Extra Butter Talks Why Sneaker Fans Have Loved the Store for the Past 10 Years

Extra Butter Ankur Amin Bernie Gross
Ankur Amin (L) and Bernie Gross of Extra Butter, shot exclusively for FN during Lower East Side NYC store renovations.
Joshua Scott

In its first decade, Extra Butter earned rave reviews from critics, who lauded it as a fun, welcoming destination sneakerheads could call their own. And for the sequel, it plans to ramp up its cinematic experiences to keep fans satisfied.

Established by film buff Jason Faustino and industry veterans Ankur and Nick Amin in 2007 (and joined in 2009 by art director Bernie Gross), the retailer has evolved from a single suburban Long Island store with three employees to a staff of more than 20 manning two must-stop streetwear shops — including one in the heart of New York’s Lower East Side neighborhood.

Although the retailer has gained fans through its smart collabs, carefully curated product selection from top brands and a trendy private-label collection, it is stellar in-store and digital experiences that set Extra Butter apart in the marketplace.

“Extra Butter are the kings at delivering an experience to their customer,” said Patrick Bunker, trend sales key account manager at Reebok. “Every project they work on becomes a passion project and means something to them and their customers.”

And it’s that devotion to providing memories that will lead the retailer into the future.

“The challenge is to have the Extra Butter experience not be about product. The premise is to bring them in because we have this incredible experience,” Ankur Amin explained.

To elevate its in-store presentation, the retailer invested $900,000 in a massive Nobuo Araki-designed renovation to its Lower East Side door. The store, which received a movie theater-inspired makeover that both sneaker enthusiasts and film fans are sure to love, opens Nov. 7.

But the refreshed door isn’t the only notable alteration at the retailer; the Extra Butter cast and crew have also changed. Industry veteran Jeff Staple joined as the creative director of parent company TGS in October 2016. And Paul Lee, formerly of Philadelphia boutique Ubiq, came on as the retailer’s GM and buyer in July 2017.

Extra Butter Paul Lee Extra Butter’s GM and buyer Paul Lee. Joshua Scott

“I’ve always had a ton of respect for the owners of EB,” Lee said. “I’ve always appreciated everything that the brand has done culturally within the sneaker world, so when the opportunity came up for me to join the team, I accepted. It felt right.”

Ahead of the store’s opening, the Extra Butter team sat down with Footwear News to talk best and worst collabs, navigating a changing environment and what the retailer will look like in 10 years.

What does EB at 10 mean to you?

BG: “It’s an achievement a lot of pioneering brands and boutiques we grew up with and find influential didn’t get to see. From a professional point of view, it’s something every business wants to reach. From a cultural point of view, we almost have a responsibility of influencing the next generation, influencing how consumers and brands view the brand and how we provide a consumer experience.”

AA: “It wasn’t a personal passion of mine to start Extra Butter. My passion was to enable Bernie and Jay Faustino with passion. I felt it was my duty not to help them but to enable them. I had been in the retail sneaker business for over 20 years at that point and had no idea how far the industry had evolved in NYC. Visiting shops like Reed Space, Nort, Clientele and Classic Kicks really changed the way I looked at sneakers and our business. Those shops were beautiful to me. Ten years later, our brand is able to make similar impressions on people.”

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to navigate in the past decade?

BG: “Learning to adapt and leverage the internet and social media to the best of our ability. First, we were competing on Long Island, and then New York City, and now we’re competing against the entire world. Anyone who has access or a login to Instagram or a website are essentially our competitors now. Everyone loves to look at New York as the stage, but there’s going to be dark horses that come out of nowhere all over the world that are going to keep us on our toes for the rest of our business life.”

What’s Extra Butter’s biggest accomplishment to date?

AA: “We’ve been able to deliver on the feeling behind our brand to the end consumer. We’re a quirky, fun-loving band of guys that are into cool shoes. I feel pride in the fact that my consumers see that.”

BG: “There’s this common sentiment that everyone I talk to says about Extra Butter: You guys are cool, have cool stuff, and I like coming to you. Our last customer last night, he picked up an online order. He had mentioned he goes out of his way to come here, that he passes two other shops from his location of work. He said, ‘The first time I came here, you guys made me feel so comfortable. I like the vibe in the store. You make a 40-year-old sneaker enthusiast continue to want to be a sneaker enthusiast.’”

What’s the secret to a killer collab?

AA: “If you time it right, it is going to be successful. To understand what the consumer is thirsting for and bring it to him at the time he’s thirsting for it, it will always work.”

BG: “But if you remove the timing, if the design and story is compelling enough, you still kill it.”

What collaboration did you absolutely knock out of the park?

BG: “‘Street Meat.’ Reebok broke the story that 2015 was going to be the year of the Ventilator, and ours was the first one to come out, Feb. 14. It’s some people’s favorite color combination, the story was there, the execution was there.”

AA: “And the halal guys were in the midst of a massive growth process, too. Halal meats were becoming more significant.”

BG: “It’s such a genuine New York story. We were thinking: What can you say about New York without being so cheesy or like a gift shop? This was for real New Yorkers. If you knew your s**t, you’re going to 53rd Street and grabbing halal at 2 a.m. And we sat down with those guys and wanted to get them involved, and for some reason they didn’t have the foresight to see the value in partnering with us, so they politely declined. Two years later, they came back to us and said, ‘We screwed up,’ because a lot of the franchises they were opening internationally, they would hand the keys over and sign the contracts, and a lot of the franchisees were like, ‘Great, when are we getting our stock of those Reeboks you did?’ And they were like, ‘No, we didn’t take part in it.’”

Extra Butter Reebok Street Meat Ventilator Extra Butter x Reebok “Street Meat” Ventilator Extra Butter

Did any collabs miss the mark?

AA: “The [Reebok] prom one missed the mark. The product was not fashion-relevant, so we missed on fashion timing. And we missed on the actual activation of the product; we were ambitious in the activation, but it didn’t resonate. We didn’t tell the movie story well, ‘Pretty in Pink.’ I don’t think anybody knows that’s what that was, a his-and-hers ‘Pretty in Pink’ story.”

BG: “It had nothing to do with the movie, per se. And I’ll be honest, from the creative legal point of view, we started to get nervous about what we can and can’t say about movies. We’ve had our wrists slapped a little bit, so we were like, ‘How do we imply it’s about a movie without actually saying it?’ Most of the time, you need to force-feed it, you need to serve it on a silver platter to the consumer, like: ‘This is what inspired us.’”

What have you learned over this 10-year journey?

AA: “Retail is an ever-changing dynamic. You need to be adapting all the time, you need to be engaged, you need to be talking to people who are making a difference. Extra Butter has got me out of my comfortable cocoon on Long Island and out in the world seeing some great change happen at a rapid pace. Even a simple move from Long Island to New York City has changed the dynamic of our brand, the way we perceive business and our ability as good retailers. What I’ve learned in the past 10 years is going to enable me to be relevant in this space as a retailer.”

What does the next decade for Extra Butter look like?

AA: “We’re focused on being a great retailer. We want to make sure we’re talking to our consumer in an approachable, digestible way. This business suffers from overselling or overengineering a sale, and we’d like to have a more organic, authentic relationship with our consumers.”

JS: “And I see more than two Extra Butters. In 10 years, I could see five EBs in America. The design of it is repeatable — it’s not so artful that it’s nonrepeatable, and any region of the world that likes film can accept an Extra Butter. And when I say film, they go beyond an AMC or a Lowes; they have arthouse cinema, independent cinema, they get the different facets of film. If they have that base, that’s a perfect spot for Extra Butter.”

Extra Butter Lower East Side New York City (L to R): Ankur Amin, Bernie Gross, Jeff Staple, Nobuo Araki, Paul Lee and Nick Amin. Joshua Scott