that we’re building and in more mass production ways.

“It’s Walmart and Macy’s and Costco and Target and Simons and others, Zara, that have the largest material impact. So our focus is doing the innovation work that we’re doing and not holding that proprietary but giving people the chance to take that and build from that and we’ll continue to innovate.”

Jeff Berkowitz of Aurora Realty Consultants negotiated the Frank and Oak lease deal on behalf of the retailer.

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior National Business Journalist with Retail Insider in addition to working on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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