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Retail Realities: Askov Finlayson in Minneapolis

Minneapolis menswear shop Askov Finlayson is thoroughly grounded in American design. The name of the store comes from a highway exit sign, indicating two neighboring towns “Askov” and “Finlayson” in Northern Minnesota, which founders Eric and Andrew Dayton passed on the way to a family cabin.

The Dayton brothers opened Askov Finlayson in 2011 to feature brands that they loved, but that weren’t available in Minneapolis at the time.

In 2013, Askov Finlayson began offering its own branded clothing, made in the USA. It started with the brand’s Explorer Pant, a tailored style made with Kurabo Mills cotton canvas and expanding to include a variety of apparel, personal care and accessories; Askov Finlayson has since become the store’s best-selling brand.

Rivet spoke with Eric Dayton, co-founder and owner of Askov Finlayson, about best-sellers in denim, building brand relationships and sustainable manufacturing.

RIVET: Who is the Minneapolis menswear customer?
Dayton: Guys here are very smart about their purchases. They don’t really chase trends, and they tend to buy for quality and value, which fits naturally with how we buy for our store. We want to offer our customers longevity, both in terms of construction and design.

RIVET: What denim brands do you stock?
Dayton: Our core denim brands are Momotaro, Japan Blue, Han Kjobenhavn and Levi’s Made & Crafted. While raw and selvedge denim continue to do well in our store, we’re seeing customers respond more to fit and comfort. I think the days of guys thinking they have to suffer for their jeans are behind us, thankfully.

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RIVET: What is your customer looking for in terms of fit, wash and treatments on denim?
Dayton: We’re seeing lighter weights of denim become more popular, as well as cuts with a bit of taper through the leg. Guys seem to be moving beyond the heritage look of dark, heavy and boxy. Again, I just think they want to be comfortable. That said, we still get plenty of guys looking for raw denim, and we’re more than happy to help them find a great pair.

RIVET: Would you call Askov Finlayson a lifestyle store?
Dayton: The word “lifestyle” gets thrown around a lot these days, and I’m not sure what it really means. But I once heard someone describe our store as a “select shop,” which is a term in Japan for stores with a focused and edited assortment. We just try to anticipate the needs of our customers and provide them with relevant products across a range of categories, but we also make some decisions for them so that they don’t have to, and I think that provides value. In the end, it’s about being as helpful and useful to our customers as possible.

RIVET: What is the process of beginning a relationship with a new brand?
Dayton: We identify new brands for the store in all sorts of ways, so the process really varies. And it’s also changed over time. I remember when we were first starting out, it was hard to convince brands to sell to us because we didn’t have any track record. It’s gotten easier as we’ve built our reputation, but we certainly don’t take it for granted. I’m still very involved and the relationships with our partner brands are just as important to me as the relationships we have with customers. In fact, some of our vendors have become very close friends of mine.

RIVET: Is social media an important marketing tool for you?
Dayton: Social media can be an effective tool for storytelling, and it’s something we’re always trying to do better. But nothing replaces a face-to-face conversation in the store, and that’s something we really value. We spend a lot of time training and educating our team about the brands we carry. I’m always amazed at how much our customers already know about the brands and products in our store, so we have to work hard if we want to know more.

RIVET: Do you have any new collaborations planned?
Dayton: We’ve had a number of great opportunities come our way, but our focus right now is on expanding our offering of Askov Finlayson products, which I’m very excited about. And so we’re trying to maintain our focus, but I expect to do additional collaborations in the future.

RIVET: Does your dedication to environmental causes influence the brands you stock?
Dayton: That’s a very timely question because this has become an increasing focus for us as of late. The more we learn about sustainable manufacturing practices for our own products, the more that awareness is starting to impact the way we evaluate new and existing partners. So I expect that to increasingly become a filter for everything one finds in our store.

RIVET: How does your e-commerce compare to in-store purchases?
Dayton: We didn’t even have a website until 2013. Over the past year we’ve really made our site a focus, and we’re currently working on a redesign. But we’ve started to see results from our efforts in terms of online sales, which is exciting.

RIVET: Do you hold any in-store events?
Dayton: Yes, I think it’s an important part of building the community around our store. And having our own restaurant and bar [The Bachelor Farmer and Marvel Bar] right next door is a pretty great asset, so we’re able to do some things that most stores can’t. Our most recent event was our annual bubble hockey tournament, which is definitely a favorite, and then in August we’ll hold another annual event called Kraftskiva that we organize along with The Bachelor Farmer and Marvel Bar. It’s an outdoor block party with food and live music that has become a great summer tradition with thousands of people attending each year.