Downtown's "secret" clothing shop sells high-end fashion at rock-bottom prices
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Right under your nose, hidden in plain sight, is a clothing store you have to see to believe. Frieschskys, 788 N. Jefferson St., isn't actually that special to look at. But when you step out of the elevator on the seventh floor of the nondescript office building, it doesn't take long to realize that something special does await you.
Imagine a one-off, super high-end clothing store. No sales associates are there to help you, no signs point you in the right direction. Look around a little and you'll see some brands you're familiar with, like Gucci and Prada and Zegna and Salvadore Ferragamo.
But something is amiss. That $1,900 House of Carrington Italian linen suit is marked down to $379.95. Those $265 John Varvatos brushed suede ankle boots are marked down to $139.95.
It's sort of like TJ Maxx on steroids. Except with lots of photo light boxes, and the four owners are seemingly spending all day on eBay.
If you haven't already guessed, Frieschskys does most of its business online, specifically on eBay. In fact, 90 percent of owner Tim Friesch's business doesn't exist in the brick and mortar world, and it hasn't since he began selling on eBay in 1999, and as a real company in 2007.
"eBay brings in tons of traffic, particularly international traffic," says Friesch, whose seller profile has 22,413 pieces of feedback at the time of writing.
But all this merchandise – some 10,000 pieces of mostly men and some women's clothing – needs a home. And if you want a private, very unusual shopping experience, Friesch will happily sell you anything off his rack.
Private is sort of the name of the game at Frieschskys. Athletes and other wealthy customers who can't – or don't want to – shop at, say, Macy's, bring personal shoppers like OnMilwaukee.com style columnist James Lohmiller to handpick their wardrobe. Even Bucks and Packers like a bargain, but more importantly, they can buy high-end fashion that can't be found anywhere else in Wisconsin.
"If (an athlete) comes in, we'll just leave him alone and let him shop. If he picks out a suit, I've got chalk. We'll send it to a tailor and drop it off. It works well for us, because a shopper like James can guide them."
So how does it all work?
Friesch and his partners gobble up inventory from bankrupt retailers, buying entire lines at pennies on the dollar. "A lot comes from family-owned stores in Chicago. I buy from Ohio, Michigan, the Twin Cities," he says.
Sometimes it's last season's fashions, or he'll grab bigger lots from suppliers in Italy. It's actually the same business plan used by sites like Gilt.com; it's just the vehicle for selling that's a little different. Of course, the physical store is less of a priority.
"Between shipping things out and taking pictures of stuff, I'm not looking for people to come in, but sure, I'm open to the public," says Friesch. "I've had random people come in because there are attorneys on the floor. More so, the people who come in are referrals."
Be prepared: if you visit and browse the racks at Frieschskys, you'll see some unusual items. Don't be surprised at the rack of white tuxedos or the shiny pink jackets or the blue plaid blazers your grandpa wore in the early '70s. Friesch points out the many of his clients are in Europe or Asia where, well, styles are different. A lot of the original price tags are in Euros.
But Friesch knows what he's looking for.
"A lot of times I choose from a list. I usually take what's left over from those big flash sales – they'll sell off 80 percent of their stock, all on consignment; they don't own it. But then the person who does own it will call me and will tell me that he has 20 percent of the Zegna pants left. I'll lowball him a price and take the leftovers."
The most you will pay here is half off retail, but Friesch says that a lot is much less. An $2,000 Armani suit, he says, will sell for $750, which is about 65 percent off retail. "You can assume I bought it for half of that or a little more."
And some of the items are quite a bit cheaper. "We have all price points," he says. "The House of Carrington was a Wisconsin company that went bankrupt and I probably bought 10,000 units for dirt cheap. So I have a couple thousand pairs of pants in the back room – that's pretty fun to look at."
Is this how the 30-year-old Friesch, a former corporate accountant, imagined his business would evolve?
"Pretty much, to tell you the truth," he says. "All of this furniture ... I got it all cheap, or else it would look like a warehouse. They gave us a killer deal here. The online side is where the growth is. As far as the walk-in traffic, I'm comfortable with the volume. I like it."
Along with his three other partners, business is booming. But no, Friesch doesn't wear the clothes he sells.
"I can't afford most of this stuff," he says with a smile. "I'm a jeans and T-shirt man."
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