The pink whale has beached itself in Manhattan.
On Friday, Vineyard Vines made perhaps its boldest statement yet, opening a 6,000-square-foot flagship in Grand Central Terminal.
The store, at 89 East 42nd Street on the east side of Vanderbilt Hall, is larger than most of the company’s other 80-odd units, which average 3,000 to 3,500 square feet.
The opening in the rail station is also symbolic for the brand that started 18 years ago when brothers and Connecticut natives Shep and Ian Murray ditched their day jobs to start a men’s neckwear company inspired by their love of the leisure life. “We decided to trade in our business suits for bathing suits by selling ties so we wouldn’t have to wear them,” according to the company’s story.
“I worked on 40th and Madison,” Shep said at the store’s soft opening Friday morning. “So to come back here is really special. Everybody thinks of New York as a city, we think of it as an island, the greatest island in the world, and we have our boat right in the middle of it.”
The store uses a stem of a boat as its cash wrap station and there are mounted marlins, tunas and mahi-mahis hanging from the ceiling. Portholes are part of the design and in half of the store, the ceiling is painted blue. “We’re a blue sky kind of brand,” Shep said. On the other side, the brothers retained the carved molding and some of the original flooring from the train station and exposed some of the beams.
There are a slew of photos of the brothers hanging on the walls, along with some custom surfboards, including one with the New York skyline in the design.
Women’s and children’s is located on the left side of the store while men’s and special product are merchandised on the right. There’s a section devoted to the America’s Cup, which will be held in Bermuda next June, and some Olympics-inspired product.
In fact, Shep revealed, Vineyard Vines will open its first international store on Front Street in Bermuda this summer.
“Ian and I are involved in every aspect of every store,” Shep said. In addition to the design, the brothers also chose the soundtrack, which in the case of the Grand Central store included a lot of country music from artists such as Jason Aldean and Cole Swindell.
Although the store was covered with scaffolding on the outside and the brand did nothing but open the doors, it was crowded on opening day with customers who were buying the colorful shirts, pants and jackets. And when they spied the Murray brothers, they weren’t shy about asking for photos or offering suggestions on where the next store should be located or what other products they’d like to see the pink whale logo adorn.
“This is a great opportunity for us to show the world we’re a brand that plays everywhere,” Ian said. “Not just when you’re on vacation and not just in the summer, but all year long.”
He said that since starting with a few whimsical designs on ties, Vineyard Vines has expanded into a variety of classifications for men, women and children, as well as home and outdoor products including co-branded golf bags and Yeti coolers. It has associations with the Kentucky Derby, Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the America’s Cup and it sponsors pro golfers Jason Dufner and Russell Knox.
“We’ve gotten into denim, outerwear, sweaters,” Ian said. “And we think they’ll all be well-received.”
They stressed that although the designs are classic, the brand has embraced the updates available — and desirable — today. “It might look like Kennedy might have worn it,” Ian said, “but you’ll still be comfortable with it in your closet today. We’ve gotten into a lot of performance gear, but in classic styles. Our khakis stretch and our polos wick, but they don’t scream it.”
His brother added: “It shows the evolution of our product. We’ve added performance qualities to provide classic American sportswear with modern technology that brings our experience to life.”
That experience — its motto is: Every day should feel this good — is also evident in the special touches in the store. There are videos of the brand’s marketing shoots that show ships sailing on the oceans; a reel shows the brothers being interviewed on Bloomberg TV. A 55-inch interactive digital mirror will be added to the store as well, which will allow customers to add digital elements to the photo such as sailboats or whales and then take a selfie. Only the company’s newly opened Detroit store has one of these mirrors.
Shep said that while the Grand Central store is larger than most, its size allows the brand more breadth to “express ourselves.”
“It’s honest and real,” he continued. “It’s not about being exclusive, but being as inclusive as possible.”
More customers than ever will have an opportunity to try out the Vineyard Vines brand, thanks to the company’s ambitious rollout plan. Ian said they will be up to 100 stores by the end of the year and the wholesale business continues to be strong.
“Our retail just helps our wholesale, which is growing rapidly,” Ian said. “We still have a lot of mom-and-pops and green grass, but our business with Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s is also growing year-over-year. Our brand is still pretty young and a store like this helps put us on the map.”
Although they declined to provide a figure, the brothers are hoping the Grand Central unit will be its largest — or among its largest — volume stores. “We don’t really understand the customer yet,” Shep said, “but we should within a couple of weeks.” A grand-opening party is slated for the fall.
The Murrays then addressed the big question on whether they were looking for an investor or an exit strategy. Rumors surfaced in May that they had hired Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to sell a minority stake in the business. Although a Reuters report put the valuation of the company at $1 billion, sources believe that number is highly inflated. At the time of the 15th anniversary in 2013, volume was a little north of $100 million.
Ian was quick to set the record straight on the investor issue.
“Shep and I are 50-50 owners of the business,” he said, and there are no plans to step aside. “We explored the option of bringing in a minority partner, and we’re still exploring it. But it would only be someone who would be a great cultural fit and add the resources for us to explore and continue to expand.”
His brother added: “The only way we would do it would be if it was a good thing for the entire company. We would have to make sure we’re doing the responsible thing for the business.”