Strolling through either of Sault New England’s retail locations in Boston or Portsmouth, it’s impossible to lose track of which coast you’re on.
The shop’s tastefully aged walls expose a combination of brick, wood and piping that reminds shoppers they’re in a city rich with history and grit. Nautical influences—like the jute rug draped over boardwalk-inspired flooring and the sailing rope strategically positioned around distressed display tables—pay homage to Sault’s coastal surroundings.
Even Philip Saul, the store’s owner and creative director, fits in with the aesthetic. Often enjoying an iced coffee regardless of the season—a badge of honor worn by true New Englanders—he’s usually seen sporting a uniform of cuffed raw denim and a button-down with rolled-up sleeves.
Saul’s love of all things New England permeates throughout his stores and is even more apparent in the clothing and accessories he curates for both locations.
“New England is known for having its own style,” Saul told Rivet. “I try to keep that evolving without pushing seasonal trends too far.”
His selections range from classic jeans and khakis to flannels and madras topped off with baseball caps in an array of muted tones. He prioritizes American-made items and makes sure everything in the store is something his ideal customer—who he identifies as the “cool dad”—would actually buy. Even the surfboard propped up against the store’s back porch was once an object an Instagram user inquired about.
“The overall look of the stores is very important to the customer experience,” he said. “Our stores are a good mix of men’s clothing and accessories with a curated collection of gifts that help complement the clothing.”
Rivet caught up with Saul to discuss Sault New England’s coastal vibe, the customers it attracts and what’s in store for the future.
Rivet: How did you get involved with retail?
Philip Saul: I got my start in retail right out of high school in 1993. My first position was part-time stock and part-time sales. I worked my way up the retail ladder with visual and management positions at Banana Republic and Urban Outfitters before finally opening the Sault New England Boston location in 2011. We opened a second location in the historic town of Portsmouth, N.H., soon after.
Rivet: Describe your store’s style.
PS: Classic, but with a hint of modern. A nod to preppy, but not literal. The ideal Sault customer is the cool dad. He’s aware of trends, but knows what works best for him. He’s comfortable with who he is but doesn’t want to fit into the mold of a follower of fashion.
The stores change up depending on the focus and the season. Spring and summer have a more ocean and nautical vibe, while the fall and holiday collections are more about the woods and feeling cozy with layers and darker colors. We also have a strong presence on Instagram and often mix inspiration photos alongside images of our products.
Rivet: What are some important qualities or traits you look for in the brands you carry?
PS: I always consider who I’m buying for when choosing a brand. I ask myself “where will my customer wear this?” and “will it fit into his day-to-day wardrobe?” I also believe in American-made products and try my best to have our in-house branded products made here in the states.
Rivet: What’s the status of your denim business?
PS: We currently carry Raleigh Denim and Levi’s. Both brands cover the needs of our customer. There has been less demand for raw denim, but darker denim with a bit of stretch continues to be strong for us.
Rivet: Which styles are performing the best at retail right now?
PS: Since opening eight years ago, we have definitely seen a few shifts in trends. The biggest one was probably going from more formal looks like ties and blazers to something more casual and comfortable. Our customer is looking for options to wear both at the office and at home on the weekends. One trend that I see is both pants and shirts becoming slightly looser and more comfortable. Seeing a guy in skinny pants and a tight shirt just feels dated at this point.
I think it’s about slowly accepting trends into your wardrobe. Maybe it’s an oxford in a larger size; a T-shirt that’s not super fitted. It’s about finding what is right for you and what makes you feel comfortable.
Rivet: What are some trends you’re anticipating to be popular for Spring/Summer 2020?
PS: I’m looking forward to some updated sell-outs for Spring/Summer 2020. Patterns are still big and shirting continues to become less slim and more comfortable. The nod to the ’90s is big, but that’s not a trend we’re buying into. Considering our customers lived through the ’90s, they’re not as willing to revisit the trend.
Rivet: Looking at the state of retail, what is your prediction for 2020?
PS: With all this talk on tariffs and taxing goods made oversees, I really think customers will be blindsided by increased prices. I think this will hit the hardest on fast fashion. I’m nervous about the increases but, as a small business owner, I can explain costs going up and could make small adjustments on buys. Our online sales are healthy and we continue to evolve. It’s a totally different business model than the regular brick-and-mortar stores. It’s not easy to be successful with both, but it’s possible. We are a small team here and we all wear many hats.