The multiplier: Len Druskin

by Harry Sheff

Michael Druskin has expanded Len Druskin’s business on little more than great instincts and word of mouth.

2013UptownDowntownWhen Len Druskin opened his eponymous Edina, Minn. women’s store with his mother-in-law in 1976, he probably couldn’t imagine how the retail scene would change, and how his own business would grow. Today, Len Druskin lends his name to 11 stores in the Twin Cities area, all operated by his son Michael Druskin—with two more planned for out of state this year.

Len Druskin and Michael DruskinThe Len Druskin business is like no other in the Twin Cities, and like few nationwide. They don’t hold events (“Our customers are too busy,” says Michael) and they don’t advertise (“We rely on word of mouth”). There are no plans for selling online. And yet…business is great.

The store was exclusively women’s special occasion clothing for nearly 20 years, until Michael returned from college and a stint at Toys R Us in Paramus, N.J. “I came back in 1994,” recalls Michael. “We went more casual, and then we added menswear to our mix in 1999. We had so many people that liked to shop together—families, couples—we felt it just made sense. That and there was a void in the market for nice, casual, day-to-dinner and casual work apparel that wasn’t too young, but wasn’t too mature either. We’re modern and contemporary, but we’re traditional too. Our closest competitor in the Twin Cities market is probably Nordstrom; we’re pretty different from everyone else.”

Len Druskin Man

Len, who still spends every day in the original store, now in an upscale mall called The Galleria, was philosophical about letting Michael take over. “What’s important in a family business is that you have boundaries,” he says. “When Michael joined us, our goal was to have it be his vision, because he would be the one continuing it,” adding proudly, “He’s a Wharton graduate, so he’s got a strong business background.”

When the store had the chance in 2005 for a larger, 10,000-sq.-ft. space in The Galleria, the expansion began. First it was an outlet space in the same mall that enabled them to keep sale merchandise away from the new goods in the main store. Customers liked it, so what was a temporary space became a permanent outlet.

Len Druskin

In 2007, they opened Len Druskin Man, their first 100 percent men’s store, in downtown Minneapolis. Three years later, they opened the first Len store downtown. “Len is fashion at a price,” Michael explains. “It’s great style and status looks for great savings. Everything is always 50 off at Len—so it’s half the name for half the price of Len Druskin.” The Len store chain, which is men’s and women’s, is now its own division with its own buyers and an office in New York City. There are six Lens now, with two more planned. Like many such chains, Michael and company are discrete about the brand mix.

With such explosive growth, Michael has little time for anything else. “I work with our buyers in NYC or LA about three weeks a month,” he says. “I enjoy biking and spending time with my friends, but honestly, I haven’t had much free time in the last two years. Hopefully things will change next year. We grew very quickly. We all have to think long-term, but I try not to get too caught up in the future—I’d rather take one day at a time. Too much can change in a short time.”

For his part, Len Druskin is happy to work the floor and greet customers at the Galleria store. “When you spend time on the floor talking to customers, seeing how things fit and how they react to new items, you can learn things that the computers can’t tell you.” Besides, he adds, “We have third-, fourth- and fifth-generation customers coming in, and I like to talk with them. That’s a very important part of our business.”

“We’d like to keep growing our Len division,” Michael says when asked about the future. “We think it’s relatable and expandable for many markets. We’re self-funded and privately owned, so the growth has to come at a measured pace.”

Len Druskin at a Glance

  • Established in 1976 by Len Druskin
  • Locations: 11 stores in the Twin Cities area: Len Druskin, Len Druskin Man, LD Len Druskin, Len Druskin Outlet, LD Blues and six Len stores
  • Size: The Galleria flagship: 10,000 sq. ft.; Len Druskin Man: 4,000 sq. ft.
  • Ratio: 40/60 men’s/womens
  • Assortment: 100% branded
  • Category Breakdown: 56% denim/contemporary, 30% sportswear, 8% clothing, 5% accessories, 1% furnishings
  • Top Vendors: Len Druskin stores: AG, Billy Reid, John Varvatos, Theory, Wolverine; In surf: Hurley, O’Neill, Quiksilver; In greengrass: J. Lindeberg Golf, Travis Mathew