Pladra Pops up into a success

What started out as an online side business has now popped up into a full time retail store in the heart of one of the busiest shopping neighborhoods in San Francisco.

Pladra, cleverly named after its owner Jeff Ladra, is a retail store in Hayes Valley that sells high-end flannel apparel for men. It will celebrate its first anniversary this July. Pladra is the result of a pop-up, which is a temporary store designed to test a product or business. A pop-up can also be used to give customers a chance to discover a product in-person that is otherwise sold exclusively online. In Ladra’s case, a 2015 pop-up in Hayes Valley gave him the confirmation he needed to turn his online business into a full-time store.

Pladra was founded in 2011, first as an online side project for Ladra. He had been in love with the outdoor lifestyle since he was a child.

“I was a big outdoorsman,” Ladra said. “I grew up flyfishing with my family every single summer vacation. It was kind of the glue that kept our family together.”

Pladra specializes nearly exclusively in high-end flannel shirts for men. Various patterns in almost every color cover the walls of the Hayes Street retailer.

“All of our shirts are made right here in San Francisco,” says Ethan Sopenski, an employee at Pladra.

While most of the shirts are priced at $119, Ladra says the quality is well worth the price, as the more expensive material and original in-house design make the shirts wearable in any setting.

“We want to be that all-purpose flannel,” Ladra says. “You can go hunting and fishing in the flannel, but then also wear it to the bar afterwards.”

Pladra’s shirts are extremely comfortable and stylish. In addition to the original plaid patterns designed in-house, each shirt has a creative nature design on the inside lining to give it a personalized touch. It is this kind of originality and attention to detail that make Pladra perfect for Hayes Valley. Its young and upscale community appreciates the time Ladra and his team put into each shirt (and they can afford it). It appears to be a match made in retail heaven. But how did Ladra know that this was the perfect neighborhood for his business to flourish?

This is the beauty of a pop-up. Ladra was able to test his business in different areas by temporarily occupying empty retail spaces and selling his products in-person rather than exclusively online.

“With a higher end product, which we have, people really need to see the quality and touch and feel to understand it, Ladra says. “It’s really hard to communicate [online] why our product is over 100 dollars…people can see it for themselves.”

Ladra tested two pop-ups, one in the Marina and one in Hayes Valley. Each lasted around three months. Not only was the Hayes Valley location more successful than the Marina location, it wildly outperformed Ladra’s expectations in terms of sales. The fact that his pop-up took place during the summer didn’t deter him from selling over one hundred cold-weather flannels a week. This success encouraged Ladra and his partners to find a full-time location in Hayes Valley.

“When that came to a close, we were like ‘oh my god, that was so great, we should definitely find a permanent spot,” Ladra says.

This type of pop-up strategy allows businesses to give the public a chance to experience their product in-person without committing to a location long-term.

“Pop-ups are definitely becoming more prevalent and more meaningful,” says Ben Lazzareschi, the real-estate agent who found Ladra the open space to pop-up in Hayes Valley for just 3 months. “It’s a great way for brands to connect to customers. Online [shopping] has its place, but not everyone is becoming aware of products and certainly can’t touch and feel the products and fully understand the brand just by online [shopping].”

Pop-ups are becoming more and more popular in up-and-coming neighborhoods, and Hayes Valley is at the forefront. Just a block away from Pladra sits Proxy, a two-block project that houses pop-ups, retail stands and mobile restaurants. The stores are constantly rotating and exposing new concepts to the area.

“Temporary strategies allow for experimentation and innovation,” says Clarke Selman, a spokesperson for Proxy. “New possibilities emerge from new ways of thinking and vis-versa.” With projects like Proxy, the popularity of pop-ups will likely continue to grow.

Similarly, Pladra isn’t stopping any time soon. In light of the success of their current store, Ladra plans on expanding in the form of another pop-up.

“Our next pop-up will probably be in a place like Boulder or Denver, he says. “We’ve learned from our analytics on our e-commerce selling that outside of California, our next biggest state is Colorado.”

If this next pop-up isn’t as successful as the Hayes Valley location, the consequences would be minimal. Just a few months’ rent. But if it sticks, we just might start to see Pladra flannel shirts popping up across the country.

writer, journalist. SFSU Journalism 2020 Warriors stories for the Martinez Tribune: