By BROOKE WANSER
Downtown Franklin draws women looking for a boutique shopping experience. Ken Thwaits wants to change that.
“It didn’t have a men’s store,” said Thwaits, owner of the recently opened Franklin Road Apparel on West Main Street, referring to Main Street.
Thwaits, who has referred to his spacious spot as a “man cave,” first began selling men’s clothing a few years ago inside his business, Showtime Motorsports, in Franklin.
“We sold boots like once a month,” he said.
Well aware of the foot traffic the downtown area receives, Thwaits decided to move the apparel once he found an empty space. Bill Powell, the the owner of the building and a local preservationist, was hesitant to lease to Thwaits at first.
“He goes, ‘Well, I don’t know, what do you want to do?’ So I took him to the shop,” said Thwaits referring to Showtime Motorsports, which houses his collection of new and vintage motorcycles, Chevrolet Camaros, and signs.
“He says, ‘You’re my man,’” Thwaits chuckled, “Bingo!”
The new home to Franklin Road Apparel at 508 West Main Street started out as a Chrysler dealership, then became a Ford dealership. More recently, though, the building was used as the headquarters for the Williamson County Rescue Squad for 20 years.
Thwaits laughed at the irony of the building’s automotive history: he is the founder of an international auto consulting firm, Precision Dynamics International. And he races cars, recently winning Optima’s Search for the Ultimate Street Car in Las Vegas.
Elements of the fire department still exist in the building, like the names of officers painted on a shelf along the wall. Vaulted in the ceiling is an old radio tower that once stood on the roof.
“I still want to keep the spirit alive here,” he said.
A bar is in another nook, with kegerators from local brewer, Mantra Artisan Ales. Thwaits likes the hospitality aspect of being able to offer a customer a complimentary beer while they’re shopping.
“Our customer is a little upscale,” he said. “They need to be treated a little bit better than, ‘Can I help you?’”
Thwaits said his customer demographic is men in the 30 to 60 age range, trending on the younger side.
“Younger guys aren’t going to pay 200 bucks for jeans,” he chuckled. But men who are slightly older and more successful, Thwaits believes, want clothing that’s more upscale and different.
Growing up in Long Beach, California, Thwaits was heavily influenced by surfer style.
“Laid-back, casual, flannel, jeans,” he said, are all part of Franklin Road Apparel’s inventory.
Those who know Thwaits as a race car driver may be surprised to learn that he can wax about the virtues of Japanese denim. “I have never been in retail in my life,” he said.
But he’s a quick study, and soon began attending fashion industry shows, like MAGIC in Las Vegas, as well as shows in Chicago and New York. He picks up items at each show he goes to, which explains the store’s large amount of inventory.
Beside flannels and jeans, Franklin Road Apparel offers a wide selection of shoes. No Vans here; think Ted Baker and Cole Haan. Leather accessories, grooming items and even skateboards can be purchased inside.
Christian hip-hop artist TobyMac, who has a pop-up shop up the street, came in recently, as did the producer of the Hunger Games movies, who was in town for a wedding.
“If you’re going out on a date Friday or Saturday night, you get in here Thursday,” Thwaits advised. “Get your hair cut at Scout’s [barber shop, across the alley], come over here, and buy what you’re going to wear. And you’re all set.”