“I’m down there (in L.A.) probably one week out of the month,” says Shafer. “It’s a little bit of a challenge from a logistics standpoint, but there’s also some massive qualitative benefits that we still feel make it worthwhile. And there are some cost savings as well.”
Shafer says he has always had a love for Mother Nature, so the transition to life in Southwest Washington was never much of a hurdle. At this point, he figures the challenges facing his company are less about Washington state versus California or New York, and more about “made in the USA” versus competition from foreign imports.
“We make about 95 percent of our products in the United States. And as the economy tightens, retailers are looking more at price points and are less concerned with ‘made in USA.’ So while we have held our own, there is always an onslaught of competition from people that are offering lower price points or higher markups for retailers as far as doing imported goods,” Shafer explains.
Of course there are benefits for an apparel company manufacturing in the United States. For instance, Shafer explains, “you’re closer to the market, there are lower quantities involved in production, and you maintain the ability to turn orders faster.
“That has always been an advantage for us and partly why we’ve been able to be successful,” he added.
According to Shafer, Agave Denim hasn’t grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years, though it hasn’t lost a step either. The founder says business has been pretty consistent for a while now – and that includes sales during the Great Recession.
“We’re in a very specific and tight market niche,” he says. “We’ve been primarily specialty store-oriented, so there’s slow penetration unless you broaden your distribution to department stores – though we do some business with Neiman & Marcus and a little bit with Nordstrom.
“It’s very hard to sell specialty boutiques and department stores because at some level they are in competition with each other,” Shafer adds. “The key is finding the right balance that allows them both to be in equilibrium. If you become too strong in department stores, the specialty boutiques will drop you. At the same time, it’s very difficult for an apparel manufacturer to not have a couple major department stores to help produce order quality.”
Having focused primarily on menswear for the majority of the company’s existence, Agave’s distribution has “been pretty close to full saturation for some time,” according to Shafer. However, one area within the company that has produced significant growth of late is the Agave women’s line, which is only a few years old.
“Our women’s division has had a tremendous increase in both sales of units and number of stores. The numbers have really picked up significantly in the last 12 months,” says Shafer, attributing much of that success to his wife, who has designed much of that line.
Another growing component at Agave Denim is online sales, accounting for about eight percent of the company’s business. Record sales between Black Friday and Cyber Monday last month should help that number go up, Shafer says.
“For years, the website was a branding event – a place where your brand resides and people could go check you out, so to speak. Then for a while people said the website isn’t that important as long as you can sell your products. Truth is, it has to do both,” he says.
Warehouse sale benefits local charities
Last weekend Agave Denim opened its Ridgefield-based warehouse to the public for its Annual Winter Warehouse Sale.
With discounts ranging from 40 to 80 percent off, Shafer says the annual event is not only a great deal for shoppers; it’s an opportunity for Agave staff to interact with the community.
“Locals have really embraced the sale,” he said. “It gives the people in our community the opportunity to get access to our product at prices they can afford.”
Those attending the event were encouraged to bring and donate used, clean jeans for an additional 10 percent discount. Collected jeans were then distributed to the local nonprofit organizations Neighbors Helping Neighbors and The Arc of Clark County.
Agave Denim’s warehouse is located at 6210 S 11th Street in Ridgefield.