Les Hatz says the store's logo embodies the vintage feel and modern flair he wants to bring to Main Street. (Photo: Francis Tessier-Burns).

In the age of online shopping, one local business owner is going against the tide

On November 4, Vankleek Hill’s Main Street will be welcoming The Village Gentleman, a new shop dedicated to Loud and Dirty’s grooming products and other collectibles. Les Hatz, the prominent local brand’s creator, will be opening the brick and mortar storefront at 108 Main Street. In this day and age where traditional retail stores are both shuddering and shuttering, The Review sat down with Hatz to see why going back to a traditional shop was his next move.

The Review (TR): How does Loud and Dirty sell its products now? You have that big trailer that goes around to events.

Les Hatz (LH): The term I like to use is event support. I’m not just coming in to simply sell my product, obviously that’s a key piece of it, but the more I can enhance the event for the promoter, that reflects on us as well. With anything I do at this stage, I want to work with people. Obviously I want to further our own business and become more and more profitable, but to do that working with others and collaborating is the way to go.  

TR: Where did the idea come from to start with the trailer as opposed to a brick and mortar store?

LH: I always had the idea that being mobile was just a cool thing to do. Reason being is I like being at the events, I like to interact with not only the public but the participants, in most cases that would include athletes and racers.

And I mean for anyone starting a business, it costs time and money. You have to be there, you have to staff it. It wasn’t something I was overly interested in from the get-go. I preferred to keep things simple and manageable, so I always had the mentality of being mobile. I’m a highway guy, I like being on the road, I like travelling. As we’ve grown over the years, it’s only getting bigger and better. I don’t see any limits.

TR: You also have online shopping for your products, what’s the ratio of physical sales to online sales?

LH: The physical, direct sales are our number one method of generating revenue. It’s what I’m good at. Naturally, I’m not good at digital sales, marketing yes, but I’m more of an old-school salesman. However, the short- to medium-term business plan includes more and more focus on online sales to reach a broader market.

TR: In line with that, why was this your next move, opening up a storefront?

LH: The Loud and Dirty brand took off relatively efficiently, people really like that brand, but all the while I’ve been observing the traffic locally in town. I was born and raised here, so I’ve seen lots of things come and I’ve thought for a couple of years now, there’s an opening for some sort of a new shop in Vankleek Hill. The popularity of some of our products like our Loud and Dirty grooming line, that’s the type of stuff we want to promote. So what we saw last year was a pretty high spike in demand for this stuff and it was relatively new, we had just launched in early fall and by Christmas there was quite a demand for this product. That was uncharted territory for us. As we were getting ready for this year’s Christmas rush, we just kind of decided it would be nice to have something with a little more visibility, a little more convenience for people to come and find us. Originally, we thought that this would make a pop up shop to showcase our products for the Christmas season but since I committed to the idea, it’s taken on an identity. People have noticed, people are excited and that’s a feeling I can’t resist.

TR: So is the plan for now just to have it as a pop up?

LH: Well there are factors that go into that, and obviously time is one of them. It has to be worth it to have the place open.From what I’m seeing and hearing, I believe it will be. My gut tells me I’m going to figure out a way to make that happen and mainly because I think it’ll be good for the town. I honestly believe it’s a really good time to be in business in the village—if you’ve got something that fits. That’s why we’re going to cater this to that vibe. I don’t want to come in here with this big motorsports shop with big, loud trucks hanging around all the time, although that is something I do participate in obviously it’s part of our style, but that’s not what Main Street Vankleek Hill needs right now.

TR: Some massive retailers have had to shut down, what do you think has played into that?

LH: Well massive costs money. Obviously the cost of doing business is getting higher and higher. The wave of the current and future is obviously online shopping, everybody knows that. If we talk about Sears, and this is just my hypothesis, they kept their catalogue program close to their heart a little too long and maybe they fell behind because of that. It’s sad in a way because people like us remember being little kids and it was the coolest thing ever when you saw the catalogue come into the house in the fall. It was awesome. 

The shop will also feature collectible items like the old milkshake machine atop the shelf.

If you think online versus brick and mortar, online is trending way harder right now and that’s the way things are going, if you’re talking about a massive scale. But if we think locally and we think about what many smaller retailers can achieve in these small towns is sort of preserving the culture and the history. That’s kind of what I’m enjoying being a part of right now, this little shop is trying to continue that style from olden days.

TR: That was one of the questions actually, what do you get in a brick and mortar shop that you might lose if you’re just doing online shopping?

LH: It’s that personal touch. Online is great because it’s the way of the future, it’s the way people are communicating these days, it’s the convenience factor. There’s a lot to be said about it, there’s a lot of business to be had with that model.

But, for here the idea is just to contribute to the town’s local commerce. For me, that’s what we’re trying to achieve here and that’s the kick I get out of it. The more we can band together, the more little unique businesses there are, especially on Main Street, the better it’ll be for the overall vitality for the town. That’s what’s given me the confidence to move ahead with this. It’s got to be a combination of both, but at the end of the transaction there’s a hand to shake. It’s that direct personal interaction that people still enjoy when they come to a small town like this.

TR: The customer experience is often about offering something more than just the opportunity to buy something. What’s your “something more”?

LH: Just the appearance and the style of it will set us apart from other shops. That experience that people have when they come here, I’m hoping will be unlike others they may have had somewhere else and it’ll fit in very well with this area. People, more and more, are coming to expect that from this area.

TR: Can you describe your vision of what you want to present to people?   

LH: I really want to put across the whole vintage feeling mixed with a modern flair. I want it to be indicative of things you would’ve seen in the past around here, I want people to have sort of an old-fashioned feeling when they come in but presented in a modern way. The whole shopkeeper idea but at the same time realizing we’re selling things like beard oil. The 75-year-old gentleman is probably not going to buy beard oil, but the 25-year-old hipster definitely will. It’s the simplicity, it’s the style, it’s the class and the vintage feel with the modern flair.

TR: How will your current Loud and Dirty brand fit into the mix?

LH: Loud and Dirty exists and will continue to exist beyond Vankleek Hill. We have national intentions and beyond with that. That can be overwhelming to put on Main Street. This is a quaint, charming little part of the world where you don’t want to disturb that too much. You want to work within the vibe of the town.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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