When Duluth Trading Co. opened its first Minnesota store in Bloomington a year ago, Chief Executive Stephanie Pugliese called it a test for the Wisconsin retailer with a Minnesota name.
After opening a store in Duluth in May and Fridley last week, the test seems to have been passed.
"The stores are exceeding expectations," Pugliese said. "We've beaten planned sales by more than 10 percent. Bloomington had more than 200,000 visitors in the past year and the Duluth location has had about 50,000 in its first five months."
Its success might seem surprising, considering the number of competitors with big stores in the Twin Cities — Cabela's, Gander Mountain, Mills Fleet Farm, Midwest Mountaineering and REI. Next month, another one, L.L. Bean, opens at the Mall of America.
Pugliese said Duluth Trading's edge lies in the difference between apparel for sports and apparel for tradespeople.
"Our foundation is in workwear, the guy or woman looking for hard work apparel and gear," she said. "I don't consider us a sporting goods manufacturer, but we cross over for the guy who's a craftsman and likes to wear his Firehose pants hunting or riding a motorcycle. We make them versatile."
Ron Kern, a retired machinist from St. Louis Park, likes Duluth's clothing for its look, quality and low price. "Their clothes are comparable to Carhartt, but they pay better attention to details," he said while shopping at the Bloomington store earlier this week. "Almost of all Duluth's work jackets have storm flaps to keep out the cold. Carhartt or Gander Mountain don't include that in most of their jackets."
It's the minor details that keep customers returning, said district manager Mark Pickart. There's a drawstring added at the bottom of the Shoreman's Fleece jacket. And there's a shirttail chamois on the hem of women's button-down shirts, a swatch of ultrasoft cloth that can clean eyeglasses or a smartphone screen. "We have to get that on men's shirts too," Pickart said.
About 30 percent of Duluth's retail floor space is devoted to women's apparel. Deb McKnight of Edina became a customer after her husband spoke highly of the menswear. "It's good quality for the price," she said. "I'm a longtime L.L. Bean shopper, but I think their quality is down. This is a good alternative."
The new Fridley location, the sixth store for the Belleville, Wis.-based company, was chosen based on customers' requests. It is similar in size to the Bloomington store and it has an additional 2,500 square feet that will be used as a seasonal call center during the holidays and a postseason clearance center.
The Bloomington location was the company's first full-priced store to include a clearance merchandise amid full-price stock, and it continues to do so year-round. Duluth Trading also has an outlet in Belleville and full-price locations in Mount Horeb and Port Washington, Wis.
Pugliese said that while a third Twin Cities location is possible, the company is focused on Chicago for 2015.
The company was launched in Duluth in 1989 by brothers Bob and Dave Fierek, who designed the Bucket Boss. The two never had a retail location and sold the catalog company in 1996. Since 2001, it has been privately owned by Steve Schlecht.