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Former Allen Edmonds CEO launches online upscale clothier CircleRock

September 16, 2018

When Paul Grangaard retired as chief executive of the upscale shoe maker Allen Edmonds in 2017, he had only a notion of what might come next. It was more of a feeling, he said, than a game plan.

Earlier in his career, Grangaard had spent decades as an investment banker, doing deals, shaking hands with big-money makers, taking multimillion-dollar risks. At Allen Edmonds, he had managed to pull the Wisconsin-based shoe store out of a death spiral and make it profitable.

Retailing was now in his blood, Grangaard said. So when Bill McGuire, a friend and owner of the Minnesota United professional soccer team, pledged to make his players the most smartly dressed men in their league, it was the spark Grangaard needed.

Within six months, he had launched a new upscale mens clothing company called CircleRock.

Im 60 years old, Grangaard said. I dont have five years to sit around and see if this is going to work or not. Were going for it.

An online-only company for now, CircleRock sells custom-made suits, made-to-order shirts, finely woven sweaters and European-styled outerwear as well as wallets, belts and other leather goods.

Minnesota United FC, in which Grangaard is also a minority investor, now is a walking billboard.

Grangaard quickly assembled a team of five executives, who also are investors. Many have ties to his days at Allen Edmonds, as do some of his manufacturers and suppliers. While some of the fabric is imported from Europe, the company has made a commitment to make the clothes in the United States.

The launch of CircleRock comes at a time of skyrocketing online growth and an increasingly confident consumer willing to splurge, analysts say. Online sales are expected to double over the next five years, accounting for more than 20 percent of total retail sales, according to Moodys.

Millennials with disposable income and careers on the move are helping to drive the growth in online-only brands that offer quality goods at lower price points and have an interesting back story.

Its not a bad time for a well-focused independent retailer to launch with a digital-first concept, said Sanford Stein, a Twin Cities-based retail trend forecaster and author. If youve got something thats unique, thats well focused, that has a point of differentiation and that is highly personal, convenient and high-service you could really do something in a segment like this.

The gamble, he said, is convincing customers they dont need a tailor with a tape measure and a mouth full of straight pins to get a suit with a good custom fit.

It could be a bit of a disconnect that I could be satisfied selecting a fabric of a suit without touching it, Stein said. Theyve got to make it so easy that you can get through it and feel confident in the process.

CircleRock aims to hit the upper-middle, with suits priced below $1,000; custom shirts about $125; and well-woven sweaters starting at $200. The companys marketing pitch is toward men of aspiration and accomplishment.

Competitors include Tom James Co., J. Hilburn and Minnesotas homegrown specialty stores Hubert White and Heimies Haberdashery.

Where a custom suit might take three or four months, CircleRock pledges to deliver the same quality within weeks and at a much lower price point because it ships directly from the manufacturer.

The name of the company was inspired by a large circular park area across the street from Grangaards childhood home in Edina. Kids played tackle football there and families gathered for picnics. A large red granite rock at one end always sparked Grangaards imagination.

He came up with the name CircleRock long before he knew what it would become, deciding that strong relationships with good people would be at the center of his future business. The second line of the label is Cultivate Respect.

Grangaard is eager to tell the story of his good relationships with his suppliers such as a fifth-generation tannery out of Chicago whose leather is used in game balls for the NFL and NBA, and a German-born sweater maker in Winona, Minn.

The company operates out of a third-floor office in a business park near the Braemar Golf Course. Suit jackets and winterwear hang in a back closet in clear plastic. Steel cabinets are filled with belts, jeans, button-down shirts and tailored pullovers, including a line of rugby shirts that Grangaard says are back on-trend.

Grangaard declined to say how much money he and his investors have put into the launch. A friends and family fundraising campaign is in the works to raise capital for the year ahead and a future brick-and-mortar store. The owners say they would like to see a stand-alone open in Minneapolis next fall or in 2020, with hoped-for future expansions into Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Though Grangaard pushes attention toward the experienced retail team he has assembled, CircleRock clearly is a personal pursuit. He will author a weekly newsletter featuring interviews and videos with leading men of business, sports and entertainment. It will focus as much on leadership as fashion.

I read every day about bad behavior by men, he said. I really am frustrated. I know so many admirable men doing great work, a lot of it selfless. Id like to be a factor, as much as I can, to get better news out there.

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