The Evolution of Couture

by Nate Hunter

Republic of Couture plans to grow rapidly by opening 10 locations annually for the next five years.

The first retail concept for Republic of Couture was founded in 2002 and has grown from a kiosk to a mini department store. Republic of Couture, or R.O.C., specializes in diversity of product selection since the company only carries six to 10 pieces per style. The company offers more than 150 designer brands including Polo Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss, Diesel, True Religion, Michael Kors and Steve Madden. Items range from men’s, women’s and children’s fashion, shoes and accessories.

Founder and CEO of Republic of Couture Gaston Garcia came to America 16 years ago with just $300 in his pocket and the American Dream to drive his ambitions. Garcia opened a kiosk at a local mall and with business partners began opening several stores in major malls around the country. Group ROC LLC, d/b/a Republic of Couture, was founded nine years ago under the trade name CW, Euro Moda. When the economy collapsed in 2008, Garcia and his partners closed several of their stores and had to readjust their business model.

“I wanted to recreate the original multi-brand concept adding value to it, which comes down to the experience part of Republic of Couture,” says Garcia. “Just selling clothes alone wouldn’t be sufficient. The economy had changed and people were not just buying jeans anymore.”

With the goal of added value in mind, Garcia created a unique environment at each R.O.C. store through ambiance, taking extra time on the build-out and décor. Driving Garcia’s mentality was the fact that many people like to shop, but they don’t enjoy the actual shopping experience. His main goal was to change that way of thinking.

While there are currently four additional stores under the name of Republic of Couture in Scottsdale, Ariz., Tampa, Fla., Yonkers, N.Y., and Las Vegas, the concept of the company was re-launched and the first Republic of Couture under the brand as it is known today opened in February in Delray Marketplace. Delray Marketplace is at the corner of West Atlantic Avenue and Lyons Road in Delray Beach, Fla. The second R.O.C. store under this new concept opened in Atlanta’s Midtown submarket at the 12th & Midtown development in May.

The shopping experience at R.O.C. is complemented with interactivity. Unlike most retailers who build an online presence as an afterthought, Republic of Couture was driven by online users.

“Customers immerse themselves in multiple experiences during their visit, which keeps them engaged and encourages them to spend more time with us,” describes Garcia.

Not only is it a fun environment in which to shop thanks to a disc jockey playing music and announcing in-store raffles for discounts, but the retailer also promotes the use of social media so customers can connect with their followers or friends while shopping. While at R.O.C., a customer can upload a picture to Facebook and dependent on the number of likes the picture receives, the discount the shopper receives increases as well.

“It’s the combination of the ambience, music and interactivity, as well as the opportunity to get likes and discounts that make the shopping experience exciting itself, rather than just the product being exciting,” says Garcia.ROC1

The environment created at the store makes shoppers want to prolong their experience. Each dressing room has been created with a different theme in mind so even the process of trying on clothes has been turned into a unique experience. The coffee lounge and video games allow everyone to take their time with their experience. Even the video games have an added benefit behind them, allowing two patrons to compete against one another for a discount for the winner. Additional in-store contests include announcements such as gift cards hidden around the store and the first people to find them get to apply them towards their purchase. Even the children’s area at the newest location in Delray Beach features a tree with lollipop leaves to keep the kids entertained while their parents may be shopping.

“The idea itself is added value to a retail store to make the shopping experience more enjoyable, unique and memorable. You come to R.O.C. because of the experience that comes with it,” explains Garcia.

While the experience may be an attraction to walk into Republic of Couture, the products are also a main draw for the company. Since the retailer only carries up to 10 pieces of each item, it creates a sense of urgency for the shopper because that product might not still be available in a week, or even the next day. This idea also allows for constant product turn over for the company and lets customers never feel like just another face in the crowd.

The diversity of the merchandise selection allows the company to cater the products to the clientele. Republic of Couture is able to create a destination according to the demographics and profile of the customer base at each of its locations.

Because of its ability to cater to its customer base, desirable demographics are crucial when opening new locations. The company also places emphasis on co-tenancy.

Garcia says landlords treat the company different because of its uniqueness that can’t be found in your typical regional mall environment.

“We find ourselves treated as a mini department store where we become more like a one-stop shop and a destination because of the divergency in the prices and the products offered.”

The company has created a partnership with developers to anchor new developments. These partners include Forest City Enterprises Inc., Glimcher Realty Trust, McCaffery Interests Inc., Poag & McEwen Lifestyle Centers and CenterCal Properties.

CenterCal Properties, along with Shea Properties and Oaktree Capital Management, are working on The Collection at Riverpark in Oxnard, Calif., where Republic of Couture has plans to open a new store. R.O.C. also has plans to open a location in Station Park in metro Salt Lake City. Both of those stores are scheduled to open in August. Additional plans include a location in Chicago’s South Loop, which should open late this year.

The company has an aggressive growth model with plans to have 50 units in the next five years. Target cities include any major metros across the country. Nothing is off limits since the company’s experiential retail model allows it to formulate its concept for any center or development type.

The average R.O.C. footprint is 8,000 square feet but that model can be adjusted dependent on the landlord’s wishes. For example, the Chicago store is nearly twice that size at 15,000 square feet.

Republic of Couture competes by providing high-brand labels to meet the increasing demand for unique products that are largely ignored outside of the country’s main fashion hubs of New York City and Los Angeles. The company has also created a successful retail model focused on offering a multitude of brands all in one space.

Most of the items the clothing retailer offers range from $10 to $70, but there is a “designer room” where merchandise ranges from $70 to upwards of $300.

“There are some other brands out there and that are just about selling products,” says Garcia. “I want it to be more than just the product. I want the shopping experience to be enjoyable so customers come back to shop rather than just clicking online.”

— Brittany Biddy

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