In just three years, Bait has grown from one storefront in Diamond Bar, Calif., to five locations along the West Coast. But the retailer isn’t interested in just being a regional player — it wants to compete on a national level.
“In time, we will have stores on the East Coast,” said Peng Cheng, owner of the popular chain of sneaker shops. “We would [like to] go to Portland, Ore., next, possibly the Midwest after that, then to the East Coast. One time zone at a time.”
While the company has big ambitions, it’s being selective when it comes to new locations.
“We’re looking for under-served areas in the sneakerhead realm,” said Paul Baclawski, Bait’s chief marketing officer. “They may not be prime locations — we’re not dropping into the heart of Los Angeles or New York, with super-high rents. We’re looking at locations that are outside of the core metrics for some of the brands out there, but still very important cities.”
This approach has allowed the retailer to expand quickly, setting up shop in Seattle and four cities in California: Diamond Bar, Orange, Los Angeles and the most recent, San Francisco, which opened in April. In addition to Portland as a possible store location, Baclawski noted that Texas is a desirable market for the retailer and that its search has even extended outside the U.S. — in June, Cheng visited Taiwan to scout possible store locations there.
Bait’s rapid expansion has been fueled, in part, by its diverse product selection, which, in addition to shoes, includes clothing and collectibles. While the company’s execs wouldn’t confirm sales figures, they said that business has consistently improved since the chain’s 2012 inception.
Another important part of the strategy has been brand collaborations. Baclawski said those partnerships have helped boost the store’s visibility among consumers and built its reputation as a destination for sneakerheads.
“You’re always looking for a point of difference,” he explained. “It’s a crucial part of the business because general-release product can be picked up anywhere. Collaborations help point sneaker collectors to us because they come in and then shop for other things. We want to be a destination not just for the shoe they’re collecting but for an everyday shoe, for collectibles they want, a button-down, a T-shirt, a hat.”
Bait has partnered with a number of athletic labels, including Adidas, Brooks, Saucony and Asics, on lifestyle sneakers.
“We wouldn’t do a collaboration with anyone we don’t hold in high regard,” said Colin Brickley, sales and marketing manager for Asics Lifestyle. “[Bait is] the premier boutique and independent retailer on the West Coast. The future looks bright for them as they venture up to Seattle and San Francisco.”
The brand’s joint releases with Asics have included the Rings Pack in 2012, utilizing the Gel Lyte III, GT II and Gel Saga silhouettes in colors that match the Olympic Rings. In April, timed for the opening of the San Francisco store, the two worked together on the Bay Pack, a tribute to the Golden State Warriors and San Francisco Giants.
Bait’s partnership with Brooks began in 2014, when the retailer approached Brooks — which had just launched its Heritage label — with an idea for a collaboration around some of those classic silhouettes. The result was the Centennial, utilizing the running brand’s popular Chariot style.
Earlier this month, the two companies teamed up again, releasing the Oyster sneaker. Limited to 99 pairs, the shoe incorporates upscale oyster leather (frequently used in luxury cars) on Brooks’ Fusion silhouette.
“[Bait] has an active and captivated audience, and we knew they would deliver a compelling story that would bring life and energy into the Fusion model,” said Shane Downey, global director of Brooks Heritage.
Baclawski noted that one way to tell if a collaboration has succeeded is if it’s spotted on the feet of competitors.
“We designed these shoes that we thought were sick, but we designed them for a general consumer,” he said. “When you see a buyer or owner of another store wearing our shoes, it’s very flattering. That’s when we realized we were starting to make a mark and turn some heads.”
Baclawski added that Bait’s sneaker collaborations will continue throughout 2015. This month, the retailer released a G.I. Joe-inspired pack with New Balance, and Brooks confirmed that it has two more releases scheduled with the store.
For 2016, however, the retailer plans to scale back on collabs because the management team feels that market has become over-saturated.
“The number of collaborations out there is without a doubt muddled,” Baclawski said. “A lot of the projects we’ve been working on, we’ve been working on for months — at least nine months to a year. We’ve started to back down on some and even canceled some. We’ve started to be more picky about who [we work with] and how we’re doing collaborations because of how many are out there.”
The Bait CMO predicted that limiting the brand’s collabs could help the chain. “The collaboration game is tough right now,” he said. “Pulling back will only make our projects stronger, with bigger demand.”