From Firefighter to Fashion: The Story Behind Apricot Lane Boutique
Courtesy of Apricot Lane Boutique
In the time not spent fighting flames and saving civilians, many firefighters turn to construction or other manual labor-type jobs—but not Ken Petersen. Instead, he went the retail route and founded Apricot Lane Boutique, a women’s fashion franchise that offers unique flexibility in franchising and has partnered with Disney.
“It’s pretty simple, I just didn’t want calluses,” Petersen said of his circa 1980s decision to avoid the manual labor field. He and his partner, also a firefighter, worked opposite shifts and could alternate running their first retail endeavors in selling oak furniture and later, country collectibles.
“I’m passionate about franchising, and I believe so strongly in the franchising model,” Petersen said of his businesses before Apricot Lane. “I thought, if we can create a successful business, let’s franchise it.”
Now at 75-plus locations nationwide and headquartered in Vacaville, California, the idea for Apricot Lane Boutique came when Petersen realized there wasn’t a single franchised women’s fashion boutique concept in the country at the time.
“That’s how a firefighter who doesn’t know much about fashion but is passionate about franchising and helping people be successful brought in a fashion team and created the Apricot Lane concept,” said Petersen (pictured below) of the career transition.
He emphasized a unique aspect of the boutique: flexibility. Apricot Lane has buyers all across the U.S., including in top markets such as Los Angeles, and communicates with franchisees to coordinate merchandise plans. That being said, after initial inventory is curated, franchisees have the freedom to bring in brands that will fit their specific audience—no Apricot Lane Boutique location offers all of the same products.
“Women’s fashion is different in Florida than it is in Texas, or in Seattle, or South Dakota,” Petersen said. “A big part of who we are is that flexibility and opportunity to curate merchandise to customers’ needs.”
The first Apricot Lane locations opened in 2007 in Virginia Beach and Coconut Creek, Florida, both of which are still open today. Not long after inception, a Disney executive noticed Petersen as he accepted an award at a conference in Las Vegas; soon after, Apricot Lane was offered a spot in downtown Disney in Anaheim, California.
Originally offered a six-month limited opportunity, Apricot Lane ended up staying in Anaheim for three-and-a-half years. Thanks to overwhelmingly positive customer satisfaction, just three months after opening in May 2011 in Anaheim, Apricot Lane opened another location in Orlando’s Disney downtown. This location stayed for four years, the longest of any temporary store in Disney’s history.
"Just three weeks after opening, Disney said ‘We’ve never seen this before, we have guests thanking us for bringing Apricot Lane to downtown Disney,’” Petersen said of the amusement park visitors’ reaction to the fashion franchise.
Though having since been replaced by Disney Vacation Club, there are no hard feelings. The Disney deal not only gave Apricot Lane international exposure, but insight to how to “raise the bar” in its own business, Petersen said. “You’ll be talking with the VP of Disney and they’ll be walking in downtown Disney and if they see trash, they’ll pick it up,” he said. “Seeing that in action impacts you and how you operate.”
Despite online conglomerates seemingly taking over the retail sphere, Apricot Lane is projected to continue growing at 20-30 stores per year, Petersen said.
“We combat online shopping by being a boutique that’s connected to the community,” Petersen said. “You don’t get a stylist from e-commerce, you don’t get someone to help you put the outfit together,” he said, emphasizing that the boutique atmosphere and environment is something the internet cannot provide.
While the boutique is the main focus at each location, franchisees are encouraged to engage with social media and expand the brick-and-mortar experience by selling online through a branded e-commerce template, Petersen said.
Apricot Lane is “pretty picky” with selecting franchisees, looking for those that have a sense of fashion and love interacting with people, said Petersen. “They don’t need to have a passion for fashion, but at least an affinity,” he said.
The startup investment for an Apricot Lane location is $225,000, which includes the first store fee of $34,500. Along with the obvious financial stability and organizational skills, the founder of the women’s boutique also said he wants franchisees to have enthusiasm for work and for life.
Individual stores are generally about 2,200 square feet, and primary states for expansion include California, Louisiana, Tennessee and Ohio.
Despite plentiful international exposure and inquiries, Apricot Lane will stay in the United States. Soon to be at 100 locations nationwide, Petersen noted a principle of the boutique franchise: not growing faster than what they can support.
Apricot Lane franchisees should not feel its growth, he said. The only thing they should be feeling are additional benefits and leverage from said growth. “We’re plenty busy in our backyard,” Petersen said. “We’re pleased to focus on just doing one thing really well.”