If you were to ask Loop Clothing founder Alnoor “Al” Keshvani’s philosophic view of whether the proverbial glass is half-full or half-empty, you would receive no hesitation from the local retailer. The glass is neither – because it’s overflowing.
Al is no stranger to positivity and his loyal customers can attest to his optimistic perseverance over the course of his 13-year tenure. Since establishing the Waterloo streetwear culture retail store in 2004, he has survived the Great Recession, competition from expanding outlet malls, a flooded roof forcing a total store relocation, near inaccessibility from the ION light rail transit construction, as well as online retail juggernauts like Amazon.
“It’s been interesting because the only things that have really changed are the trends,” he explains with a friendly smile and chuckle. “We have a saying, on the employee side, that we’re not curing cancer. We’re selling clothes and building relationships. That for us is what keeps us motivated and passionate!"
All startups can learn from enduring bricks and mortar retailers like Loop – selling clothes is the means; building relationships is the business. Customers keep coming back for Al’s energizing hospitality. He has sold limited-edition Air Jordans to clambering teenagers who then return years later as grown men, looking to purchase matching father-son Chuck Taylor All Star 1970 Converse high tops you can’t get anywhere else.
Be innovative. Don’t do what someone else is doing.
When you ask the primarily-men’s-clothing-store-owner about the most interesting business insight during the holiday shopping season, he shares how awesome it is to see “how many grandmothers, moms, sisters and family members who will only exclusively come shop with us!”
From locals to celebrities, Loop has been a must-stop clothing destination in the Data District of UpTown Waterloo for over a decade. Celebrity sightings are common with Starlight Social Club just down the street. Al has quickly outfitted numerous musicians from Jeru the Damaja to members of Broken Social Scene before they hit the stage.
Al’s strategic thinking is also akin to many tech startup founders in the area. He’s eager to attract and retain bright talent to Waterloo Region by building a strong team culture. “On a daily basis, there is a reason why you are locating in a core. Expand and get employees into that core so there is a mutual love and respect of support. Allow people the space to grow and build local relationships.”
For this seasoned founder, building a great company culture means always having one foot in local culture and another in the future. Even though he started in bricks and mortar, that hasn’t stopped him from venturing online and bringing along a few bricks of the trade.
Do what you’re doing. But better than anyone else.
His advice to young entrepreneurs is “be innovative. Don’t do what someone else is doing. Do what you’re doing. But better than anyone else.”
Al’s idea for Loop was conceived in 2002, when he was working at a large company and was growing tired of the politics that coincide with climbing the corporate ladder. “I hopped on a VIA train in Toronto and decided to travel across this beautiful country. And as I was travelling I would stop at all the major cities between here and Vancouver. I journaled my adventure, as well as writing down my passions, and when I arrived three days later I finally was able to sit back and look at this crazy idea I had generated: to open a clothing boutique that was more experience driven.”
For Al, his eureka moment came while watching a documentary on consumer buying behaviour and the importance of tapping into senses and experiences. “We are not just about the clothes that we have on our shelves. We are about the experience that people have coming into the store.”
12 years later, Loop Clothing still stands and is still selling the most exclusive streetwear in Waterloo Region. With the reconstruction of King Street in Waterloo now complete, make sure to share some mutual Loop love and positivity this holiday season. Oh, and get yourself a sweet pair of kicks while you’re at it.