Blair opened General Quarters, a men’s store and barbershop that sells quality clothes and accessories. Many of the items that Blair sells in his store are made from local manufacturers in the Los Angeles area. Blair introduced his own line of clothing into the store last year, which you can buy in the store and online.
What drove you to open this store?
I never wanted a clothing store. I worked in retail with the worst customers, the worst product, the worst employees. I knew I loved what I was doing. I just didn’t want to work where I was working. And it just clicked—this is terrible but I love it.
I’ve always made jewelry, so I thought I’d sell jewelry. I started making this little men’s line and it was selling and doing ok, but I wasn’t living off of it. I just wanted to see if I could create something.
I remember I would drive by this space every day and I was like, if I owned a store, which I would never want to, that would be the spot. So I started thinking about it… the store that I would never want to open… and I started thinking all the time.
Why this spot?
Something about the building. I loved the look of it. It was a vintage, antique store, just bad on so many levels, from personality to product to price to layout. I knew it was a matter of time for it to move on to another location.
So I had this possibility in mind, Ok, well if this was my store, what would it look like? So I started drawing it on paper, constantly. I put a couch here and the chairs and the tables would look like this and here’s what I’d put on the tables and these are the brands I’d carry. I did that a lot.
When the space opened, I came to look at the spot and a friend of mine in the [clothing] industry talked me out of it.
Your friend talked you out of it?
She said, “I love your idea. It will never work. You won’t get brands to work with you and I don’t want to watch you fail.”
So I asked my girlfriend at the time about it. She said, “It could be really bad. It could be really good. But you’re never going to know unless you do it.” So I did.
I think I came here right after you first opened and you just had a few products, but they were great—a few jeans, a few shirts.
There was nothing in here. There is no way I could ever open like that now. It wouldn’t work. It was a timing thing. I think I got lucky, because there wasn’t a huge comparison for little stores yet. Now there’s little stores everywhere.
Why do you think that is?
Well, I think that people now have reference for the fact that they can do it. They can be just a normal person with no money and just open a store. But I think it takes a lot more than that. You need a history in the industry of some sort. You need more than a passion to work in any industry. If you have an investor, it doesn’t matter at first, but further down the road you need to have some sort of reference for the industry you’re trying to conquer.
Now there’s more accessible information for how to do it, what you would carry. You have access to small brands now. There’s a lot more brands that came up when stores started opening.
So you didn’t have an investor when you opened?
You just did it all yourself?
Where you kind of freaking out the first couple months?
I had the lease early and I didn’t come in for two weeks. I just drove by it and stared in the window and thought, “What am I going to do?”
I didn’t have any money. But the first day I was open, I had what I believe was a very good day for an opening, and only a little bit of the crowd was friends. A few friends came in when I opened and bought some things. And the rest of the time, people were just coming across the street. I knew that first day I was going to make it. I knew it.
I knew I could do what I used to do. I knew I could find a job in the industry somewhere. But I knew that first day: this is going to work out.
What do you think the actual leap was where you said to yourself, ok, I’m going to do it?
The lease was definitely a sign. Also, I was willing it to happen so much inside and on paper. Had I waited another couple of months it probably wouldn’t have been available.
It was time for me to do my own thing. I didn’t want to be the guy who wonders, “Could I have done that?” So I gave my two-week notice and everyone thought I was kidding. I said, “I’m not kidding, I’m doing this. I’m opening a store. I’m going to do it.” And here we are.
When I walk into your store, I feel like I’m walking into your living room, or part of your living room. This is all your style.
That’s what I want.
This is obviously how you imagined it.
Yeah. You’ve come in and seen the progression.
If I look at my original drawings, which I still have, this is what it looks like. It doesn’t look the way I had it when I opened, but that’s all I had to open with. I had this sign (pointing to an old Exxon Mobile Pegasus horse), and a few little things. I could’ve bought shelves or paid someone to make shelves. But I wanted to make the shelves. I didn’t see value in buying a two thousand dollar shelf when I can make it for a couple hundred.
I know you have to be a people person. If you don’t have people skills, I don’t understand the point. There are a lot of stores I’ve been to that don’t. Maybe the owners do, but the owners aren’t there. And I really feel like you have to have something in common with the industry. Have you worked in it? Did you grow up in it? Some people have a gift for style. They just have it. I mean, I meet dudes and I’m just like, man you have amazing taste, you just know everything and they could never have a store. They’re just not that type of person.
Are you happy with your store?
I’ll never be happy with it. There’ll always be something more that I want to do with it. We’ll do this, we’ll change this, but it is where I want it to be.
You look at anything long enough, it’s always “I could change this,” or “I could have built that shelf differently,” or “maybe I’ll change the pictures around,” or whatever. I think you have to have that to keep it fresh.
How often do you get new orders?
Luckily, we have things come in twice a week, which was actually accidental because all I could afford when I opened was to buy things in very low quantities every week. So now it’s just become the way I buy. And my brands all know it. They know I’m going to text them on Monday: “Hey I need six more bags,” or whatever, “ten more shirts,” or “that whole run of pants are gone, can we get more?” So I don’t really ever put a heavy order in. I do multiple small orders that add up to a massive order.
I’ve got a friend who has a store in Colorado and, he’s like, “I just got my order in and I’m freaking out. I don’t know where to put it.” And I said, “Well how much did you buy?” And he said, “I bought one of each piece.” Like one size, small through XL, of each style. And that’s not that much. But for where he is and for his space—he’s got 200 square feet to work with—it’s a lot. So you buy for your space. You buy for your turn, how much you sell. And you take a chance on the things that are worth chancing. So if you have chambray shirts, maybe you buy more chambray shirts than you do shirts with polka dots. You figure out those things as you go.