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“Know Your Tribe” or Die, Advises A.K. Rikk’s President Jim Murray

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Jim Murray, president and director of men’s at A.K. Rikk’s, knows being at the helm of a thriving luxury retail store is the middle of America is a unique position to be in. This week at Project in New York, he shared the steps (and the missteps) that it takes to maintain it.

Since 1986, A.K. Rikk’s has served the Grand Rapids, Mich. area with men’s luxury fashion and top-notch customer service to match. And a key to its longevity is Murray’s laser sharp focus on what the store stands for and the type of products its loyal “tribe” has come to rely on.

Rather than be something to everyone, Murray’s vision for A.K. Rikk’s is to be “everything to someone.”

“We have to know who we are, who the client is and really slim down who that client is so we have true empathy,” he said. “There are too many opportunities and market segmentations that we’re all trying to feed.”

Streetwear brought this truth home to Murray, who confesses to being swept up in the craze. Streetwear was a “disruptor” that Murray says he wish he could do over. “Streetwear was something that threw us all for a loop,” he said. “I think it even threw the streetwear and skate shops for a loop.”

While the store continued to stock this customer’s favorite brands and styles, Murray admits that under the influence of social media and buzz, he began to view streetwear as the next big opportunity to usher in a new clientele. The store, he said, worked hard to curate some of the “best streetwear brands in the world” like Très Bien and GCDS. Alas, the brands fell flat among the 50-something gentleman A.K. Rikk’s serves.

The one caveat in adding streetwear to the store’s assortment, he realized, is that his core luxury customer doesn’t even want to have his kids in the store, let alone shop the same trends.

“I didn’t listen for a minute,” Murray said. “One of the craziest things you can do is to forget to listen to your core client…I decided to do what I thought would be next and it was really a mistake for our company.”

To top it off, all along the solution to streetwear was right on front of Murray. “I could have actually done streetwear with the designers I was actually carrying, like a simple pleated pant by Brunello Cucinelli or some of these other pieces that just had a nod to what advance contemporary looks like in our current market,” he said. “Instead I bought it from other places.”

What it boils down to, Murray said, is being okay with who you are as a retailer.

“Have a small nucleus of people that believe what you believe and then other people will start attracting to that tribe,” he said. “There will be people who come along and not believe but you can’t let that affect you. You just have to say, ‘you’re not part of the tribe that I’m trying to service.’”

And for luxury purveyors like A.K. Rikk’s, Murray urges retailers to nurture that tribe because it is one unlike any other.

“They come to you because you are the pinnacle of what they can afford,” he said.

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