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Creating experiences and meeting clients where they are: A.K. Rikk’s celebrates 30 years

The staff of AK Rikks.

Opened 30 years ago to meet a personal need, A.K. Rikk's is now a premier men’s and women’s boutique. Working as a family, the team prides itself on providing personalized, welcoming experiences to their clients. Serving individuals well beyond the Grand Rapids City limits, they are looking to even greater heights as they plan for the future.
“[S]o there I was, a young freshly minted MBA student with no job. In my efforts to find a job I went out looking for a new suit to wear on interviews and I found that Grand Rapids was really lacking even a decent men’s clothing store. I remember walking out of one store thinking to myself—this town needs a great men’s clothing store for professionals. I had no experience in retail or even a desire to ever be in retail, but I saw a need and knew the demand, which sparked an idea. An idea that I should start my own business…which was A.K. Rikk's. That was thirty years ago,” owner and founder Rick Gaby shared on the A.K. Rikk's website.

Opened in October 1987, A.K. Rikk's is a premier men’s and women’s apparel retailer, located in Cascade. In addition to their retail sales, team members travel to serve clients throughout the country and provide personal styling. The team, which proudly uses the word family to describe itself, strives to be more than a typical brick-and-mortar retail store. Walking up to the store, guests will note the cobblestone walkway. Upon entering, chandeliers adorn the ceiling, plush furniture abounds, and you will instantly be greeted by a friendly face.

“A.K. Rikk's is an experience. It’s an experience-driven business, more than it is a place where we just sell clothes,” says President Jim Murray.

He elaborates, “the experience is wearing what we picked out. The experience is coming in and being treated so well or the experience of buying something you can only get in big cities.”

Appointment-Only Personal Shopper Matt Sova has been part of the A.K. Rikk's team for 14 years. For him, part of the experience is bringing what’s new and relevant in the fashion industry to the Grand Rapids community. This goes well beyond trends. He highlights industry growth, new designers, and exposure to fashion shows as being items of value they add to the area.

“There are so many people moving to this, what used to be [just a] town, and now it’s a thriving city,” says Director of Business Development, Ben Tobar, who has been part of the team for 11 years.

With these new additions to the community comes great growth and development. New residents are bringing viewpoints and insights from across the country and world, Tobar adds. A.K. Rikk's is “meeting the city where it is” and providing an upscale, big-city feel. They strive to make everyone feel welcome by treating everyone equally, embracing new perspectives and the ever-changing community.

Proudly celebrating their 30-year-anniversary, A.K. Rikk's team is currently made up of 33 people. Over this time, there has not been much change to the initial concept or business model. They have, however, continuously created opportunities to better serve their clients and their team members.

Some of the shifts they have made include: modifying their store hours, testing the Appointment-Only Personal Shopper model, and developing a new line of business.

Murray feels that it is important to consider an individual’s quality of life. This includes clients and employees. Launched in January 2017, through their Appointment-Only Personal Shopper position, a stylist is working just that, by appointment...only. If a stylist does not have an appointment, they will not be in the boutique. Though there will always be team members available to assist clients, this role helps clients further develop a personal relationship and experience through their one-on-one styling and scheduling according to their needs.

“For this type of business, for retail, it’s unheard of for workers to get two days off in a row. It just doesn’t happen,” says Tobar. But it does at A.K. Rikk's. Starting in spring of 2017, A.K. Rikk's closed on Mondays. They have reinstated this practice for the fall and the staff is on board with this decision.

Though these are both relatively new initiatives, they are working well and it doesn’t appear they will be changing any time soon.
In addition to the education, exposure, and experiences they create, A.K. Rikk's has also found ways to get involved in the community. One way is through their recently launched internship program. Before even starting their various projects within the boutique, students are exposed to other opportunities. Interns are taken on tours of other businesses within the community and participate in team-building activities. A.K. Rikk's currently hosts six interns per summer. To date, they have hosted 12 interns and are eager to help more students.

Another way is they get involved is through Runway For Charity (RFC). Started in 2012 and benefiting the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, A.K. Rikk's, in collaboration with other local organizations, has raised approximately $1M, before expenses.

The next chapter of the A.K. Rikk's story will include the launch of their akrikks.com warehouse, which is set to occur in the next few months. The warehouse will also be located on 28th Street and will take the customer experience digital. It will feature new technology and additional team members. It will provide opportunities to further engage with people outside of the City and meet them where they are and how they’d like to be served.

“We’re going to have some really amazing equipment where I can show [customers clothing] live on a computer or on their phone and they can shop that way. We can still have a relationship,” shares Sova.

“It doesn’t matter where you live anymore,” says Murray. With this enhancement, the possibilities for client engagement are no longer limited by distance or time.

The shifts in the retail industry and uptick in business closures don’t worry the A.K. Rikk's team. For aspiring retailers or entrepreneurs, Murray recommending creating core values that you can live by. Theirs include: be humble, be fun and weird, create and drive change, and have open and honest communication.

“We’re here to serve and make your life better,” says Murray. “And because we have that at our core, we don’t have to worry and we know our future is secure."

About Leandra Nisbet: Leandra Nisbet, Owner of Stingray Advisory Group LLC and Co-Owner of Gold Leaf Designs LLC, has over 12 years of experience in leadership, sales & marketing and graphic design. Through these organizations, she assists businesses with creating strategies for growth and sustainability through: strategic planning, marketing concept development/implementation, risk management solutions and financial organization. She is actively involved in the community, sitting on several Boards and committees. Contact Leandra Nisbet by email at leandra@stingrayadvisorygroup.com!

Photos by Adam Bird of Bird + Bird Studio.
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