The Tie Bar’s Michael Alter Talks Pop-Ups and Permanent Retail

by Harry Sheff

Michael Alter, chief executive of online men’s accessory retailer The Tie Bar, has been on the job for a year now and for a guy with a background in payroll systems, he looks pretty stylish. I met Alter at the brand’s pop-up shop on Mott Street in Manhattan’s Nolita neighborhood yesterday, before the official opening today.

“We’ve already had two sales this morning and we’re not even open!” Alter said. The pop-up shop — the second for The Tie Bar — stays around until June, but if the Chicago pop-up is any indication, The Tie Bar may wind up with a permanent New York retail presence. (The Lincoln Park, Chicago pop-up became a full-fledged retail store in February.)

The New York pop-up has a carefully chosen selection of The Tie Bar’s 11,000 SKUs: ties, bow ties, pocket squares, tie bars, belts, socks and other accessories – most of which sell for less than $20. Aside from the main Tie Bar collection the shop carries the Tie the Knot collaboration with actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson and the Dwaye Wade collaboration. There’s also a small group of products exclusive to the New York pop-up: five ties, three bow ties and three pocket squares.

Alter positions The Tie Bar, which was founded ten years ago by Greg and Gina Shugar, as a disruptor for the way its low-cost/high-quality neckwear has enabled men to take more fashion risks with neckwear — a category that was once thought to be dying. “Average ticket online is not one tie, it’s a bunch,” Alter says. “The real disruption for us is the fashion at a price. That’s what disruptors do—the only difference is we’re making money doing it.” Alter price recently raised the prices from $15 a tie to $19, but Alter says there has been little push back.

“Our number one challenge is more awareness, followed by the ‘how can this tie be good at $19?’ issue,” he says.

The Tie Bar plans to open another pop-up shop this fall, but hasn’t settled on a location yet. Possible cities include Boston, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, San Francisco and L.A. The Tie Bar doesn’t have a large wholesale business, but that may change. currently carries some of The Tie Bar’s ties, bow ties, pocket squares and tie bars — about 130 SKUs.

“Stores are really important to us,” Alter says. “Seven out of ten of our store customers have never bought a tie from us online, so these are new customers. Six months ago, I would have told you that the Chicago pop-up was just for marketing and that it was an expense. Now it’s a permanent store and it’s profitable. We’re thinking about pop-ups differently now.”