LOS ANGELES — Surreal just about sums up the feeling for Sneakersnstuff cofounder Erik Fagerlind.
He recently reviewed a video tour shot in the soon-to-be-opened Sneakersnstuff store — beachfront property on the Venice Beach Boardwalk — the same year the brand turns 20.
“It’s mind-blowing to sit back and be like 20 years ago we started the store in a tiny space [in Stockholm] — in an area where nobody had a store,” he said. “So I was blown away when I got the video.”
Venice, which opens March 26 on the company’s actual birthday, perhaps might be the most ambitious in terms of the experiential for the Stockholm sneaker retailer, with two apartment units up top, plus a patio. Fagerlind and cofounder Peter Jansson are already mulling the potential in creating spaces where the VIP experience for a sneakerhead could very well be taken to the next level.
They were ushered around the greater Los Angeles area including Melrose and Fairfax Avenues (“It would feel we were jumping on somebody else’s wave if we were going there,” Fagerlind said). There was also Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice (“Nice if you like yoga and avocado sandwiches,” he noted). The Boardwalk is where it hit Fagerlind and team that that would be home.
And Venice is just the start of a number of major moves to be played this year. Sneakersnstuff in May will open the SNS Bar on the lower level of its existing New York store. It’s a nod to the clubs the founders used to frequent in the Meatpacking District when they visited Manhattan 20 years ago.
Asia represents another market Fagerlind and Jansson see potential in for more stores.
The company is also upping its game in the digital space with an app and web site redesign planned for this year. The app, Fagerlind said, will be built out in phases, with the first iteration streamlining the company’s raffle system for sneaker drops to make the sign-up process easier.
The sneaker retailer began with Stockholm before branching out to London, Paris, Berlin, New York and now Venice.
“We’ve been around for a while, but it took us a long time to understand and realize what we were doing was more fitted for big cities,” Fagerlind said. “Coming from Sweden, it’s not that easy [to open an international store]. You don’t just waltz over and open a store. There’s a lot of things you have to figure out in terms of brand politics. Competition is fierce all over the world. All these cities on our map, but we don’t want to do everything at once. I guess we could if we built a team around that. We could open up 20 stores in a heartbeat, but it wouldn’t be organic. We would lose control of who the ID of SNS is.”
The company, now numbering 210 workers, is expected to add another 75 by the end of this year. It’s projecting 2019 revenue of roughly $100 million, based on current exchange rates. It’s off slightly from last year’s growth, which reflected an 85 percent increase in revenue, but the focus this year is on building within the organization.
“The first five years it was all fun and games. I was 22 when we founded the company,” Fagerlind said. “With that attitude of a 20-year-old, that’s where we started and we had a lot of fun. The first three to four years, everything was going great. We had a huge success. We met our budget and then we didn’t make a budget for the next few years, but eventually reality catches up and bills catch up. After four or five years we had to take a step back and reevaluate how to actually run a company.”
The two brought on strategic partners for the first time in 2011. Last year, in mid-June, private equity firm FSN Capital entered the picture. A holding company was established, which acquired shares in the company, with the Sneakersnstuff founders and management team then funneling most of the proceeds from that acquisition back into the new holding company.
“We have high ambitions when it comes to numbers, but it does not motivate us in the day-to-day,” Fagerlind said, declining to get into specific longer-term projections. “We love this product and what we do.”
Fagerlind and Jansson sit atop an interesting perch having 20 years in the business, responding to trends, changes in consumer behavior and what digital has done to shoppers and businesses.
“It’s funny how major trends or hype trends hit the same time all over the world in all the key cities,” Fagerlind said. “So the higher up a trend starts, it’s no longer local. All the hype trends are global instances. But on a local level, there are definitely trends. There’s a way to look in L.A. versus how to look in New York versus how to look in Paris. There is that look, but they all want Off-White Nikes. They all want Yeezys in these cities and that’s been an interesting find. No matter how different the cultures might be, or the people might be in a city, they come to the same sort of inspirations.”
Certainly, people traveling more and the world, in a sense, shrinking because of that has helped drive the near homogenization of some trends. It’s also algorithms, Fagerlind pointed out.
“The information spreads super fast,” he said. “You can tell by visiting countries where online penetration isn’t as foregone as other countries, because the local trends are still there or they stay longer. But where online penetration is big, it’s very uniform, almost like you see the same people wearing the same things. They just might twist it out with some local brand’s T-shirts or hoodies.”
The company’s since learned to be more in tune with its regional buys, improving from even just a few years ago. Knowing things such as how the Los Angeles market shows more interest in vulcanized soles, pressing upon the need for more Vans and Converse, whereas Timberlands in New York could do well in the winter when the same in Paris might not do at all.
Learning to trust the customer has been the ultimate lesson for the two.
“It’s a cliché thing to say, but trust the people is what you have to do,” Fagerlind said. “I mean, I could claim that I know New York because I’ve been to New York just as many times as home it feels like. But you never know New York as New Yorkers do, so you have to work with New Yorkers and trust them on what’s right. You can’t control it too hard.”