NEW YORK — After spending most of its 16-year history focused on selling a variety of jeans to denim enthusiasts, the family behind Austin Jeans in the Forest Hills section of Queens is on the move.
The family last fall opened its second retail location, Inside, a block east of the original unit on Austin Street. After fine-tuning the feel of the new unit, the strategy is to roll it out on a broader basis, with plans to open another three stores in the greater New York area over the next two years.
The company’s original 1,000-square-foot unit uses a service-intensive style, while Inside will take a more traditional approach.
“Austin Jeans has its own feel,” said Irene Kandhorov, who makes up a third of the father-daughter-son ownership team. “[Customers] don’t come in and look around. They sit down and the sales people work with them.”
She said the average shopper spends 30 to 60 minutes in Austin Jeans, where the staff guides her through the 30 to 35 brands of jeans the store typically keeps in stock, merchandised in two, long, hanging racks down the middle of the narrow store and in cubbyholes along the side. The typical customer, she said, walks out with one to three outfits, which given the lineup of designer and high-end brands that range from Dolce & Gabbana to Seven Jeans, can mean a several-hundred-dollar outlay.
The high-average sale helps explain Austin Jeans’ unusual response to traffic. “When it’s getting really busy, we close the doors and just work with the people we have,” Kandhorov said.
By comparison, the 1,500-square-foot Inside format is more of a standard denim store.
“Here, the busier it is, the more people that are walking in, the more money we make,” Kandhorov said in an interview at Inside last week. “At Austin, we do better with fewer customers at a time.”
Irene Kandhorov started Austin with her father, Abram, in 1988. When her brother, Sam, joined the business three years ago, he said, he wanted to start expanding it.
“We run this as a business with growth potential,” said Sam Kandhorov, who also works as a specialist in Asian medicine. “We see the potential to have five or six stores under this concept.”
He was reluctant to specify where the family was looking to open stores, though he suggested that he’s looking closely at Manhattan. He added that the current two stores each do about $1 million a year in sales.
While Austin is packed with merchandise, Inside has a more open space — a feat that’s easier to accomplish with its narrower assortment. Irene Kandhorov said Inside typically carries seven brands of jeans at a time, along with tops and other sportswear, with its cherry-picked assortment reflecting current trends.
“We put out what’s hot now and we rotate it frequently,” she said.
Inside also offers a slightly less-expensive lineup of brands. For instance, Panda brand polo shirts, retailing for $42, are a current top seller at Inside, while similar Dolce & Gabbana polos selling for around $200 are doing well at Austin Jeans.
The open format of Inside allows for a faster shopping experience, as well.
“Here, they come in, they try on jeans and they may be out in 10 minutes,” Irene Kandharov said at Inside.
Both stores feature video screens where the staff runs music videos and movies — “Scarface” is a current favorite. On weekend afternoons, Inside often brings in a DJ to help draw in the crowds.
Irene Kandhorov said Seven For All Mankind and AG Adriano Goldschmied are her core jeans brands. The assortment at Inside also includes Diesel, Joe’s Jeans, Kasil, James and Big Star. At Austin, the inventory broadens, encompassing Chip & Pepper, Levi’s and Fornarina among its assortment.
She said she’s been pleased by the constant stream of new entrants into the jeans business in recent years, which has made it easier for customers to find their own looks.
“A girl doesn’t want to walk down the street looking like all the other girls, with the same stitching on her pockets,” she said.
The broad assortment at Austin — and dedicated customers who keep tabs on new lines — also allow her to test-market new trends effectively. For instance, she said, she’s recently picked up Dolce & Gabbana jeans styles with narrow leg openings and high waists at Austin, which have caught the eyes of some fashion-forward customers.
“That won’t sell here, yet,” she said, standing at Inside. “But in a of couple years, maybe.”