If the ancient Chinese philosophy of “yin and yang” were embodied into a business entity, it might just take the form of Apricot Lane Boutique. Since 2007, the national retailer has quickly spread into wardrobes employing a strategy unheard of in the fashion world – a national retailer with a local boutique concept using a franchise model.
Founded by Ken Petersen, Tom Brady and Scott Jacobs, Apricot Lane veers from traditional retail models, but the trio of partners is proving it works.
“As we looked into this industry, we saw it was made up of national retail chains and smaller mom and pop boutiques around the country,” Petersen explains. “If we could take the infrastructure of a franchise and extend it into fashion, we could support the boutiques to act and react like a national chain. We saw a large hole of unchartered territory that our 20 years of franchise experience could fill.”
With 64 stores open to date, 14 stores in the planning stage and a total of 40 additional stores projected to open by the end of 2012 as well as an e-commerce site in development, Apricot Lane has made quick work of filling that gap. As it moves into 2013, Apricot Lane will be available in 29 states.
It also has won celebrity approval. Television personality Whitney Port, and creator of the fashion label Whitney Eve, announced a new line sold exclusively through Apricot Lane, WE by Whitney Eve. It will be available this April.
Lilliana Vazquez, founder of CheapChicas Guide to Style, also is adding credibility to Apricot Lane’s fashion sense. Seen on E!, and Today Show, Vazquez will appear at Apricot Lane grand openings and tag her “style picks” at various price points.
Melding Two Worlds
So, how did the barely 5-year-old company reach its fast success? By combining a corporate setup and boutique concept, the stores are essentially local businesses backed by a strong corporate team. Each location carries a signature mix of well-known brands such as Miss Me, Free People, TOMS Shoes, Harper, Vintage Havana and Rock Revival and lesser-known-yet-trendy brands. The franchisees select the merchandise to ensure the clothing and accessories of individual stores appeal to the tastes of the area’s women – specifically in the 25 to 40 age range.
They also operate on a motto displayed in each location. “If you see it buy it, because it won’t be here next week,” Petersen says. Stocking limited quantities of each item keeps the merchandise fresh.
This successful model has won consumer and industry praise. The International Council of Shopping Centers named Apricot Lane 2008’s Hottest Retailer for Fashion, making it impossible to ignore and garnering interest from international entities. Disney approached Apricot Lane to open two corporate-owned stores in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and Downtown Disney in Anaheim, Calif.
“From a branding perspective, to have international customers coming to our stores every day and being introduced to our brand has been powerful,” Petersen adds. “They are two of our highest performing stores.”
Apricot Lane will soon add two more U.S.-based franchise boutiques that have international reach – one in the San Diego International Airport and another in Las Vegas’ McCarren International Airport. These high-profile stores add to an extensive portfolio of traditional mall and shopping center locations.
“We are not interested in opening a store at every street corner,” Petersen says. “For us, it’s about quality and not quantity. Much of our growth comes from existing franchisees opening more stores. We are comfortable with pacing at about 30 to 50 stores a year.”
Franchisees are given support from application to well after operation. Real estate selection, leasing negotiations, extensive training, a visit to the Los Angeles fashion district and a 90-day hands-on training program that begins at grand opening, as well as the in-house marketing department and 24/7 technical support team are available to all franchisees.
In many ways, the franchisees support the company, as well. “They bring in all their talent and skills that contribute to the betterment of the company,” Petersen says. “Many of our best ideas and solutions have come from franchisees. The fact that we are open and always learning creates a really good environment for our family of stores.”