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Custom men's wear shop on expansion track

There's a lot of buzz about the importance of retailers having a presence in both the physical and digital space.

But for Fan Bi, co-founder and CEO of small specialty men's wear maker Blank Label, the proof is in the numbers.

Blank Label's first Boston showroom.
Source: Blank Label
Blank Label's first Boston showroom.

Founded in 2009 as an online-only shop for custom men's shirts, the brand opened its first physical showroom in Boston about one year ago.

After its shipments more than quadrupled to close to 100 a day—60 percent coming from in-store orders—Blank Label embarked on a plan to grow its store footprint.

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The expansion kicks off on Monday, when the retailer—which keeps no inventory in its stores since it's all custom-made—will open a second location in Boston's Downtown Crossing area. Within the next two years the company, which has also expanded into chinos and suiting, plans to have six more showrooms along the East Coast.

"We've definitely seen substantial growth," Bi said. "We're really expecting to see that growth continue."

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Blank Label joins the ranks of retailers bucking the offline to online trend, instead establishing a presence on the web before opening a physical store. Gap's Athleta, men's apparel retailer Bonobos and eyewear purveyor Warby Parker are some of the other names who have taken this backwards approach to commerce.

It's a trend that has come about despite the growth in online sales, which increased 12 percent last year, according to Forrester Research. Although the platform's red-hot growth outpaced in-store sales, it still only accounted for 8 percent of total retail sales in 2013.

"Consumers expect retailers to be everywhere they are," said Giovanni DeMeo, vice president of global marketing and analytics for Interactions Marketing.

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One big reason behind this sentiment is consumers' preference to touch and feel products before making a purchase. This was especially true for Blank Label, where the experience of seeing and touching the different color and fabric swatches was important to customers.

"It seemed like too much of a stretch for them," Bi said. "They'd ask where the store was."

Blank Label's original store generates about $100,000 a month, with sales increasing about 10 to 15 percent month over month. Its physical store sales are expected to account for 70 percent of its total by the end of the year, Bi said.

Blank Label's Boston showroom.
Source: Blank Label
Blank Label's Boston showroom.

But for Bi, the experience that men get when visiting one of the brand's showrooms is just as important.

When they enter, they're offered an alcoholic beverage (aged scotch is frequently requested.) They then meet with a men's wear specialist who takes their measurements and consults with them on their lifestyle. Do they prefer a conservative color palette, or do they like to take fashion risks? Do they sit at work all day and need something comfortable, or would they rather show off their backside while walking down the street? Those types of questions allow the label to cater to each individual customer.

The convenience of online, however, comes in handy for the brand's repeat customers. After they shop once with Blank Label, their profile is stored online to make reordering simple. Bi said that of the company's 15,000 customers, about half are repeat clients.

Source: Blank Label

Blank Label's expansion also comes at a time when men are placing a larger emphasis on their wardrobes. Last year, men's U.S. apparel sales reached $60.8 billion in 2013, a 5 percent increase that outpaced the 4 percent growth in women's apparel, according to The NPD Group.

Blank Label's clientele tend to be "worldly" men between the ages of 35 and 45 who are not fashion aficionados, but appreciate a well-fitting suit. They skew older because although the brand's supply chain and comparatively low cost structure allow it to charge between $80 and $125 for many of its shirts—a discount compared to other custom offerings—the fact that its orders are custom-made means the stores are never overinventoried, eliminating the need to slash prices.

"We try to price very aggressively for custom but also never discount," Bi said. "We're fulfilling on a promise for men that hasn't yet been fulfilled."

By CNBC's Krystina Gustafson.

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