(Photo by Stephanie Horst)
Joamil Rodriguez, owner of independent sneaker boutique Laced in South End, is selling more than just limited edition Nikes, snapbacks and dissident T-shirts; he’s selling a lifestyle.
Reporting that his average sales numbers have increased by 500 percent within the past year, it seems he has succeeded in reaching and attracting a fan base of like-minded consumers.
On a recent Wednesday, sitting on a plush couch in the Laced stockroom – which doubles as a lounge area, complete with a flat screen TV, PS3 and a refrigerator full of energy drinks – Rodriguez said, “My demographic is primarily 15 to 28-year-old males. They’re concerned with how they look – they want to look fresh, they want to impress girls – and that’s their thing. I want to say the store’s a reflection of me – what I like to wear, how I dress.”
Last July, Rodriguez said he purchased Laced – first established in 2006 – with his cousin and business partner, Edward Diaz, just two months after opening Board Room Boston, a small skate and snowboard shop in the Financial District. Laced, credited with being one of the first sneaker boutiques to open in Boston, had not been on Rodriguez’s radar, but he said when an offer came his way, he seized the opportunity, consolidated Board Room Boston and now maintains both brands within the Laced storefront at 569 Columbus Avenue.
“I didn’t have the resources to fund two stores and be in two places,” said Rodriguez. “But I didn’t want to lose the Board Room Boston name, or the branding that I had done, so we just kind of made a section within the store.”
As an avid snowboarder, skateboarder and long-time sneaker enthusiast, Rodriguez projects his style and taste into every aspect of the store and aims to stock, in addition to sneakers and apparel, a wide variety of unique items – from bow-ties to book bags to beach chairs – and hard-to-find brands at affordable prices. For Rodriguez, carving out and providing a distinct customer experience is paramount.
By 11 a.m., four young men are waiting by the entrance. They’ve come to check out the rows of pristine Nikes, Creative Recreation and Huf sneakers displayed in cube-like shelves along the wall, but mostly they’ve come to just hang out, listen to music and maybe score some leftover wings from the stockroom fridge.
“When I walk in here, I think this is how I want my room to look. That’s why we chill in here,” said Noma Okundaye, 16. “You want skateboard decks on the wall, you want your sneakers on display so when your friends come over they’re like, whoa, this is fresh.”
Fanonx Rogers, 16, said, “If I’m in the area every day, I’ll stop by every day for like two hours to chill. Just to chill. And every time I have money, I’m like what can I get. Just come here, what can I get. Spend it.”
Laced is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday (Sunday, Noon - 6 p.m.) and Rodriguez works hard to keep the inventory fresh and affordable, with T-shirts generally ranging in price from $20 to $32, denim from $68 to $140 and sneakers from $30 up to $160.
“I lowered all the price points and I had cool brands that were still things you couldn’t find at the mall, but at Urban Outfitters prices,” said Rodriguez.
In the past year, the 30-year-old sole proprietor has not only aimed to repair, but to transform the Laced reputation. With a limited budget and close competition – the popular sneaker mecca Bodega, which also opened in 2006, is less than a mile away – Rodriguez said he’s focused on innovative and inexpensive ways to reach his clientele, including a good student initiative – where making honor role or improving grades is rewarded with a store discount or free pair of sneakers – artist collaborations, in-store events and a viral and grass roots marketing campaign that goes beyond Facebook and Twitter.
The Laced Street Team, a group of mostly high school students, were recently recruited by Rodriguez to perform ambitious skateboarding tricks around the city while donning Laced T-shirts, spreading the word about Laced to their peers.
“There’s nothing like a person physically telling you that this is where you should go shopping,” said Rodriguez. “There’s no billboard in the world that’s going to get you that response.”
Rodriguez also oversees the Board Room Boston skateboard team, which he said competes in local contests and helps to expand brand awareness, especially in promoting Board Room Boston’s own brand of skateboard decks.
In addition to word of mouth promotion, Rodriguez aims to give back to the community and carries a variety of local designer labels, displays local artwork on the walls and promotes up-and-coming musicians through in-store performances and on the Laced Web site. The Web site also features several Laced promotional music videos that Rodriguez produced and uploaded to YouTube as part of the Laced viral campaign, which he said is one of the best ways to reach his demographic.
“There’s a sneakerhead culture that’s a lot more prominent than even the skate culture. There’re true sneakerheads and this is their joy, to be the first one to have this shoe and post it online and show it off. And what better way to show off your stuff than virally, where everyone can see it,” said Rodriguez. He added, “With the little bit of [Laced] viral marketing, we’ve shipped to London, Australia and Japan.”
Laced patron Joe Colell, 28, who has been collecting sneakers for the past six years and currently owns more than 75 pairs, said he visits Laced, on average, four times a week.
“It’s completely different than most of the other shops in Boston or even Cambridge,” said Colell. “It’s a good feel. I mean, they might not have the sneaker power – like Bodega has every account in the world, Concepts has every account in the world – but they’ll find it for you and they know what people want now. So they stay current and don’t worry about having to have a kind of vast array of shoes that Bodega would have to cover everyone’s bases.”
Although Rodriguez is still working hard to secure new and more exclusive vendor accounts, he said he already moving forward with plans to open five additional store locations in northern Massachusetts.
“Most of us make it or don’t make it in that first year and I just see the potential to grow more,” said Rodriguez. “So that’s the rewarding part of it, seeing how much more this could be.”