Ryan Vesler readily admits that in 2007 −when he was packing T-shirts in his parents’ basement− if you’d asked whether he thought HOMAGE would ever have two shops in Columbus, he probably would have given you a funny look.
However, the HOMAGE brand has evolved quite a bit since then, moving from a wholesale strategy to working with retailers that have existing brick and mortar locations. Then, two years ago, it became apparent that in order to become a lifestyle brand, HOMAGE would have to develop a one-of-a-kind retail presence.
“Being able to influence the sensory experience is so pivotal in the retail game,” said Vesler, HOMAGE’s founder and president.
It’s what he set out to do with the brand’s first shop −in the Short North− and the tradition continues at its newest location.
“When you walk into the Easton store for the first time, there is a giant image of Jesse Owens running in Ohio Stadium on the wall,” he said. “HOMAGE at Easton Town Center is about sharing stories like this, and many others, with more people and changing the way customers interact with an apparel brand.”
Though Vesler saw an Easton store as an opportunity to share the brand’s vision with more people, as well as a testament to the creativity, enthusiasm and passion with which it approaches the idea of paying homage, the news was met with mixed reactions.
“I heard a few rumblings of HOMAGE ‘selling out’ by opening a bigger store at a more ‘corporate’ retail setting,” he said. “At the end of the day, though, I think it’s really important that a smaller brand like HOMAGE have a seat at the table.”
Though HOMAGE certainly is smaller than many of its Easton neighbors, it’s far from obscure. In fact, the label’s profile has risen considerably, even since the Short North shop opened nearly two years ago, as evidenced by the slew of celebrities photographed in its shirts, including Chris Rock, Nick Jonas, and Chad Ochocinco.
Vesler attributes the increased visibility to an emphasis on social media, marketing, and customer experience.
Visitors to the Short North store often remark on its 1960s-era Coke machine (that dispenses ice-cold 12-ounce bottles) and original four-player NBA Jam arcade game. Those quirky features have helped make it a shopping destination, and they are also present at the Easton store.
“There are two new things, however, that are really fun,” Vesler said. “Mounted to one of the walls is the tail end of a 1970s Volkswagen Bus. The bus houses some rad Surf Ohio gear. The other detail that I’m really excited about is an Apple II computer that has been modified to gather e-mail addresses for the HOMAGE mailing list. The original keyboard and mouse still work!”
As a self-professed Apple geek, Vesler is especially fond of the computer.
“It’s my little way of honoring Steve Jobs, someone whose passion and vision have guided me in so many ways,” he said.
With the additional 1,500 square feet the Easton space affords HOMAGE (the store is nearly 2,600 square feet, while the Short North location is just under 1,000) , there are plans to expand into new categories across its product assortment.
“I think there’s a great opportunity to grow into things like headwear, outerwear, women’s and kids,” he said.
Going forward, Vesler is focused on continuing to build HOMAGE’s Internet presence, as well as the retail side of the business.
“Like Columbus, there are so many incredible markets full of passionate and loyal sports fans,” he said. “Being able to tap into the legacies and mythologies of other cities and states would be a lot of fun! From a graphics standpoint, I’d like to expand into more T-shirt categories, like music and popular culture.”
The HOMAGE store at Easton held its soft launch Tuesday and a grand opening is slated for Saturday, when the first 50 customers through its doors will receive a prize pack full of goodies, including a backpack, a Frisbee, buttons, stickers, pens, pencils, and popcorn.