Breakout Retailers: CSA’s annual award program honors five growing brands

Innovation is crucial in today’s competitive marketplace — retailers cannot hope to compete, much less succeed, by staying in place. Chain Store Age profiles five forward-thinking brands that are blazing new paths, redefining and reinventing their industry segments in the process. They are the winners of CSA’s annual Breakout Retailers Awards.

Selected by the editorial board of CSA, the awards honor innovative retail and restaurant brands that have crossed the “newbie” line and are on track for growth in the coming years.

The class of 2018 features five forward-thinking companies that have shown themselves adept at making connections with — and delighting — customers, whether it’s online, in store or both.

The winning lineup is diverse. It includes two digitally native brands expanding in bricks-and-mortar, with one pursuing a showroom model and the other taking a different path. It also includes a restaurant chain that has put a new spin on the concept of “eatertainment,” an upscale lifestyle retailer/manufacturer dedicated to U.S. job creation and a locally sourced, farm-to-table, quick-serve brand.

For all their differences, the Breakout Retailers are alike in their ability to stand tall in today’s disrupted retail environment.


Someone forgot to tell Indochino that getting customers to buy made-to-measure suits would be a hard sell. Founded in 2007, the digitally native company has been on an upward trajectory ever since — online and off. Indeed, Indochino has made the leap to bricks-and-mortar with finesse, opening handsomely furnished stores (“showrooms” in Indochino-speak) that reflect the brand’s aesthetic and bring its online customization experience to life.

The company’s first permanent space opened in fall 2015 in its hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia. It has since expanded to 22 locations (eight in Canada and 14 in the United States). The retailer has big plans for 2018, opening up to 18 locations, including just-opened sites at SouthPark Mall in Charlotte, N.C., and The Galleria in Houston. Other spring openings include Dallas and Austin.

“Our goal is to open over 100 showrooms in North America during the next decade and explore international expansion,” said Drew Green, CEO of Indochino. “That said, we’ll continue to be strategic as to when and where we open new locations and will be expanding for as long as it makes good business sense.”

Under the leadership of Green, who came on board as CEO in 2015, Indochino has made a major commitment to bricks-and-mortar growth, while also expanding its online and fulfillment capabilities. Most recently, it reduced the time it takes to fulfill an order from four weeks to three weeks, citing increased efficiencies across the manufacturing and delivery cycle. Green explained why Indochino made the move to physical retail.

“Indochino was born out of the belief that custom clothing should be accessible to everyone,” he said. “While we started online and were seeing huge success, we also realized that there are many people who prefer the in-person experience of having someone guide them through the process of designing a suit.”

Indochino’s showrooms are designed around the brand’s stylish approach to customized menswear. Averaging about 3,000 sq. ft., they are divided into zones with rows of fabric panels, mannequins showcasing the various customization and personalization options available, and spacious “measuring stations” that take the place of traditional changing rooms. There are two lounges, one for tailoring and another for wedding parties and larger groups to relax.

At Indochino, customers take on the role of designer, selecting — with the help of store associates (“style guides”) — from millions of possible combinations of fabrics and customization options to create one-of-a-kind suits and shirts. The associates input the fabric and customizations while they walk the customer around all the options. The garments are made to each customer’s precise measurements and shipped directly to their door within three weeks.

Initially, the retailer was concerned that a retail presence could cannibalize its online business. But the effect has been just the opposite.

“We were surprised to see our online sales grow twice as fast in our showroom markets than anywhere else,” Green said.

-- Marianne Wilson

Punch Bowl Social

Not everyone goes to a restaurant just to eat and drink. Some people want to play games too, especially millennials. That’s the premise and appeal of Punch Bowl Social, a rising player in the “eatertainment” category — one with a slightly more upmarket spin.

Launched in 2012, Punch Bowl Social takes its name from a custom popular during the Victorian era, when people would gather together to discuss matters around punch bowls. It offers a multidimensional experience that combines diner-inspired, made-from-scratch dishes and craft beverages with a dizzying array of activities — from vintage arcade games, Ping-Pong and karaoke to bowling and, most recently, VR — all in a lively, playful and high-design environment. The Denver-based company has expanded from its original flagship to 11 locations across the United States. And more are in the works.

“Punch Bowl Social plans to open a total of six new locations this year including Chicago, Atlanta, San Diego, Dallas, Arlington, Virginia and Brooklyn,” said founder and CEO Robert Thompson, who opened nine different restaurant concepts before Punch Bowl Social.

The company’s plans for the next phase of its growth got a boost this past July with an investment from private equity firm L Catterton, which has helped capitalize such restaurant chains as P.F. Chang’s and Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza.

“Punch Bowl Social is a unique dining experience unmatched by other traditional eateries,” stated Jon Owsley, co-managing partner of L Catterton’s Growth Fund. “It is positioned for long-term growth due to its proven success with the millennial consumer, and we look forward to working with their experienced management team to accelerate their expansion.”

Real Estate: The company has a diverse real estate strategy that runs the gamut from The Domain, an outdoor mixed-use center in Austin, Texas, to a location in downtown Detroit. Among its newest locations is downtown Sacramento, where it opened its first site in a hotel, the Kimpton Sawyer, directly opposite the Golden 1 sports and entertainment arena.

Punch Bowl Social has also shown itself adept at repurposing locations with historic roots. In November, it opened a 32,000-sq.-ft. outpost just outside of Denver on the site of the landmark air traffic control tower building at what was once Stapleton International Airport. (The building laid vacant since the airport closed more than 20 years ago and a planned community developed around the municipal site.)

“We are intentional about seeking locations that have historic roots but need a new purpose,” Thompson said. “We’ve done it at our original location on Broadway in Denver and have projects in San Diego and Brooklyn that will also adapt historic properties for reuse as Punch Bowl Socials.”

According to Thompson, Punch Bowl functions best in two settings: urban and quasi-urban locations.

“Urban — in town — culture reflects the best relationship between Punch Bowl Social and the customer and culture,” he explained. “While quasi-urban locations (those between the suburbs and downtowns) still attract an u