"The idea for Spruce had been brewing for some time," say owners Taylor Romero and Becca Miller, who finally opened their brick-and-mortar menswear shop in Berkeley this summer. "I was working at a web space for a while and I felt I wasn't being creative or like I had to chance to see people face to face. So I decided to go to school for my fashion retail management degree from the Art Institute of Colorado. Soon after, I started making business plans to open a boutique," explains Miller. "I think the men's fashion demographic is underdeveloped in Denver. I can only think of a handful of other stores, like Fancy Tiger or Steadbrook, that cater to men's fashion — and only Family Affair has a barbershop in one. The men in Denver are under-served and I think it's a booming market. Denver is slowly going to be known for having great fashion. We do have a lumber-sexual look here in Denver, and our style is very different from the style of L.A. or New York, or even Europe," says Miller.
Romero and Miller, who started dating in 2006, have lived in Denver for the past seven years. "We are definitely West Coast people," Romero says. "As we were migrating across the country and we noticed the further west you go, the more open and the more air you have because you can breathe and there is not so much stuff cramped in a small space. People are more relaxed the further west you go. How we provide service and the tools we use to power it set us apart from other places."
Photo by Mauricio O. Rocha
Miller brainstormed a list of potential menswear shop names and when she got to Spruce, "That's it," Romero remembers saying. "That is the name of the store." The sign greeting Spruce's clients — created from an online logo design — lights up whenever customers book an appointment via the interactive website; customers build their own profile online so that Spruce can get to know their needs and suggest what services and products may suit them best. "We want everything ready before you come in so when you get here it is smooth sailing," says Romero, who's interested in the technology side. The owners of Spruce have documented their journey on social media every step of the way.
"I think Steve Jobs called it zooming, when you are solving problems, and you're doing it naturally," Romero adds. "So we decided that we want to start with helping men look and feel good from head to toe. Then we panned out and looked out into the whole world and we said, 'What do we need to do in order to bring these ideas together and to make this happen?' We thought that a barbershop had to be a part of this equation. The retail end of things was always a no-brainer due to Becca's background. With me being in technology, I asked, what can I build or create to help facilitate this business, not get in the way," says Romero.
"I was doing style consulting and finance at the time and I would take my clients shopping to the Cherry Creek mall and then I would book them an appointment at the barber across the street the next day," Miller recalls. "The style-consulting took a large amount of time for the client and myself, sometimes even two days. It helped us decide what we could trim down to make our idea happen. If a guy gets a haircut and style consulting, he is looking at two hours of service and then he is out the door. That is much quicker than two days," explains Miller.
The Original Penguin is one of the brands that Spruce keeps in stock. "Seven Diamonds and Alternative Apparel are higher profile," says Miller. "We try to keep it in the USA if possible and support local artists. We try to support smaller businesses you can't find anywhere else." Miller picks all the inventory, and does the buying and style-consulting as well. "I try to pick things that are modern and classic. A lot of the color schemes are basic blues, grays and blacks," she says. "They are versatile and can be worked into any wardrobe, instead of just starting from scratch. We mix in some fun floral prints to make sure we can cater to a bigger audience," she adds.
Leather goods by Duluth Pack come with a lifetime warranty, bearing the signature of the person who made the piece in the factory. The mix of the old and new is a reoccurring theme at Spruce. "There is never a point where anyone is feeling overwhelmed because everything is booked online and no barber or style consultant can be double-booked," explains Romero. On the barber-side are classic grooming products for men, including Jack Black and Mitch by Paul Mitchell. "I use the men's products, like lip balm, all the time, so ladies can use them as well," says Miller.
"The key to getting things done is doing what you say you're going to do — and you'd be amazed at what you can get done," Romero says. "Our slogan is 'get empowered,' and we believe in it. We provide transparency and autonomy here. We try to be 100 percent honest with our team and customers, and I think that breeds trust. We have an open-source company. You can use our software to even build a competing company. It's a team-driven organization, not a traditional top-down organization, and you can see the results. If people are honest and have passion, our goals can align with theirs. Accountability is a big virtue of Spruce. Everyone brings their ideas to the table. You can't find a schematic for anything in the store," says Miller.
Here's some of the eye-wear you can purchase at Spruce. "If you are lucky enough to have a face that fits these frames, then these shades are awesome for you," says Romero. "They are made with recycled pieces of skateboards."
At Spruce, customers can pick their footwear from an iPad displaying the store's inventory and sizes. "Did you ever go to the shoe store and feel like there was no one around to help you find your shoe size? Now the iPad can just look up your size and show you all the shoes that we have in stock and you can buy it and then I get a notification and bring it to you," Romero says. Customers can indulge in nostalgic video games like Super Nintendo at Spruce as well. There is an ongoing video game competition near the entrance of the shop where customers can get a free upgrade on a service just by beating the computer's high score. Game on.
This fitting room is an example of the innovations that Spruce has introduced to be more efficient for its customers. Customers can discard the items they don't want in this slot in exchange for new clothes, all without being bothered to get dressed.
This coat rack features bent wrenches for hooks, proving that a handyman's work is never done. "So much of what you see around here exceeded our expectations because we let people use their talents to see our vision and problem-solve with us," says Miller. "Everyone takes pride in their work here."
"My fiance and I are self-funded," notes Romero, "and we don't have much money to finance things, so we have to be creative with our execution."
There is humor painted on the bathroom walls at Spruce.
This piece of custom-made art located in the bathroom is another example of Spruce's humor.
"This sign makes people want to take more selfies in the bathroom," says Romero.
Photo courtesy of Spruce
"Diana is our head of barber services and our mistake was waiting to long to hire her," Romero admits. "We let our team tell us what they want because we believe in them and want them to have the tools they need to be successful at their jobs." Because of this, Romero and Miller have built custom tools at their barber's request to help them do their jobs better, like a magnetic scissor holder for example.
The artwork adorning the walls at Spruce will rotate for the First Friday of every month, which is a big deal in Berkeley. "This whole street is up-and-coming because it's booming with art galleries and restaurants, so we are getting in early and we're excited to be a part of this neighborhood," says Miller.
"The landlord has been great, very accommodating, because she let us remodel as needed, as long as it's awesome," adds Romero.
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There could be multiple locations for Spruce once this one becomes "a well-oiled machine, which will happen with time," Miller promises. "We need to stop learning lessons as first-time boutique owners and get to a place where we really know our client."
"The reason why we opened the doors and thought, 'How is this going to work?' is because there has never been a store like this before," adds Romero. "We had a soft opening in June and have been testing all the bugs out in the first few months. We were getting people's feedback and adjusting our business accordingly," he says.
"We've got it down to a rhythm and flow now, so we are ready for the grand opening party," says Miller. And that party is tonight, September 3. Click here for more information on Spruce.