Retail excellence is Northwest Arkansas’ forte thanks to the talent at and around Walmart Stores, but the region increasingly is gaining attention for its other homegrown retail companies.
There are many Northwest Arkansas companies just starting to build their own heads of retail steam and hoping to achieve the multi-million dollar success of companies such as Northwest Arkansas' own Lauren James Co., Riffraff, Acumen Brands, Fayettechill and James + James Furniture.
We won't attempt to list all of them here, but some excellent examples of Northwest Arkansas startups and companies increasingly making themselves better known include:
- American Native. Brothers Bobby and Clayton Chamberlain learned to sew with a goal of starting a premium jeans company only a few years ago, but they learned they weren’t ready to run a 100 percent denim business. Instead, they shifted their attention to leather products and now produce leather belts, coasters, bracelets, keychains, clutches and suspenders.
- Rengats LLC/Mollyjogger. Started in 2012, the Fayetteville company’s Mollyjogger products focused on Ozarks outdoors and folklore are sold online and at specialty brick and mortar retail shops in 12 states.
- Kyya Chocolate. Founded in 2012 in Elm Springs, Kyya was the first bean-to-bar chocolatier in Arkansas and it's one of only about 10 percent of chocolatiers in the country to own a cocoa press. The company has 10 employees and is expanding its chocolate syrup production to complement the single origin chocolate bars. It buys most of its beans from farmers in Uganda, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Madagascar, and Ecuador. The company's chocolate bars are sold online at the company's website as well as at 127 retail locations in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas.
- Gingiber. Working artist Stacie Bloomfield launched the illustrative stationery and gift company in 2009. With one full-time employee and two others working part time, Bloomfield managed a Starbucks in Northwest Arkansas until 2010 and stayed up until midnight running Gingiber, a Latin word that means "redhead." Gingiber opened its first storefront on Emma Avenue in Springdale this year. Its products are available at 200 boutiques across the U.S. and in 11 foreign countries, but 60 percent of the company's art prints, tea towels, pillows, greeting cards and calendars are sold online.
- Piltdown Outdoor Co. Incorporated this year by now-retired Springdale firefighter Trey Anson, Anson and four part-timers makes and sell backpacks and small gear pouches. The company recently identified an American factory that can produce the company’s gear so it expects to ramp up production and sales, Anson said. The company’s products are available online and at Uncle Sam’s Safari Outfitters in Fayetteville and Gearhead Outfitters locations in Rogers and Fayetteville. “There are several groups working to help startups and fostering the (startup) community here,” Anson said. “New companies have the opportunity to raise capital and the resources they need to grow and expand their ideas. That access to investors and mentorship is invaluable to young startups.”
All of those businesses have Northwest Arkansas companies as models of success. Those models started out small and now are known nationally.
One of the region’s best, recent startup stories is that of Lauren James Co. Founded in 2013 by registered nurse Lauren Stokes, the company sells clothing that’s wearable on any occasion. It markets itself as selling “preppy clothing for women.”
In just over two years, the company has grown to 15 full-time employees and 25 part-timers. Chief operating officer Lance Stokes expects to add six to 10 full-time and 20 part-time positions in the next six months.
“It takes a lot of passion and a little bit of crazy to do apparel, and we have a little bit of both,” Lance Stokes said.
Acumen Brands, the Fayetteville company that started well-known Country Outfitter, is one of the region's great retail success stories, too. The company sells most of its products online and its best known for its sale of cowboy boots and clothing.
James + James, started in 2011, opened its first and only storefront on Thompson Avenue in Springdale. The company’s 18 full-time employees make wooden tables, bookcases and beds, sourced from Arkansas forests. About 70 percent of the company’s products are shipped to other states, said James Smith, one of the company’s founders.
Riffraff opened on the Fayetteville Square, and opened a location in Dallas last year. Founded by Kirsten Blowers Stuckey, the company has an incredible online presence, selling women’s shirts, dresses and accessories across the globe.
Mo Elliott founded Fayettechill while he was attending the University of Arkansas, and he now has eight full-time and eight part-time workers. Fayettechill’s outdoors apparel is meant to represent the state’s mountainous regions and Elliott hopes it’ll someday be a top outdoors product known across the U.S.
“Anybody can make waves in this community,” Elliott said. “You don't have to be from a certain race or income background. People are in need of world-class services and products in this area and we hope to be a national representation of what can be accomplished here.”