NEW STORE: FRIEND

What happens when a New York City lawyer decides to move back home to New Orleans and open a menswear shop? For Parker Hutchinson, the result was “Friend” – a relaxed, well-edited store with all the key elements for a promising future. I spoke with Parker about his motivations, biggest challenges, and how there are very encouraging signs of retail growth in a city still very much in recovery.

 

What is the retail environment in New Orleans right now, and where did you see an opening that you are trying to fill?

There’s been a real spate of store openings in New Orleans recently. I was fortunate to find a great storefront on Magazine Street in the Lower Garden District, an area that’s shaping up to be a shopping destination for men. Within two blocks of Friend, there are at least 8 other menswear or men’s accessories stores, with half of those opening only in the last year.

When I began planning the store, I sensed room in New Orleans for contemporary menswear in general but did not know that so many retail options were on the way. As in turns out, there has been very little overlap. Our retailers are bringing different ideas, and, if anything, a more crowded field has encouraged me to take a stronger point of view with Friend.

As a new store has it been difficult to get a good mix of brands in?

The biggest surprise has been how willing great brands have been to sign on with my store, all of them sight-unseen. Suppliers have seemed very eager to have a presence in New Orleans. When I moved away from here years ago, my uncle told me, “You’re from New Orleans; wherever you go, you’ll never be at a loss for conversation.” I’ve found this to be true, now more than ever. When you say the words “New Orleans,” people’s eyes light up. They seem delighted to be a part of this city and its amazing recovery.

How long did it take you to come up with the branding concept and the name?

The name Friend was the first thing to come. It felt right, and I never really entertained other options. The idea of the store, however, changed a good bit over the year of planning. I was working as a lawyer in New York until two months ago, and the longer I worked in that environment, the more my mind turned toward leisure. So the clothes ended up being a bit more fun, and the space and feel a lot more laid back, whereas my original thoughts were perhaps more traditional.

What have you found to be the most challenging in opening a store?

I have to say, in complete earnestness, that the most challenging thing has been learning how to set up and use my POS system.

What has been the most rewarding?

The most rewarding thing has been seeing the looks on people’s faces when they walk into the store. I wanted to bring something new and special to the place I love, and seeing that people relate to and appreciate this endeavor has made it completely worth it.

Category: Fashion, Reports, Retail.

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