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North Loop's Martin Patrick 3 sets standard for shopping experience

Martin Patrick 3 is one of the most unique men's stores in the country, but the North Loop anchor did not start out that way.

By: John Ewoldt  Published: February 14, 2016

RENEE JONES SCHNEIDER, STAR TRIBUNE

The team: Owners Dana Swindler and Greg Walsh stand front left and center, above. Behind them are employees Robert Elder, Todd Fliginger, Erick DeLeon, Hannah Weer and Megan Housman.

The Twin Cities is a difficult place for luxury retailers.

Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Intoto have come and gone. Only one shopping center, the Galleria in Edina, can rightfully claim to be luxury-focused. Even the Mall of America, despite its huge size and the presence of Nordstrom, won't be a luxury destination until its next expansion is complete.
But as the North Loop attracted more people to live in downtown Minneapolis, its former warehouses and factories began to attract upscale retailers, becoming a new destination for Twin Cities shoppers. At the center of the neighborhood's development is a men's store that didn't start out as one and that, over the past five years, has become one of the most distinctive shopping experiences in the entire Twin Cities — Martin Patrick 3.

"Martin Patrick is at the point where they're as good as bricks and mortar can be," said Tina Wilcox, chief executive of Black, a retail branding agency in Minneapolis. "They have great merchandise, a good-better-best pricing policy that allows a lot of different people to shop there, and they move and turn merchandise quickly so the store always looks new."

The store sells men's clothes along with furniture and interior design services in the 130-year-old Colonial Warehouse building, originally home to a streetcar company. Martin Patrick 3's layout is almost mazelike with niches, nooks and crannies devoted to various brands and departments. Snacks are placed around the store for browsers to freely nibble. And there's a bar for drinks where customers can relax.

Geoff Schneiderman, president at Eleventy USA, a fashion brand that Martin Patrick 3 stocks, said the store is "one of the best examples of creating an experience."

Martin Patrick 3 not only sells men's clothing but home goods, as pictured above. Snacks are situated throughout the store for shoppers, and a bar is available for those waiting or to simply relax.

Around its 3rd Av. N. location, restaurants such as Bachelor Farmer, Spoon and Stable and Bar La Grassa have joined retailers Askov Finlayson, Shinola, Arrow, D. Nolo, Pacifier and Cooks of Crocus Hill. Representatives of two retail newcomers in the North Loop, Grethen House women's boutique and Russell + Hazel office products, said being close to Martin Patrick 3 influenced their moves. "Martin Patrick is an anchor retailer there and highly desirable for us," said Kara Christopherson, president of Russell + Hazel.

Tadd Brindley, co-owner of Grethen House, said, "Their store is so gorgeous that it encouraged me to push the visuals in our stores to be better."

Consumers want a sense of theater and entertainment in retail that they can't get in an online store, according to Bill Damberg, owner of Brightwater men's store in Excelsior. "The breadth of their selection, from personal care items to bespoke suits, rivals anything you could find in New York or L.A.," he said.

Co-owner Greg Walsh started the business in 1994 as an interior design firm near Lake Calhoun. After moving downtown and adding a furniture studio, customers suggested to Walsh and co-owner Dana Swindler that they offer men's clothing. They tried offering a few apparel items in 2006, then created a separate clothing store in 2008. Two years later, they brought it all together and moved into the Colonial Warehouse.

"We never planned to add men's and furniture," Walsh said. "We're bad business people that way."

The store has experienced 30 percent to 40 percent annual growth for each of the past four years, a time when retail growth nationally has been in the single digits. "It's crazy busy," Walsh said. "All engines are firing — furniture, apparel and design each contribute."

The store is gaining more attention from retail analysts and sophisticated shoppers from outside the region. Peter DeNunzio, chief executive of HelloWorld, a digital marketing solutions company in New York, discovered it while in Minneapolis on business. "It's all high quality and high style. An orgy of things beautifully displayed like eye theater," he said. "The salespeople give a personal touch without being sales-y."

The sales staff is anchored by Todd Fliginger, who was at Neiman Marcus in downtown Minneapolis until it closed in 2013 and was that retailer's top salesman in all of its men's departments across the country.

Robert Elder moved from Nordstrom at Mall of America, where he was one of its top sellers of suits.

Vivek Nagrani, the owner and clothing designer of VK Nagrani, a brand sold at Martin Patrick 3, said the store's sales team try to understand a customer's lifestyle rather than his credit limit.

Nagrani said he's impressed that the sale room at Margin Patrick 3, which is an afterthought in most retailers, is "beautiful."

"They're telling their sale customers that they are just as important as the full-price customer," the designer said.

Swindler said he insisted on a permanent sale room from the start.

"It's been a big hit. We never buy things just to put them in the sale room like some retailers do," he said. "Everything comes from full-priced stock."

Erick DeLeon, store manager and lead men's buyer, said part of what makes Martin Patrick work is never forgetting its Minnesota roots.

"We're Midwestern born and bred here," he said. "We want guys to look good but that doesn't mean flashy or showing off the most expensive label."

Uphostery fabric at Martin Patrick 3

RENEE JONES SCHNEIDER, STAR TRIBUNE
Uphostery fabric at Martin Patrick 3
He said the store will always offer good-better-best price points. "We just picked up Bonobos, which has pants for less than $100," DeLeon said.

Retail analyst Tina Wilcox sees few missteps in Martin Patrick 3. Only Apology, a store-within-the-store women's boutique with gifts that guys can pick up at the last minute for wives or girlfriends, gets a thumbs down from her.

"A guy definitely named that," she said.

Women comprise about 40 percent of the store's customer base, mainly buying home goods or clothes for the men in their life. Cass Lowe of Maple Grove, who shopped at Martin Patrick 3 for a Valentine gift for her husband last week, asked, "Why don't they have a store for women? I love the niches, the snacks, the smell and the way it makes me feel."

A separate women's store isn't in the cards, the owners say. Nor is another location. "For our own sanity we want to keep one location and keep refining it," Walsh said.

He and Swindler may add bedding, a flower shop and a barber shop. There's another 4,000 square feet of space in which to expand in the old warehouse building. But after three expansions since 2010, they're not planning another soon.

"We want to keep it a joy, not a job," Walsh said.

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