Social Justice a Must in Retailing, Says Apricot Lane Founder
Franchisees of Apricot Lane Boutique are allowed to buy their own merchandise to fit their community, including buying from local artisans.
“Today, the consumer culture has turned a page toward social justice,” declared Ken Petersen, founder and CEO of Apricot Lane Boutique, when I reached him today to talk about how retailing is changing in this era of big-box store closures and Amazon everywhere.
“It’s so important. It’s important to millennials, it’s important to a lot of people, when they realize this retailer gives a rip beyond selling whatever their wares are,” he said. “They’ve got a social justice and a purpose mindset. They’ll spend a little bit more money because of it.”
Apricot Lane’s social justice cause started in the mid-2000s, when his wife called to ask if he would sponsor a young girl from Cambodia who was a victim of sex trafficking. “Today, that girl is my daughter. It’s a tough issue, and I know of no other retailer who supports a cause this tough,” he said.
He brought the issue to his franchisee meeting in 2007, and franchisees supported it. “Today, every Apricot Lane store that opens up, everyone knows that Apricot Lane supports a cause”—to end human trafficking—“that affects every community.”
Apricot Lane has 68 stores open in 33 states, with another eight or nine scheduled to open during the rest of this year. Petersen began franchising the chain in 2007, right before the financial crisis, another tough time for retail during which he said Apricot Lane grew each year.
Now when he visits with franchise prospects, they say “they’re a little concerned about coming into the market, with all the volatility. And I say, this is a better opportunity than 2007, 2008, 2009,” he said, adding he receives many calls from developers these days whose shopping malls have empty spots as large retail chains shed stores.
“Now Apricot Lane gets to fill those voids that weren’t there a year, year and a half ago,” he said.
Petersen said he spent part of this week onboarding a new president, Patrick Stewart, who is not the actor but rather the former chief marketing officer for Sears and Kmart. Stewart is the first person to hold the president’s title other than Petersen, and the position was added for three reasons.
“One is our growth. Two is to bring in some … fresh blood and some fresh ideas,” he said. “For me, personally, it allows me to do what I love to do,” which includes getting new franchisees up to speed. “I fly all over the country and I have dinner with them, I handle the real estate and the leases and bringing them into the system,” he said. “They don’t have a Slick Willy salesperson out there.”