Marketplace: To elevate brand, Kühl turns to Main Street
When Kühl, a Salt Lake City-based outdoor clothing brand, decided to open a flagship retail store in Park City during the second half of the Sundance Film Festival, manager Joleen Willardsen knew she was in for a hectic week.
“We didn’t even know if the registers were going to work,” she said.
As it turned out, though, there was little reason to worry. Customers flocked to the store in droves, but operations ran smoothly. The opening was a success and it marked the beginning of a new era for the company. Kühl was founded in 1983 and has become a respected, worldwide brand, but operating its own retail store presented a new kind of challenge, one its leadership team was eager to take on.
“This is the first and only store,” Willardsen said, lounging on a leather chair near the back of the store, which is located at 333 Main St.
The store’s opening was part of the company’s ambition for continued growth. Kühl’s clothing is sold throughout the world, and customers stateside have become accustomed to stocking up on its jeans and fleece jackets at chain behemoths like REI and, locally, at Bahnoff Sport and Jans Mountain Outfitters, among others, Willardsen said. But the next step in Kühl’s evolution was to establish a retail presence of its own.
“We just decided it was time for us to go that route with a brick-and-mortar store,” said Willardsen, who is also the company’s director of store operations. “We’ve been very blessed to have a great relationship (with our retailers) that have represented our brands very well. But we wanted to support them by opening the store, create more of a buzz and more of a name recognition.”
Kühl has plans to expand to more locations in the future, most likely in other mountain communities where the brand resonates, Willardsen said. But for the first store, Park City was an alluring opportunity. It’s a quick trip up Interstate 80 from Kühl’s Salt Lake headquarters, and the town packs a special something that aligns with the company’s identity.
“It was really a no-brainer,” she said. “We were just looking for the perfect location. Where we are, being across from the Egyptian, is just a perfect place for our store. Park City is iconic, with the Sundance Film Festival. We are born and raised in the mountains of Utah, so Park City was an obvious choice.”
Many in Park City are doubtless familiar with Kühl’s offerings. But for those who aren’t, Willardsen was eager to tout what the company considers to be its defining trait: the quality of the products it sells. Everything from jeans to goose down jackets are crafted from high-quality fabrics, she said. The end result is a product line that customers can view as an investment — they are buying clothes that are trendy but that will last for years.
“We’re known for extremely durable products,” she said. “A lot of our pieces are technical, but they’re stylish at the same time. They can be worn every day. They’re extremely durable and do the job that they’re intended to do, but you can also wear them to dinner. From mountain to Main Street.”
The origins of that philosophy can be traced back to the company’s roots. Today, it’s kept alive by owner and founder Kevin Boyle, who continues to run Kühl’s day-to-day operations. His fingerprints are on everything the company does, ensuring that it’s meeting the standards on which it was founded. That kind of leadership from a founder can be rare once a brand reaches a certain level of success, Willardsen said, but it’s not surprising for those in the Kühl family.
“Daily, he’s in the office making sure that the designs and the quality is the best that we can offer,” he said. “He oversees everything. In fact, he’s one of our models — he tries on the pants, making sure the fit is right. He’s very involved in every step of the process.”
Customers, Willardsen said, are the ones who ultimately benefit. Nowhere is that more evident than in the Park City store, which features the largest selection of Kühl clothing anywhere in the world. And if, by chance, that isn’t enough, Willardsen herself will bring in specific items for customers from the company’s headquarters.
“We want to give people exactly what they want,” she said.
333 Main St.
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A study pegged the number of Sundance Film Festival attendees at 122,313, with the event generating an economic impact of $182.5 million. Both numbers represent a slight decrease from the 2018 festival.