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Inspiring Conversations with Randy Lewis of Throwback Junction

Today we’d like to introduce you to Randy Lewis.

Hi Randy, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
After graduating with my MBA from UCLA, I was an entrepreneurial finance professional and part-time college professor for about 15 years. After the 2008-09 recession, my business environment changed and I found it more and difficult to successfully operate.

During this period, I lost motivation for what I was doing after trying to “readapt and reinvent” what seemed like time and time again. With that said, entrepreneurship has always been in my blood. Having taught at several colleges in the San Fernando Valley, I saw the interest that my students showed in the fashion and music that I grew up with, particularly the 1990s. I began talking to them about what they liked, where they shopped, what they would like to see, etc. The primary aspect of any business is to identify a void in the market and try to fill it, and I began to see one. At the same time, I was always a fan of Buffalo Exchange and its business model, which has sparked new entrants – but I wanted to be different. Really, what I wanted to create was a concept based on a combination of different stores that I liked and packaged it to form a unique shopping experience. I should say here that I am more of a fan of music than fashion, and I wanted musical influence to be a big part of TBJ. If vintage styles are “in”, then the music element should fit that. The goal was, and still is, to create a vibe that transforms shoppers into a different time and place and give them the merchandise that they want. I really feel we have accomplished this.

The ability and creativity to build this vibe was a huge motivator for me and probably the most fun and rewarding experience of my professional life. The other large part of our strategy was location. The simplest way I can describe it is that I wanted to bring “Melrose” to an underserved area that didn’t have “Melrose”, BUT was still close enough to metro areas to attract a significant customer base. One thing we have learned is that our model really transcends race, ethnicities and socio-economics. Customers repeatedly thank us for “saving us a trip to LA” and are so happy they have found our store. We have been open since August of 2016 and have gained a large following. We continue to stay close to our original vision and values and maintain a rewarding, value-based shopping experience for our customers.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
Besides the typical pandemic challenges that most small businesses are facing right now, we have experienced some unique challenges that pertain to TBJ. The first is location. We wanted to be in an area that matched our vibe, was up-and-coming and improving, and fit our budget. While we found a building that perfectly fit this criteria, in addition to a beautiful interior aesthetic, we were really a lone-wolf in our neighborhood. It’s one thing to be away from traditional shopping hubs for our target market, it’s another to not have any other nearby businesses to help draw those customers. Our market was not shopping in the area and it took time, even with online and social media advertising, to get people through our door. Keep in mind that if your target market is not visiting your area, you have to create a destination, and that takes time. Fortunately for us, we now have a tavern and Peruvian restaurant that cater to our key demographics. The second is overcoming the “thrift” moniker. While we are definitely pro-thrifting, we are not really a thrift store in the traditional sense. Our customers still call shopping at TBJ “thrifting”, most likely because it is an all-encompassing term when buying recycled apparel and accessories. But there are many ways we differ from thrift stores. We buy our inventory like other businesses, and thus it is curated for our clientele. The best way to think of it is if you go to 20 thrift stores and bought the best 20 items to supply a store. Thus we are a huge time saver.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about Throwback Junction?
I am more of a business-person. I run the vision, direction and finances of the company. I leave fashion and some creative decisions to my managers, who are closer to our market and more knowledgeable than I. It takes a great team to operate, and I am very happy with the team we have.

Risk taking is a topic that people have widely differing views on – we’d love to hear your thoughts.
Location was certainly a risk as is inventory. With a large store filled with one-of-a-kind items, not only do we have to source the inventory (which is getting more expensive), we run the risk of sitting on particular items until the right customer appears.

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