Frank & Oak

TORONTO — Four years after launching the upstart men’s wear company Frank & Oak, cofounders Ethan Song and Hicham Ratnani are taking their mid-level Millennial brand to the mall.

The Montreal-based company, which began as an online-only retailer and moved to bricks-and-mortar stores in 2014, has partnered with property management firm Cadillac Fairview to open two “enhanced concept” Frank & Oak locations in spring 2016.

The first site, measuring 3,200 square feet, will launch in mid-May at CF Carrefour Laval, just north of Montreal. A second location, measuring 2,300 square feet, will open later this spring at Toronto’s Sherway Gardens.

“These two mall locations are an experiment,” said Song, Frank & Oak’s chief executive officer.

Each site will feature innovative storefronts, collections chosen from the company’s catalogue, and digital technologies that simplify the shopping experience and allow men to quickly access product information both in store and before they arrive.

Moreover, Song and chief operating officer Ratnani hope to gauge mallgoers’ response to the sense of community built into their brand, which now boasts 12 Frank & Oak stores across North America, including three locations in the U.S.

“In today’s retail world everything is going to digital. Yet we’re finding that people crave community,” Song said. “Consumers want to talk to real people who understand them when they shop. They also like going to a store where they can find what they want and feel like they are part of something bigger. That is why we have never viewed a Frank & Oak store as just a place where you make a transaction. It’s a place where you go to hangout. Men buy into that experience.”

Indeed, one-third of every Frank & Oak store is dedicated to the concept of community. To that end, stores are equipped with a café, barbershop and a place where consumers can lounge or listen to music and micro-conferences presented throughout the year. That distinctive community flavor “is something that is lacking in the current mall environment,” Song noted.

Another third of each Frank & Oak location is dedicated to personalized customer service. “Whenever a customer comes in they’ll find tablets to connect them to our catalogue and view the latest trends. They can access their customer information quickly, or use our app to book appointments for a style consultation or a shave. They can even provide our sales staff with information on the products they want to see before they come in and shop,” Song explained. “Ultimately, being in a mall and in closer proximity to high-end retailers and departments stores will help consumers see how the Frank & Oak shopping experience is different.”

Frank & Oak’s vertical brand currently boasts more than 2.4 million customer profiles, according to Song, a former Deloitte employee who studied theater and engineering in school.

Song and Ratnani first met as students 17 years ago and built their company on the idea that Millennial men wanted a more simplified and affordable approach to shopping. That concept remains unchanged as the company expands across North America.“We will be announcing more store openings shortly, but they may not all be located in malls,” Song said.

“Our goal is to become an iconic brand and a 24/7 lifestyle adviser for Millennial consumers. But as we have grown we’ve seen that men want more than just cookie-cutter products and services,” he added.

“When a guy comes into our store he doesn’t say, ‘I need a leather jacket.’ He says, ‘I want that experience and while I’m here I’ll get that leather jacket.’ It’s a subtle difference, but we are listening and delivering what men want with more innovation, efficiency and personalized service.”