Upon earning an undergraduate degree in marketing from the University of Minnesota Duluth, Nate DeMars was hired into a sales and marketing leadership development program at Whirlpool Corp. that brought him to Columbus. After four years and three roles with Whirlpool, he returned to school, enrolling in the full-time MBA program at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.
He majored in real estate development, which turned him onto the concept of pop-up retail. However, it was his displeasure with shopping trips to suit warehouses and department stores that inspired his startup, Pursuit.
“It struck me that guys don’t typically shop for clothes where their fathers do,” says DeMars. ” But with suits, that seemed to be the norm. As the concept started to take shape, I found I really enjoyed the creativity that goes into a business like this. It’s a product that is often worn for serious occasions, but that doesn’t mean the brand and experience needs to be serious and stuffy. We’ve been able to have fun with it.”
Essentially, Pursuit offers young men the suits and dress clothes they need for job interviews, formal events, and professional occasions.
“We are going to focus much of our attention on serving college guys through a pop-up retail model that will travel to campuses, bringing just the clothes they need, at the times they need them, and saving them the trip to the mall,” DeMars says.
To get Pursuit off the ground, DeMars has relied on two of his former classmates at Fisher.
“Shay-Jahen Merritté is the man behind the design of our logo, photo shoots, social media, and much of our creative strategy,” DeMars says. “He has his undergraduate degree in communication design from Washington University in St. Louis and his MBA at Fisher was focused on strategy. John Horvath received his undergraduate degree at OSU in industrial engineering and his MBA from Fisher was focused on operations and logistics.”
DeMars says three key factors set Pursuit apart from traditional menswear retailers.
One, Pursuit isn’t concerned with carrying something for everyone.
“Some stores I’ve shopped have 50 suits in my size, most I’d never wear,” he says. “But since our target market is so focused, we can cut the clutter.”
Two, Pursuit is bringing the goods to its customers.
“I hate going to the mall and our research has shown many guys feel the same way,” he says. “In many of the college towns we will visit, students don’t even have the shopping options that OSU students have. We are in the process of searching for a truck/RV to be outfitted as our mobile showroom.”
Three, DeMars and his team believe their advice, marketing, and experience is potentially more appropriate and interesting because they’re not far removed from their target market.
“All the questions a young guy would have as they buy dress clothes are questions we found ourselves asking just months ago,” DeMars says. “We can relate.”
Initially, Pursuit will carry designer labels− some that are familiar to its customers, some that might not be.
“Eventually we hope to also offer our own private label brand as well, but first we want to see what styles, fits, and colors are well received,” he says.
Short-term, the Pursuit team wants to hold successful “pop-events” here in Columbus, as well as Oxford, Athens and other nearby college towns before the end of the year. Then they plan to take the concept on the road as often as possible, hitting colleges around the state, region and country.
Bill LaFayette, owner of Regionomics LLC, a Columbus-based regional economic and workforce strategy consulting firm, has reservations about Pursuit’s viability in this weak economy.
“Any type of retail is going to have an uphill climb right now, but those with the best prospects are those that stand out from the crowd, know the needs of their market well, and fill those needs in a creative, attention-grabbing way,” he says. “Pursuit is filling a clear need: the need of young people to fit into professional settings while still defining their own style. But they need to keep in mind that all consumers are scared now and their target, in particular, is facing serious economic challenges. To the extent that they can, they should reflect that by offering options at a range of price points.”
Chris Boring, president of Boulevard Strategies, a Columbus-based market research firm focused on retail development, says he doesn’t necessarily believe the economy will hurt a business like Pursuit, “at least in terms of guys needing interview clothes− assuming they can get interviews.”
However, menswear has become increasingly casual over the past 20 years, so this is a tough industry, he says.
“I have surveyed thousands of consumers over the course of my career about a broad assortment of types of retail,” he continues. “Most retail categories are driven primarily by price and convenience. Fashion is an exception. It is driven by selection. That’s why we have shopping malls with 12 shoe stores.
“Can Pursuit afford to buy enough inventory to provide ample selection in all sizes, styles, fits, and colors? Can they sell it all in a few weeks with a pop-up store lease or will they get stuck with unsold inventory? Would they do better in the campus area or in a burgeoning fashion district, like the Short North?”
Only time will tell.
In the meantime, Pursuit is hosting a launch party on Friday from 7:30-11:30 p.m. to celebrate the new venture. Guests will also be able to make purchases.
“For months, many friends and classmates have been asking when they can purchase from us,” DeMars says. “I’ve been blown away with the eagerness to help us get started, so this will be the first opportunity to do so. To build a little intrigue, we are keeping the venue a secret until the day before the event.”
Those interested in being added to the guest list should visit Pursuit’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/pursuityourself.
To learn more about Pursuit, visit PursuitYourself.com.