Sometimes the world just wants you to be a retail entrepreneur whether you have the experience or not. That's what happened to Altaf Baksh when he just couldn't resist opening Muddy George in Toronto's Bloorcourt neighbourhood, where he provides a carefully selected range of menswear brands, including Cursor & Thread.
How do you take your tea or coffee?
AB: I'm an Orange Pekoe guy in the morning and like a coffee in the afternoon. Both double-double.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
AB: Before opening the store, I spent the previous nine years in a corporate setting, in HR. While I didn't hate what I was doing, it wasn't my passion. While I had no retail or fashion industry experience to count on while planning and running the store, I've always had an interest in fashion and enjoy running a business.
When did you know that you were going to take the leap and open your first store?
AB: I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit about me, which I get from my dad. I always said that I would open up a store if I won the lottery, but I don’t actually play, so it was never a real consideration. That is until the summer of 2014, when my girlfriend started to really push me to do it. It was definitely an exciting process but the unknowns made it a little scary at the same time. As I met with different brands and got immersed in conversation, I knew this was something I really wanted to do.
How long did it take you to plan and launch?
AB: In the late summer of 2014, I started to write a business plan and then contact local brands and, thanks to their support, my progress started to snowball. I really began to look for spaces in January 2015 and finalizing a lease took much longer than I thought.
Can you tell us a little bit about the name Muddy George?
AB: Muddy refers to Toronto when it was called York. Back then, there were no sewers or storm drains, and the streets were unpaved. When it rained, the water would accumulate on the dirt roads, transforming them into often impassable muddy avenues. Hence the disparaging Muddy York was coined. My mom to this day, calls me George, from Curious George. So I combined the two nicknames.
How did you choose the location? How do you like the area?
AB: I knew I wanted a neighbourhood shop... something that the locals could relate too. So I stayed away from the bigger streets where stores already existed. Granted I'd get more foot traffic but I want to have a connection with people that come in, and I just don't feel I'd have that being just another shop on a busy street. The area of Toronto I'm in (Bloorcourt) is very bar and restaurant dense. There are a couple of women's & vintage shops in the area but generally it's food-heavy... so we really stand out. The area is changing (gentrifying) but it's still a little sketchy at times so that keeps the rent a little lower =). But I do love the neighbourhood... one of the reasons I choose it was because my girlfriend and I would often come to Bloorcourt to eat, and being a shopper, there really wasn't anywhere for me to shop... so I figured the area could do with a men's store.
When did you first open the doors to the public?
AB: After about six weeks of renovations we opened late August, 2015.
What’s one thing that you’ve learned, and that’s really surprised you since opening?
AB: I thought my clientele would be 25 to 35 year olds but it's really 30 to 65, which surprised me a little. But it's great at the same time. More than that, a lot of women also buy things for themselves which is awesome too.
You’ve got such a great product mix, how do you decide what to carry?
AB: Thanks! About 75% of the stock we carry is made in Canada, with the rest being made in Japan, the US and Europe. While each brand offers something unique in their own way, they all share the same passion for quality and craftsmanship. The unifying theme of the brands carried is that each piece is well made, wearable and timeless. We have a lot of accessories too: men’s jewelry, apothecary and bags. Everything lasts multiple seasons. The idea is that you won’t have to clean out your closet twice a year (or throw stuff out after a couple of washes).
What are some of your favourite stores or operations out there?
AB: I try and support independent and local businesses as much as possible, particularly in the neighbourhood. Restaurants like Actinolite and The Emerson usually end up taking my money. Pop Box Market, Village Pizza, The Common and Gasparro's are great neighbourhood joints.
What would be your advice to someone who was thinking about opening a retail store from scratch?
AB: It's a cliché but honestly follow your dream, especially if it's opening up a retail store. There are minimal barriers to entry and if you're passionate and work hard, success is bound to follow.