Wingtip Takes Flight

This article was published in the August 2016 issue of STORES Magazine.

Do what you love and love what you do. It’s a delightful sentiment, yet most feel it’s as elusive as the Holy Grail.

Not Ami Arad, the founder and CEO of Wingtip, a 22,000-square-foot menswear shop in San Francisco’s Financial District. Arad has built a business that embodies everything he desires in a shopping experience, and his vision appears to be in sync with what a growing number of affluent men are seeking.

Born in 2002 of Arad’s yearning for a high-touch, high-service experience, the store caters to a professional man with an eye for the finest fabrics, top-notch brands, custom clothing and well-heeled amenities. Arad does nearly all of the buying, no small feat given the 10,000-plus items offered. And he has established partnerships to open shops within the store selling wine and spirits, fly-fishing equipment and cigar accessories. A private club, accessible exclusively to members, houses a bar and lounge, private parlor rooms, a golf simulator, a wine cave and more.

Anyone is welcome to shop at Wingtip, and Arad says 75 percent of the retail business is generated by passersby. Still, the air of exclusivity is a key part of the appeal. Those who want to be part of the private club pay a one-time initiation fee and monthly dues (half of which are converted to rolling store credit). Arad says 50 percent of revenue is generated by the store, the rest by club fees to the tune of “double-digit millions” in overall revenue.

Unabashed in his description of Wingtip, Arad told a group of press and analysts at NetSuite SuiteWorld that he built a business so that he could “spend the rest of my life with others like me.” Brazen for sure, yet he recognizes that despite having created a business that is essentially his personal playground, he must invest in technology to stay close to his customer, enhance the shopping experience and personalize every element of the business.

Having developed some tech expertise, Arad initially launched the business using homegrown systems — an approach he looks back on as “death by a thousand paper cuts.” He says Wingtip “erased 10 years of technical debt by migrating to NetSuite … I see the promise of technology, and the truth is, I don’t utilize it as much as I should.”

So what are the lessons here? First, it’s possible to take what you love and build it into a business. And while shoppers may be growing weary of subscriptions and memberships, there are some folks willing to pay for the cache of being part of an exclusive club. Finally, there’s no substitute for knowing your customer, and no better way to cultivate that intimacy than to use technology — not as a proof point for what you’re looking to validate, but as a roadmap to go where the data takes you.