Askov Finlayson: The trifecta

by Harry Sheff

Breaking the rules: New contemporary stores redefine the men’s specialty business — part three of ten

In this series from MR’s February issue, the editors talk to ten new retailers (seven brick-and-mortar, three online).

Askov Finlayson
Location: Minneapolis, Minn.
Opened in October 2011
Owned by Eric Dayton and Andrew Dayton
Size: 1,100 sq. ft.
How it got its name: Askov and Finlayson are two tiny towns in Northern Minnesota that the Dayton brothers would pass through on the way to their family’s cabin on Lake Vermilion when they were growing up.

Askov Finlayson

Askov Finlayson is the final and most personal piece in the Dayton brothers’ development of an old two-story building in the Warehouse District of downtown Minneapolis. The 1,100 sq. ft. menswear store, which opened in October 2011, followed a Scandinavian restaurant called Bachelor Farmer and a Marvel Bar, a semi-hidden but celebrated cocktail den, both of which opened in August that same year.

Eric Dayton and Andrew DaytonWhile Eric Dayton and his brother Andrew come from one of Minnesota’s most prominent retail families (their great-great grandfather George Dayton started the Dayton’s department store chain, which later acquired Marshall Field’s and created the Target discount chain) they are humble about their entering the retail business. After all, aside from 18 months Eric Dayton spent working for Target Corp., they don’t actually have much retail experience.

“This being our first entrepreneurial project, we recognized the need to bring in people with deeper experience in retail and restaurant management,” said Eric. He dismisses “any notion that we had a natural disposition to being extremely successful retailers. It’s not in our blood or anything,” he admits. “We have to make our own way.”

Over the first year, the assortment evolved from mostly menswear to about half non-apparel items. “We put together a great collection of Japanese barware like they use downstairs at Marvel Bar,” said Eric. “People had been asking about that, so now we have it in the shop. We’re always looking for little opportunities like that but our core is always men’s apparel.”

“We do all the buying and we have a small team to support us,” explains Andrew. “We have a more hands-on approach to the store than we do with the bar and the restaurant. Eric and I both have strong opinions about what we want to store to look like and the brands to carry.”

“One of the guiding principles of the store from early on was asking what we’d buy and what we’d like to see in Minneapolis,” Eric said. “It was a bit of a laboratory, with small buys.”

The store focuses on sportswear, outerwear and footwear. Best-selling brands include Barbour, Woolrich John Rich & Bros. and Copenhagen, Denmark-based Norse Projects.

“Norse Projects captures a strong Nordic aesthetic: it’s simple, well made, not too fussy and it fits well,” said Andrew.

Adds Eric, “Woolrich John Rich & Bros. is one of our top brands. We bent our own rules and carried an unconstructed blazer by them that did very well. It’s a relatively new brand to Minneapolis and it’s been fun to see how well it’s done.”

The Dayton brothers are adamant that the store be true to the Twin Cities market and not carry styles merely because they do well on the Coasts. They have a lot of pride in the success of Minnesota brands nationwide. “It’s been great to see the things that have always worked in Minnesota being embraced by other parts of the country. To see great Minnesota brands like Red Wing, Duluth Pack and J.W. Hulme, all of which are based on quality and classic design, spread across the country is a great source of pride for Minnesotans.” Askov Finlayson may not carry those brands (yet), but it does carry wool blankets from Faribault Woolen Mill, a local company with a history that dates back to 1865.

Asked about the Dayton’s legacy in Minnesota, Andrew is philosophical. “We’re not trying to fill anyone’s shoes. We’re a thousand square feet in the Warehouse District and we’re happy to be that way now.”