Everyone has seen one: the souvenir T-shirt that reads, "My parents went to Hawaii (or any other destination) and all I got was this crummy T-shirt."
Because souvenir T-shirts like these are not always quality shirts, and other T-shirts contain foul language or negative statements, the category often has a bad reputation in retail, says Al Shameklis, president and COO of Color Inc. The Sudbury, Mass.-based company operates more than 40 destination-oriented stores throughout the United States.
"In one end of our category, the lowly world of T-shirts, things are antagonistic," he says. "In the 1970s, a few national chains did heat-transfer images on horrible-quality shirts. That's what drove the perception of a T-shirt store."
Since then, he continues, "the industry has taken it to a much higher level, and has taken cues from the fashion world. The demand is there for that type of product, but developers may be hesitant to lease to someone in that category."
With its Best Of stores and Destination stores, Color Inc. has added a positive twist to T-shirts, as well as to other items aimed at tourists. The Best Of stores sell apparel, gifts and packaged food. The Destination stores primarily sell casual imprinted sportswear, including a line branded by the Destination Clothing Co. and designed specifically for the retailer.
"The Destination Stores are fun, upscale, apparel and gift stores that celebrate the city or region they are in," Shameklis says. "Our customers are tourists, convention-goers and business travelers."
But the shops also appeal to local customers who are proud of their region and are looking for gifts, he adds. While most of the merchandise is region-specific, the stores sell other merchandise, termed "art to wear."
Color Inc. currently has five different concepts under its umbrella: 28 Destination stores, 11 Best Of stores, two Magnet Museum stores, one Making History store and one Out of Left Field store. But the company began with one specialty store in 1976 in Boston's Faneuil Hall Marketplace.
Company founder Lucy Mackall sold appliqued canvas bags from Lucy's Canvas, which became Destination Boston in 1987. Mackall created many other specialty store concepts through the years, including one that sold all rainbow-themed items and one that sold everything in white. These concepts evolved into the stores currently operated by Color Inc.
The company's stores range in size from 200 to 1,200 sq. ft. Each store is specifically designed for the particular city, state or region that it is in.
Color Inc.'s stores are located in mixed-use centers, specialty centers, festival centers, regional malls and superregional malls. The most successful stores, Shameklis says, are those in urban festival marketplaces. In the future, the company will consider mixed-use urban entertainment centers, the new incarnation of the '80s festival marketplaces.
The company plans to open 10 to 20 stores in the next year, and 20 to 30 in the next two years. "We're looking at first-tier and second-tier size cities," Shameklis says. "Places that have a cachet to their name: a meaning, an authenticity and a drama."
While the company is willing to look at expanding all of its concepts, and to consider a range of cities, it plans to concentrate on California, the Pacific Northwest and the Southwest. Also, Shameklis says, Chicago, San Francisco and Alaska are desirable if the right site is available.
"We're opportunistic in terms of our real estate strategy," Shameklis says. "We're very patient. We will do many deals if they're the right deals."