In the past few months, we've been excited to partner with some truly unique and innovative business owners. Businesses that are really changing the face of boutique shopping. On this interview we sat down with Brent Oberlink from Dapper Gents Grooming Lounge, a vintage-inspired barber shop that features domestically made menswear items. We discussed the inspiration for their business and what makes this old school/modern fusion work for them.
Tell us a little about Dapper Gents Grooming Lounge, how you got started, and your role there?
I’m the owner; basically owner and entrepreneur. I own another business as well and I travel a lot. When I was traveling, I fell in love with the idea of a barber shop that was like grandpa’s barber shop, but with more of a modern twist. I couldn’t find anything like that in St. Louis, so I decided to start one. Dapper Gents is the place where you can still get your straight shaves, can still get all the classic cuts, and styling too. We’re not only a barber shop, we employ stylists as well. The barber shop side of Dapper Gents is an old school and modern fusion.
What inspired you to combine a barber shop with a retail space?
On the menswear side, we were originally just going to do leather goods. We went to a Las Vegas fashion show, and while there we decided that we wanted to add sports coats and shirts. Everything on the menswear side is made in the USA. Our leather goods in particular are made in St. Louis or in the midwest. We differentiate ourselves from other menswear shops by having local items. Our merchandise is hand-picked and many of the items are handmade, so it creates a whole different atmosphere. We carry craftsmen menswear, and you can feel and see the quality in each item.
Are there specific products that you’ve found to be especially successful in your unique retail environment?
The Original Snake Bite is one of the most successful items we carry, I think in part due to the media blitz and social media surrounding it. The pick up has been really good. Another line that has been really successful for us is Shinola. They are a watch company that started in Detroit a few years ago. They are a leather goods watch maker, and they actually also make bicycles. All of their items are handmade in Detroit in a little factory. They do a tremendous job of social media advertising and have blown up big time in recent years. Another really successful line for us is Rawlings out of St. Louis. Everyone is familiar with them for making leather baseball gloves, but the also make leather bags, wallets and other leather items. We carry a line of theirs that is made in St. Genevieve.
Do you have a consumer in mind when you make decisions about what products you will carry?
We are in the loft district downtown, so a lot of our consumers are between the ages of 25 and 40. The other group of our folks are the businessmen who work downtown. For the most part, everything falls in those categories. We don’t have that many people who drive in from other areas; its mostly the loft residents.
Could you walk us through why you decided to carry the Snake Bite?
Right off the bat, the fact that it is a leather item, that struck our fancy a little bit in the beginning. Snake Bite has also done an awesome job staying on the ball. They are always quick to respond to requests. The other factor that influenced us is that they are a local St. Louis company, a newer start up, and we like to promote things that are from St. Louis.
You also offer “pop-up shops.” Can you tell us a little bit about those, and what it adds to the experience for your customers?
Basically everything that we carry in store is ready to walk out and wear. We’ve had a lot of customers request custom stuff. Bespoke Apparel has a shop out in Town and Country and they approached us to have a pop-up shop on the weekends. They come into our store and bring all of their pattern swatches and they offer complete custom tailoring. So, you come in, get fitted and they bring you back a suit or a shirt in about a month. We started that about three weeks ago and it’s been very well received.
What made you decide to offer memberships and what are the benefits your members receive?
We created memberships as a loyalty program. Many of our customers come in on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis. We wanted to give the guys that were in their that often some sort of a discount. We offer three levels, targeted towards how often the client comes in. We know that our prices are considerably more than other places to get your haircut, but you are really paying for the experience once you get there.
What is the next big thing we should expect from Dapper Gents Grooming Lounge?
In 2015, because we’re so new, our biggest thing right now is to continue to get established in the city. We are going to Vegas (for a fashion show) next month, so there might be some new items in the menswear side that we bring on. In the short term, we’re going to try to liven up the menswear side a little more with more of the items that have been well received. For us, that’s been the leather goods and locally made accessory items.
What takeaway would you want people to know about Dapper Gents?
One of the key items that makes us stand apart is our ambiance. That’s a word I hear a lot from customers. We create that by the way we display things and the items we have in the shop. Our barber chairs are a great example of that: they are over 100 years old and were originally made in St. Louis before 1920. We found them scattered all throughout the country, bought them, refurbished them and they look brand new, but bring that vintage feel. With our furnishings & our lounge, we've created what is very much a man’s world.
Another thing that makes us stand out is our straight razor shaves. We offer something that died out years ago and only a few select places still do them. Most barbers don’t actually have a straight razor license. Almost everyone in our shop has a straight razor license, so it has been a huge sales point for us.
Learn more about Dapper Gents Grooming Lounge here: