Photos: Paolo Sagullo
Retailers are a crucial part of our business - we count on them to convey the passion for what we do to their customers, and to provide education and product knowledge through daily in-person interactions. We’ve had the pleasure of working with the enterprising folks at The Class Room for the past year and are thankful to have them introducing our jeans to the city of Houston. Owners Cabby, Alan and Paolo have held photography workshops, social media primers and whiskey tastings (all in-store) to help share the knowledge they’ve picked up over the years and introduce people to new things. It’s clear to us that The Class Room has a vision to equip their clients with more than just clothes.
Tell us about Rice Village. Aside from being nearby a local university, why did you choose this particular location to open up?
Cabby: Houston is a big, spread out city. Up until a few years ago, there weren't many independent boutiques around, and there were very few walkable blocks lined with local businesses. Therefore, when people go shopping, typically they head to shopping destinations like malls and outdoor strip malls. Being that we were a new business in the niche "menswear/streetwear" market and carrying brands the general population hadn't heard of, we felt we needed to be in a popular shopping destination to be successful. At the same time, we wanted to maintain an independent boutique identity, so a typical mall location was never an option. The Rice Village has been a popular shopping destination in Houston since the 1930s, and there is a mix of big box retailers and independent, locally-owned stores here. It's one of the few locales in Houston where we felt like we could get the benefits of a commercially established shopping center while being able to maintain our independent identity.
As first time shop owners, what is the most important retail lesson you’ve learned in your two years of operating?
Cabby: The most important retail lesson? There are so many! We've learned so much because we knew so little to start! I think the #1 lesson is an on-going process that will never truly stop, and that's learning how to balance the need for quick turnover while striving to be a well-curated, forward-thinking boutique in a city that isn't considered fashion-forward. If we're too forward thinking, our customers may not be ready for it and we won't sell anything. On the other hand, if we cater only to what's trending and selling out the fastest, then we're just following trends instead of being ahead of the curve.
Alan: More than just a retail lesson, but a life lesson, is that success ALWAYS comes with failures. You’re not always going to get it 100% right the first time. I’m a very risk-averse person, and sometimes I forgot how complex this world can be. In a complex world, one must use an adaptive, experimental approach to succeed. The retail business is an unpredictable environment and in order to succeed you have to be able to adapt and improvise. That in a nutshell has been one of the most important retail lessons I’ve learned in this short time.
A big part of running a specialty boutique is imparting both knowledge and passion to customers about some of the smaller brands you carry. Clearly, your shop’s name ties in with this - tell us about some of TCR’s initiatives to help educate your customers.
Alan: Social media is a vital tool and just one of the ways we try to help communicate a brand’s story with our customers. Sometimes it’s a long form blog post via Tumblr. Sometimes it’s highlighting specific product, or even a specific detail, on Instagram. Lookbooks and photoshoots, and the conceptual stories behind them, can also communicate at least the “spirit” of the brand, if that makes sense.
One of the things we’ve done in the past and hope to do more in the future is invite our brands to the store for special events so our customers can meet the people behind the brands and get more familiar with them.
Above all else, though, is the one-on-one interaction we have with customers when they’re in the store. We pride ourselves in customer service, and simply talking to them not only gives us an opportunity to tell them more about the brands, but it also helps us build rapport. By getting to know customers on a more personal level, this instills a level of comfort to ask questions they may have originally been too shy to ask.
What are some exciting changes that you see happening in Houston - fashion or otherwise?
Cabby: Houston is seeing so much cultural growth, and I'm genuinely excited about it. As I alluded to earlier, you're starting to see more independent, locally-owned businesses pop up, and this is especially true in the restaurant, bar, and coffee industries. Everybody loves to eat and drink, and so what I think has happened in the city is that people are getting excited to check out the new locally-owned establishments. What results, then, is a general awareness and spreading of a "support local" culture, thereby creating an environment where other independent businesses are likely to succeed rather than lose to the corporate giants. So instead of a corporate-dominated culture, a new Houston culture and identity is emerging. This trickles down to fashion, art, music, everything.
The great cities have an identity. For example, New York is fast-paced, tough, gritty, and you can see thi is reflected in its street fashion, music, art, etc. Now think of LA and the West Coast and you have a completely different vibe. Houston is on its way to developing its own identity, and we're excited to be a part of that.
Alan: Like Cabby mentioned a new Houston culture and identity is emerging, and from a fashion perspective, I think what excites me is that people are now a bit more inclined to take risks and experiment with their own personal style. Instead of conforming to a certain “standard”, more and more Houstonians are marching to the beat of their own drum, which is rather refreshing.
What are some of your favorite small businesses in your area that you like to support?
Cabby: Other retail boutiques in the Rice Village we like to support are Premium Goods, Myth & Symbol, and Shop St. Cloud. For food, coffee or drink, we frequent Prego Italian, Benjy’s / Local Foods, Torchy’s, and Mercantile.
Other shops not too far from us “in and around the [I-610] loop” as we Houstonians refer to are Tipping Point, Reserve Supply Company, Manready, and Settlement Goods. Catalina and Blacksmith are my two favorite coffee shops in the city. And we all get our haircuts by the Cutthroat Barbers / Roots Salon peeps.
The Class Room
2534 Amherst St.
Houston, TX 77005