The boxer rebellion

| Print |  Email
Archives - December 2008
Monday, December 01, 2008

If ever there was a persuasive reason to start a men’s underwear shop in downtown Portland, Steven Lien thinks he has it. “Women,” he observes, “are tired of seeing guys in bad underwear.”

Now two years into a small-business experiment that friends and family doubted, Lien has two Under U 4 Men stores in Portland and one in Seattle with ambitions to be the king of men’s underwear retailing in the Northwest.


UNDER U 4 MEN

FOUNDED: 2006

EMPLOYEES: 14

LOCATIONS: 3

MOST UNUSUAL UNDERWEAR: fabric derived from seaweed
StevenLien
STEVEN LIEN, CEO of Under U 4 Men

PHOTO BY ADAM BACHER

With money being tight, pricey boxers and briefs could be a tough sell, but Lien is betting that consumer desire for luxury clothing will prevail, perhaps just on a more sensible level. If shoppers can’t afford a $300 pair of designer jeans, maybe they’ll gladly pay $32 for a pair of imported, hemp-fabric underwear.

Walking into his underwear wonderland in Portland with 40 brands hanging on the walls and racks, it’s easy to see how impulses could rule. Mannequins wear neon-colored bikini briefs imprinted with artsy designs while bamboo-fabric trunks are all the rage (traditional boxers are so passé). It’s a men’s clothing store but most of Lien’s customers are women. “The women can’t wait to be the first to tell their girlfriends,” he says.

The 51-year-old Lien came up with the idea for his store after traveling through Europe and noticing that Americans were flocking to designer boutiques.

Finding backers and a “main street” location for his first store was a challenge because many viewed his idea as just another downtown sex shop. “We are not an erotica store, we are a fashion store,” he says.

Staying specialized is key, he says, and incorporating other apparel such as T-shirts would dilute the novelty and customer intrigue. His average price for a pair of underwear is $22.50, but if you’re feeling frisky you can splurge on a $120 pair of hand-made, ultra-soft Les Garçon imported from France. Nice.

So far, it’s working. Lien says sales are up 7% from last year and the Seattle store he opened in August is exceeding sales expectations by 50%. He hopes to reach $2 million in gross sales for the first time in 2009. Lien also is planning a second location in Seattle and hopes to open a shop in Vancouver, B.C., in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics there. He doesn’t mince words as he describes his vision of Under U 4 Men  franchises scattered across the country.

Close relationships with his national and international vendors have helped him survive the economic volatility. He was able to negotiate temporary discounts when the dollar plummeted in value because many of the brands he stocks are imported. “A weak dollar is my number one concern,” Lien says. The good news is that the dollar has strengthened. The bad news is that consumer spending has tanked.

But the underwear keep coming. At least 100 new brands of men’s underwear were introduced just last year. So how to choose which ones to stock? “We try out the product,” says Lien.


JASON SHUFFLER


Have an opinion? E-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

 

 

More Articles

Taking the lead in boosting Oregonians’ health and strengthening our economy

Contributed Blogs
Thursday, January 08, 2015
0108-injection-thumbBY CAMBIA HEALTH SOLUTIONS & OREGON BUSINESS COUNCIL | OP-ED

Businesses have a significant stake in the health of Oregonians. In fact, we cannot succeed without it. By committing to using our companies as levers for good health, we invest in our people, our business, our quality of life and our economy. 


Read more...

Convention Wisdom

February 2015
Monday, January 26, 2015
BY KIM MOORE

After more than a decade of wrangling, construction on a convention center hotel in Portland is slated to start this summer. But debate over project financing continues.


Read more...

6 chiefs of staff dish on their bosses

The Latest
Thursday, February 05, 2015
legilistiblog-thumbBY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

We ask chiefs of staff for the scoop on Oregon legislators.


Read more...

The Carbon Calculus

February 2015
Friday, January 23, 2015
BY KIM MOORE | OB RESEARCH EDITOR

Carbon pricing is gaining momentum in Oregon, sparking concern for energy-intensive businesses — but also opportunity to expand a homespun green economy.


Read more...

Everything old is new again: How the EEOC is reinventing itself

Contributed Blogs
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
BY TAMSEN LEACHMAN | OB GUEST CONTRIBUTOR

It is important to understand the EEOC’s priorities, and ensure that your leadership understands the shifting expectations of regulators and the heightened standards to which you (and they) may be held.


Read more...

Umbrella Revolution

March 2015
Monday, February 23, 2015

Yeah, we know: Oregonians are way too cool for umbrellas. But today’s stylish, high-tech models will soften the resistance of the most rain hardened.


Read more...

Meeting Facilities Perspective

March 2015
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
BY KIM MOORE | OB RESEARCH EDITOR

A conversation with Donna Earley, director of sales and marketing for the Salem Convention Center.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS