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Why Concepts Is Focused on Physical Retail More Than Ever — and Why Private Label Is a Major Priority

It’s been 25 years since Tarek Hassan opened his first Concepts store in Cambridge, Mass., and while many retailers have shifted focus to digital, he is still dedicated to brick-and-mortar.

With locations in Boston, New York, Shanghai and Dubai, Hassan said 2022 is about continuing to invest in the physical experience. Given recent challenges of COVID-19 and store shutdowns, this year, the founder and CEO is looking to reinvigorate Concepts’ activations, such as enlivening the cafe experience on Newbury Street in Boston, and deliver more community tie-in projects.

“We were born [as brick-and-mortar], and that’s where our focus is right now,” Hassan said. “We’ve invested [in physical], especially in 2020, so now we’re seeing the fruits of our labor there and we’re focusing on those locations.”

In Boston, with the flagship store that opened in October 2020, Concepts continues to push its boundaries. The flagship location contains a bigger mix of luxury in a space for more female-focused brands and wider installments of accessories, explained Hassan. It’s also the location of Vrsnl, a women’s-focused luxury boutique.

Dan Leonardi, VP of sales at Sperry, explained the store’s draw: “Concepts stands out to me as an elevated retail experience that perfectly blends the worlds of luxury fashion and streetwear/skate culture.”

He continued, “To me, they are the epitome of a concept store that started many years ago in some European and Asian cities. If you’ve been to their Newbury Street store, then you know that these guys are doing it as well or better than anyone in the U.S.”

Meanwhile, in Shanghai, Concepts is catering to a more fashion-driven consumer. And its New York location, which opened in December 2020, Hassan likens it to that Cambridge store, given the college crowd near its 99 University Place location.

Concepts New York City
A look inside the Concepts door at 99 University Place in New York City.
CREDIT: George Chinsee

Although Hassan wouldn’t disclose the site of his next Concepts door, the storeowner said he expects to open two more in the U.S. and one abroad by the end of 2023.

He noted what will remain consistent through all outposts are key brands and Concepts’ private label, which is merchandised for each respective market.

“Our private label continues to be our No. 1 priority — our No. 1 success — especially within this last year. For us as a brand, [private label] ultimately [gives us] the control to dictate what we’re making, how we’re making it and finding who that consumer is,” said Annie Morgan, brand manager at Concepts.

Hassan added that the private label business, which now consists of apparel, will expand into a full contemporary lifestyle brand. “That means increasing accessibility by investing in adaptive offerings, and it can also mean exploring NFTs as well,” Hassan said. “We want the private label to become a significant percentage of our business and a key brand that is trusted by and always serves our evolving consumer.

While Concepts is proud of its impressive retail experience, part of that includes an e-commerce component. Last year, for instance, the company launched a mobile app to give consumers access to exclusive products and early access to upcoming launches, as well as offering its diverse catalog of men’s and women’s footwear and apparel.

“Our brand has always had an international audience, but we have never been able to engage that community until now. E-commerce unlocks that customer for us and we continue to grow our e-commerce sales. Our website is evolving, as is our approach to storytelling across different channels like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and TikTok,” Hassan said.

Concepts New York City
The skate section inside the Concepts location in New York City.
CREDIT: George Chinsee

Part of Concepts’ 25-year success also comes from its close relationships with brands such as Adidas, Canada Goose, Nike and New Balance (Hassan’s first sneaker collaboration partner). “What keeps me going,” said Hassan, “is that we still are able to bring freshness, new ideas and storytelling to the brands.”

Concepts is continuing that trend this year and will be teaming up with a range of sneaker brands, including K-Swiss, Nike, New Balance, Vans and Converse.

K-Swiss international brand president Dave Grange said, “Anytime we can partner with Concepts, it’s a privilege. They add credibility, energy and a consumer reach that’s hard to obtain naturally. They have been doing this for 25 years and remain at the top of the game. Their history, heritage, knowledge and experience are unrivaled globally.”

What’s more, Concepts will partner with brands outside the sneaker space that have been instrumental to its success, including Sperry, Mephisto, Birkenstock and Sorel. It also will deliver its first-ever collaboration with Ecco.

“We’ve done collaborations with them in the past, but that was years ago. We wanted to work with them again to celebrate the history,” Hassan said. “These are the brands that were a big part of the beginning days of Concepts. These are my roots, going way back into the brown shoe world.”

Concepts New York City
Concepts in New York City.
CREDIT: George Chinsee
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