We've always been impressed by the unique perspective that Understudy's brought to the table. With the internet bringing all of us closer together, it's inevitable that stores begin to influence and mimic one another whether consciously or not; yet Understudy continues to forge a progressive path in bringing clean, well-designed contemporary men's garments to the city of Calgary. We took some time to chat with co-founder Liam Rodgers to find out some of the keys to their success these past three years.
All three of you have worked retail in Calgary for quite some time before opening up Understudy. Can you fill us in on your previous positions? What are some important lessons you have learned along the way?
Collectively, we’ve occupied positions in sales, management and ownership pre-Understudy. Speaking for myself, I got a start in retail selling premium price-point casual, athletic and dress shoes to men and women between the ages of 18 and 89. My biggest “take away” from this job was the importance of customer service. No matter what your concept, or what you’re selling, customer service must be consistently outstanding. Of course this can take a lot of energy, but it’s the best way to build a loyal, supportive clientele. I also learned more about bunions and other foot maladies than I ever thought possible.
Tell us more about your hometown. What are some things you love about Calgary that make it a great place to live and work?
Calgary’s location is really unique because it sits near the Canadian Rockies, rolling foothills, and prairie landscapes. If you’re into anything outdoorsy, winter (especially), or summer, you’ll be able to indulge in almost any activity. Good Vietnamese food too. Business wise, Calgary’s great because it’s a small city with a lot of talented people who support one another. A well-executed concept can make waves pretty quickly in this city. By the way, if the first part of this answer seems cliché to any of my fellow Calgarians (our collective title), I apologize!
From day one, the owners have been the only ones to man the sales floor at Understudy. What advantages and disadvantages has this decision brought, and do you see this changing in the future?
This is true. At the beginning especially, it’s important that a business’ owner(s) are around to experience the goings on. It’s often the best long-term customers who come out of the woodwork first. To start a relationship at that time can be what makes or breaks a business like ours. Also, from the start, we’ve felt it important that our shop is able to constantly evolve and remain interesting to our clients and ourselves! Being on the sales floor daily helps us to purchase inventory for the shop that’s equal parts saleable and exciting, which as anyone in menswear retail knows, can be a difficult feat.
Spending so much time on the sales floor can make multi-tasking difficult. Luckily, we recently hired our first ever employee to help out. This has been a change that we’ve embraced!
What are some of your favorite small businesses in your area that you like to support?
Great question. Two of our favorite places to eat in the area are “Model Milk” and “Una Pizza and Wine”. We take drinks at “Milk Tiger” and choose “Commonwealth” or “HIFI” for late, late nights. Beer and wine comes from “Vine Arts”. Fellow retailers “North American Quality Purveyors” and “Group Seven” also deserve a nod. To learn a thing or two we buy books at “Shelf Life Books” and magazines from “Daily Globe Newsstand”. “Café Beano” is a favorite for coffee and tea. Finally, for any catered event, we go with “Our Daily Brett.”
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