Located in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham, Michigan and opened in 1981, Caruso Caruso is a 5,000-sq.-foot (465-sq.-meter) family-owned retailer that offers a private label collection called Frank U! alongside brand favorites including AG Adriano Goldschmied, DL1961 and Paige for both men and women. US contributor Rudy Gonzales spoke to men’s buyer Lennon Caruso, who co-owns the store with his father Frank, about his retail expertise and the overall state of the market. Interview by Rudy Gonzales
Caruso Caruso, Birmingham, Michigan, USA
Caruso Caruso, Birmingham, Michigan, USA

What are some of your current bestsellers itemwise and brandwise?
Denim. Founded in 1981, we are one of the country’s original premium denim shops. You can tell us apart by the eponymous title. I feel like all modern denim stores have to incorporate “denim,” “blue,” “jeans” or some generic denim term in the title to let you know where they stand.
Brandwise, it’s AG (shout out to Mobile Showroom and Jen Jen the best rep ever), DL1961, Retro Brand, Splendid, Topman, Hudson, Sugar Lips, Free People, Paige (shout out to Ms. Molly the coolest rep ever), Vintage Havana, Alternative Apparel, RVCA, Colorfast…. I don't know; there are so many great brands (with great people behind them).

What item’s or brand’s sales performance has really surprised you?
Something as simple as Sugar Lips seamless tank tops. Some preteen girls came in a couple years ago asking about them. Then a few moms starting talking about how their daughters think they’re the bee’s knees. A few weeks later we were selling 500 a month. It has tapered off this year but we’re still good for a few hundred per month. Colored denim was a nice surprise around spring/summer 2010. Rarely is a trend so embraced by women of all age groups and now it is crossing over nicely into men’s.
Caruso Caruso, Birmingham, Michigan, USA
Caruso Caruso, Birmingham, Michigan, USA

Who is your “typical” customer?
Women: 16 to 40 years old. For the young and young at heart. Moms and daughters shopping together, swapping sizes and sometimes sharing items. Men: 16 to 40 years old. Young dudes looking for cool shit and dads wanting to stay relevant on the weekends. Hopefully all customers know by now we’re the place to go for jeans.

How do you compare to other stores in Michigan?
I don’t think we compare to anything in Birmingham, Michigan.

What has been the biggest challenge of having the store thus far?
Our ability to grow due to my own control issues and the ability to find consistent, unique staff members.

What has been your favorite memory of the store thus far?
I don't really have highs and lows like that. It has been nice to come to work for past eight years and talk things out (aka argue) with my father. If I had to pick a favorite time spent over the past eight years, it’s the business we did toward the back half of 2008 through 2009. The Big Three (Detroit's auto makers) had just collapsed, the economy was in free fall and the news media was guaranteeing us we’d all be on the bread line very soon. As stressful as it was, I knew if I could hustle up and turn a profit in those times that I would come out more confident for the future.

How do you find new brands and merchandise?
Trade shows, talking to reps, store owners, chatting with customers and visiting showrooms for one line then finding another.

Caruso Caruso, Birmingham, Michigan, USA
Caruso Caruso, Birmingham, Michigan, USA
Tell us about the in-house line. How important is it for retailers to have their own lines these days?
The most important. Our women’s buyer Jillian Lenko and I started Frank U!, our private label, a few years ago. It has been solid since day one. We’re able to shop items that look/feel exactly like the branded lines we carry. We’re able to sell those items about 20% to 30% less than the branded item and maintain the same margin. We merchandise the items right next to their branded counterparts and let our customers decide what they want to spend their money on. Sometimes it ends up J Brand jeans and a Frank U! (similar to Free People) top, other times it ends up in Frank U! jeans (with a similar look to J Brand) and a Free People top.

What do you think is the overall state of fashion and retail at the moment?
These are great times. Someone can come up with a unique item and with the speed of production overseas it can get knocked off and flood the market within the same selling season. There are high-end stores, discount stores, flash sales, sample sales, pop-up shops, online retail, personal shopping services, people shopping off QR codes in magazines or off an iPhone application. High-end lines, margin builders, Korean LA alley stuff, off-price shows, finer trade shows, road reps still grinding their routes.... It's all happening and it’s all going so fast. I love it. I don't think money even matters anymore. It seems like anyone can at least get something from any brand, at any price, anytime. Meanwhile everyone is running around mad in black activewear as if the world is ending. Who doesn't have an all-black Lulu hookup and Louis V. in this town? To me, money has been replaced by time. When I see a women walking down the street elegantly dressed for the day pushing a stroller (probably a Maclaren) with two finely dressed children in tow, I know that chick is paid.

Store's Contact:
Caruso Caruso
166 West Maple Road #100
Birmingham, Michigan 48009
+1 248 645 5151