Jack Erwin Takes Unconventional Approach

NEW YORK — When it comes to selling shoes, Lane Gerson and Ariel Nelson prefer the direct approach.

After launching in 2013 Jackerwin.com, which offers classic footwear for men, the two are extending their reach with the opening of The Fitting Room, a companion brick-and-mortar business located in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood.

Investors have been steadily coming aboard. Recently, a $9 million Series B investment in the business was led by Brown Shoe Co. This followed a $2 million Series A investment in February 2014. Initial funding was provided by friends and family.

The transition from online selling to a storefront was always in the business plan. “Tribeca’s a neighborhood we enjoy, and it represents the ethos of our brand,” Nelson said about the collection, which targets men employed in the area’s financial institutions. Retailing from $95 to $220, the line includes oxfords, penny mocs and chukka boots, all made in Spain from leathers produced in Italy and France.

While The Fitting Room offers traditional looks, its retail approach is anything but. According to the entrepreneurs, the location on Hubert Street will not stock any inventory. Instead, the entire offering will be available for customers to try on for size, with orders then placed via the website.

The concept helps keep costs in check since no product is kept on hand. Meanwhile, the Fitting Room gives the partners a chance to “engage with customers” and learn firsthand what men are looking for in their footwear, Gerson said.

“It’s online meeting offline,” Nelson said. He emphasized that men don’t mind waiting several days for their shoes to be delivered to their door, as an alternative to carrying them around.

The unorthodox approach to retail is starting to gain traction elsewhere, too. Just last week, Paul Drish, a new men’s line out of India, debuted with Pauldrish.com, an e-commerce site, as well as a New York showroom that doubles as retail space. Here, customers can book an appointment to see the selection as well as be fitted. Orders are then placed online and shipped to their homes.

Gerson and Nelson were newbies to the industry when they launched the business. Nelson, 31, was formerly in food and beverages, while Gerson, 32, has a background in accounting. Inspiration for the collection came when they had to attend a wedding for which they couldn’t find reasonably priced classic footwear.

After a serendipitous encounter with industry veteran Bertrand Guillaume, they found the expert they needed to oversee production and design.

Gerson and Nelson said it’s too early to predict what percentage of overall sales the store will represent. That said, first-year online revenues totaled several million dollars, with expectations that number could double over the next year. The partners plan to roll out additional stores.

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