It’s been a year since Australian streetwear retailer Culture Kings debuted in the U.S., opening up shop within The Forum Shops at Caesars Las Vegas last November. And if you ask Jonathan Yuska, the retailer’s U.S. brand president, he’s pleased with how Culture Kings is being received stateside.
“The fact we’ve been able to come into this market within a year in the U.S. and disrupt the way we have, it’s humbling,” Yuska told FN. “There’s no lack of retail in the U.S., but we have this ingredient that is working.”
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This ingredient is what Culture Kings refers to as “retailtainment.” “It’s like this collision of music, sports and fashion. That’s where we exist,” Yuska explained.
This concept plays out via in-store appearances with athletes and entertainers, which includes exclusive product drops tied to the event, as well as features that are atypical in a retail setting, such as a fully functional music recording studio.
“One of the biggest things we realized is we can disrupt retail if we do unique things. We can connect an in-store with a MNML collab, release a product and connect that story, and it works. It translates,” Yuska said.
Some of the highlights in 2023 include hosting star boxer Caleb Plant’s media workout ahead of his fight against David Benavidez in March. For that, the retailer built an 18-by-18-foot boxing ring in the store and sold Plant’s collaborative collection with MNML. According to Yuska, more than 2,000 people attended the event.
Also, Culture Kings hosted a meet-and-greet with UFC fighters Marlon “Chito” Vera and Charles Oliveira ahead of UFC 290. The retailer constructed an octagon in the store and sold collaborative merch with the fighters via its Goat Crew brand. Yuska said roughly 1,800 people attended.
In terms of what products have been selling regularly, Yuska said Culture Kings plays heavily in the streetwear space, mostly with men’s products, including T-shirts and hats. The highlight of the Las Vegas store is its 75-foot headwear wall. “We got some cool stories we can tell on that wall,” Yuska said.
Specifically for hats, Yuska said 50 to 65 percent of every headwear release that Culture Kings has at any given time is a worldwide exclusive, meaning the retailer may stock it in Australia and the U.S.
The Las Vegas store also has 13,000 square feet of selling space, which offers ample room to tell stories around apparel. The store stocks several noteworthy labels, including Mitchell & Ness, Calvin Klein, Tommy Jeans and Guess Originals, among others. Also, the retailer has multiple in-house brands, such as Loiter, American Thrift and Saint Morta.
“We’re pretty focused on growing them and continuing momentum around those brands, but within good company,” Yuska said.
As for footwear, Yuska admitted the process of building its portfolio has been slow, although there are clear standouts in terms of performance at the register.
For instance, Yuska said consumers are purchasing New Balance 550s and 650s, as well as sneakers from Asics, Puma and Saucony. Also, the exec said Crocs has been performing well, especially with the high heat in Las Vegas.
Footwear, however, is less than 10 percent of its business, Yuska confirmed. Ideally, he said the company would like shoes to represent mid-20 percent of its business.
“We’re still going to be an apparel-first retailer, that’s our strategy,” Yuska said. “It’s important to who we are, but we’d like to complement it strategically with the right brands.”
The retailer’s first year in the U.S. wasn’t without challenges. In its most recent reported quarter, Culture Kings parent company A.K.A. Brands Holding Corp. reported a net sales decrease of 9.6 percent to $140.8 million for the third quarter 2023, compared to $155.8 million for the same period the year prior. (The company, however, reported a net sales increase of 2 percent in the U.S. compared to Q3 2022, and A.K.A. stated the Culture Kings flagship in Las Vegas surpassed its annual revenue goal.)
In terms of specific challenges for the retailer, Yuska said it was a bit of an uphill battle to build momentum for Culture Kings stateside.
“It’s challenging, but we’re having a lot of success. Culture Kings is a new brand in this space, we have a lot of education to do,” Yuska said. “We’re hyper focused on digital content. It’s all digital, all day. This is the biggest retail market in the world, a huge opportunity, but it takes a lot of time. We have a small team in the U.S.”
Yuska said key strategic partnerships have helped. For instance, Culture Kings announced in July that it had entered into a partnership with hip-hop music festival Rolling Loud, making it the official streetwear retailer of Rolling Loud Miami 2023, as well as additional festival locations globally in 2024. Also, the retailer partnered in June on a line of merch with the annual musical festival Summer Smash in Chicago.
The aforementioned challenges, however, haven’t prevented Culture Kings from thinking about brick-and-mortar expansion in the U.S.
“The topic of our conversations right now is being in the right city at the right time — and the right time is the biggest piece of that,” Yuska said. “We have a couple of meetings toward the end of the year where we’re going to start to write out that roadmap of where we’re going to be next.”
Without offering further details of its brick-and-mortar strategy, Yuska stated the concentration of the retailer’s e-comm business is in large markets like New York and L.A., “where the cool kid is.”
Also, Yuska said, Culture Kings has more work to do in Las Vegas.
“Las Vegas, it’s everything we want it to be, but we still have a lot to get better with,” Yuska said. “We are hitting a lot of different customers. We serve a broad customer base, we’re hitting lots of demographics. Vegas is a little bit of everybody, it is kind of like the playground of America.”
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