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Shopkeeper Interview: Drew Sutton of Carlton Drew

Los Angeles can often feel big and impersonal, but on West 3rd you'll find a stretch that feels local and friendly. Right in the thick of that vibe you'll find the wonderfully welcoming Carlton Drew - a casual and preppy mens shop with East Coast accents. (See all our accounts at Stockists.) Learn from entrepreneur and founder Drew Sutton on how he had to rethink locations in a hurry, and what to expect if you're deciding to venture out on your own. We love this shop and encourage you to pop in for visit next time you're in LA.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

Drew Sutton: I opened Carlton Drew at the end of 2012, before that I was working in merchandising. My job focused on designing and producing merchandise for musicians and designing wardrobe programs for cruise lines. I'm originally from North Carolina and went to college at College of Charleston in South Carolina. 

Carlton Drew

How do you take your tea or coffee?

DS: Hot with almond milk in the morning and either chai or matcha in the afternoon. 

When did you know that you were going to take the jump and open your first store? Scary or thrilling?

DS: Mix of scary and thrilling and everything in-between... basically all the emotions. I was enjoying my job, but after five years, I was feeling a void creatively and kind of stuck in the corporate world. I come from a family of business owners and I felt like it was time for me to step out on my own and do something that I really loved. 

It's amazing how consistent that reasoning is with other launchers. Well done for doing it! How long did it take you to plan and launch in December 2012?

DS: It was about 9 months from business plan to opening day. After I had my business plan I worked on financing the project, looking for a store front, and reaching out to brands simultaneously. I was lucky to have some relationships with a couple of brands through my job that signed on early, and from there I started reaching out to brands that I loved. I did this all pretty secretively because I didn't want my employer at the time to find out. Once I found my space on Melrose I signed the lease and put in my two weeks notice at my job. I got the keys in mid November and worked like a crazy man (with the support of an amazing team) and opened on December 17th. 

Carlton Drew LA

Can you tell us a little bit about the name Carlton Drew?

DS: It's my first and middle name! So I guess I have my parents to thank for the name... haha. 

How did you choose the first location, and what prompted you to move?

DS: The original space was on Melrose. When I opened there the street had a resurgence going and I felt like it was going to become a great area. Unfortunately with the cost of rent going up and street traffic on the decline, stores started closing all around me. Three years later my lease was up and despite numerous empty store fronts on the block, my landlord wanted to double my rent. It was time to say goodbye to Melrose. What was a stressful time turned in to a blessing because I found my current space on W. 3rd and I couldn't be happier! W. 3rd has a buzz that no other street in the area has. It's full of a mix of restaurants, clothing stores, coffee and tea shops, and nail/hair salons. It's an amazing network of local supportive businesses. 

Those are stressful times, but how awesome that you found something better than you could have imagined!? What’s one other thing that you’ve learned, and that’s really surprised you since opening?

DS: I've learned just how hard it is to run a small business. It's stressful and at times confusing... but at the end of the day, it's yours and it's rewarding. It's been a roller coaster but making it through the dips makes the highs that much better. 

Amen! When it comes to your product mix, how do you decide what to carry?

DS: In the beginning I focused on products that I liked because I didn't have a customer base. But as the years have gone on and my customer list has grown, I now buy with a mix of what I like and what I think my customers will like. My selection is a little more classic, so while I look at trends in colors and styles, I don't go overly trendy. 

What are some of your favorite stores or operations out there?

DS: I've become obsessed with W. 3rd Street. I love supporting my neighbors. Quality Food and Beverage, Sweet Green, and Sweet Fin are my go to neighborhood restaurants. Afternoon tea from Matcha Box and happy hour at The Blending Lab are also on my list. Vanderpump Dogs just opened a block over, and it has become Zorro's new happy place. 

Zorro Carlton Drew

Retail is changing all the time, what would be your advice to someone who was thinking about opening a retail store from the beginning?

DS: Try to keep your overhead low. Also be prepared to miss birthdays, weddings, and weekend trips with friends... it's important to be in your store and build relationships with customers, so these are sacrifices you have to be prepared to make. But if it's your dream, the rewards will make the sacrifices worth it because when the day is over you'll realize that one day at a time, you're making your dream become a reality. 

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