Detroit Denim Co. could open a second location in the city come 2019.
Owner Eric Yelsma made the announcement Wednesday to a crowd of about 200 industry members who are visiting Detroit for the Design Retail Forum at the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit.
The Detroit-based jeans maker is actively scouting for a 1,000-square-foot storefront that offers dense foot traffic.
Detroit Denim, which employs about a dozen people, currently makes about 20 pairs of jeans a day. The company expects to stretch its production to 250 pairs by 2020 and 1,000 pairs by 2022, Yelsma said.
Yelsma projects revenue this year will be just shy of $1 million. Detroit Denim jeans sell for $195 and up; the jeans currently are manufactured and sold at its facility in the Rivertown warehouse district.
Production for Detroit Denim pales compared with national brands such as Los Angeles-based American Apparel Inc. that make as many as 8,000 pairs a day, Yelsma said. But Detroit Denim, which has been around since 2010, is finding success by focusing on a niche client base.
“My goal isn’t to overtake the jeans or apparel industry, but to be niche specific,” Yelsma told the audience. “I don’t think there will be a growth in the apparel business like it was in the ’70s, but i think there’s space for us.”
Yelsma spoke as part of a panel of business people who took a chance and found success in Detroit’s retail scene during the same decade the city fell into bankruptcy. Shinola CEO Tom Lewand, Whole Foods Market Midwest design coordinator Christine Sturch and Sachse Construction CEO Todd Sachse described their companies, including along the way some history about Detroit’s retail landscape. The panel was moderated by Ken Nisch, chairman of JGA Inc.
When he started Detroit Denim in 2010, Yelsma found low barriers to entry and lots of cheap space in the city. He recognized the need for Detroit to diversify its industry beyond automobiles.
“There is still kind of an underdog mentality for this city,” he said.
But necessity breeds innovation, Yelsma said, as Detroit Denim has sprung up along with numerous startups and small businesses realizing success in Detroit.
A new store also means another round of hiring, which Yelsma projects could yield six new employees.
“It’s a different story now looking for space and finding vacancy and something more appropriate for us than it was, say, five years ago,” he said.
Yelsma credits his experience-modeled retail plan for his company’s success. That includes not only selling a product, but engaging with and teaching the customers about the product, which gets them to return. It can be rewarding, Yelsma said.
“Every time you buy jeans, we can mark them and hem them up on the spot,” he said. “It’s a level of customization we can do and it’s good on our behalf to not have excess supply. Customers do not have to worry about jeans being too long or too short.”