Located in the trendy Gulch area of “Music City” (aka Nashville, TN) since September 2011, Two Old Hippies is run by the husband and wife team of Tom and Molly Bedell. The shop features a large and eclectic mix of women’s and men’s clothing, shoes, accessories and jewelry plus home décor and books. It also has areas dedicated to music where customers can buy or play premium guitars, perform onstage or purchase rock ’n’ roll memorabilia. Here, Molly Bedell discusses the unique retail experience that Two Old Hippies offers. Interview by Christopher Blomquist

What is the background and history of the store?
My husband Tom and I bought a music store in Aspen, Colorado–that is where I am from–and it was strictly music. So when we bought it Tom had the idea of bringing back a guitar he had done in the ’60s–the Bedell guitar, which is our name–and then I was going to change it up a little bit by giving it merchandise and just creating a little lifestyle store. But it quickly got out of hand, which we tend to do because we are very entrepreneurial. The store grew and became men’s and women’s apparel, jewelry and guitars but in 1,000 sq. feet [93 sq. meters] and in a seasonal location. So fast-forward three years into it and we moved to Nashville. We’ve been open here about two and a half years, year-round, with lots of music and the store is 8,000 sq. feet [743 sq. meters]. It is doing really well.

How do you select clothing brands for the shop?
We try to stay true to the core of when we started this company. I came from a marketing background in banking and Tom came from a corporate background. We asked, “Who do we want to be when we are not in our corporate clothes?” And it was really a more relaxed but hip and nice lifestyle with good price points. So when I buy I try to find brands that are small boutique brands or are not saturated in the market and in big box stores.

Do you personally buy both women’s and men’s?
I buy the entire store. We have home, gifts, jewelry, shoes, boots, women’s, men’s, accessories… everything. It’s full-on.

Leather goods section at Two Old Hippies
Leather goods section at Two Old Hippies
Which product category sells best?
Women’s, of course–women’s apparel and then women’s jewelry. But men’s is right behind that. It has actually doubled. I think it is because we have a lot of stylists and musicians who have found us and realized that they don’t have to go all the way to New York to find cool clothes.

What are your bestselling men’s brands?
Third & Army is a great brand. Tallia Orange, which is a great jacket line. We have Georg Roth and we have Big Star Jeans because I don’t like the idea of $200 or $300 jeans; I don’t think it is necessary. We also have Slate & Stone, Stitch’s and Rogue is great brand. And Age of Wisdom.

And your bestselling women’s lines?
For women we do very well with the Johnny Was family. There are all kinds of different brands under that name like Biya, Johnny Was and 3J Workshop. That’s the top one. Plus SW3, Hale Bob, which is a little bit more mainstream, Autumn Cashmere, Blank NYC for jeans, Big Star, Babakul, Gypsy…. There’s a lot.

What is the fashion scene like in Nashville?
It’s very eclectic. For the younger maybe 20- to 35- and maybe even 40-year-olds it’s kind of this hip, Southern look with selvedge denim where you are rolling it up with either cool flats or an eight-lace pair of boots. There are a lot of vests–just basic Sherpa vests and little bowties or ties. Hats are big in all styles. That’s kind of what men wear. Women are definitely a little more fashion-conscious I think. You’ll see a little bit of vintage mixed in with pretty current trends. It’s an interesting vibe. We’re seeing a little bit of everything.

The guitar section at Two Old Hippies
The guitar section at Two Old Hippies
Please discuss the special music events that take place regularly at Two Old Hippies.
We have “The Vault” which hosts all of our guitars. We have our own brands Weber, Breedlove and Bedell and then we have Martin of course and some boutique brands. The store’s theme is kind of “peace, love and rock ’n’ roll” which we have always had since the beginning.  We have live music four nights a week and then we do open mike for kids only on Sundays so they can just come in and sign in on the chalkboard and play. The TV show Nashville saw that and they loved the idea so they actually wrote one into the script a few shows back and filmed here which was fun. So we do music, we have rock ’n’ roll memorabilia on the walls from a variety of famous photographers like Bob Gruen who did all the John Lennon stuff. The music is a huge component for us. We love music and try to showcase a lot of artists.

Would you say you have a typical customer?
We do not have a typical customer and that is what is so fun. The age demographic is all across the board. It is so varied. It can be 15-year-old or an 80-year-old and they come in and have an experience. What’s fun is that there is something for both a male and a female. Guys aren’t going to complain because they can go over to the guitars and the men’s section. It’s an experience shopping here.

Where do you find your merchandise and brands?
There are a lot of different ways that we do it. We travel to the trade shows and we typically do LA, New York and Las Vegas. We used to go to Atlanta but not as much anymore. And then when I am traveling either in the States or around the world I always visit small boutiques and pick up on styles or items that I think would be a great fit for us.

Hats are a popular accessory in the shop
Hats are a popular accessory in the shop
What is the biggest challenge of being an independent multibrand retailer today?
Establishing your brand. You really have to decide who you are and stick to that. I think it is very important to not deviate from who you are and what you want to be. Some of the Nashville people say, “You gotta carry turquoise jewelry and you gotta do this” and I say, “Nope. That’s not who we are. This is who we are.” And that has worked. People find it refreshing and different. So I think it is really key to brand yourself, stick to your brand and know who you are. The other thing that is hard is that once you have got clients you really want to treat your guests well so getting a great team behind you is imperative. And I have an amazing team. I get compliments every day. Location can also be a challenge. We happened to be in an area that was emerging but is now as hip as can be.

How do you keep in touch with your customers?
We work really hard to do a lot of community things that are cause related. And our social media component is very strong. In today’s world you have to have that. So we work at it and we work really hard. And we’ve gotten a lot of recognition.

What are the plans for the future? Might you open additional locations?
We would like to. We wanted to get this store going and get our systems in place, which we have. We are going to look at some key cities. I have a goal in my mind that in ten years I would like to be in five key cities. We also have a mobile fashion truck so that is kind of fun to do pop-ups here and there around town. Then we might deviate out a little bit from the store depending where we are and what we can do. Maybe open a home store or a separate shoe store. And we own the guitar companies in Bend, Oregon. My husband runs that side of the business. We have three brands there. So it’s a full-on company.

What is your advice for other retailers?
I think today there are too many stores that just open for all the wrong reasons. People open them for something to do, to be their own boss or whatever it might be. You have to have a passion, you have to love what you do and create an experience. When someone comes in here you want them to leave saying, “Oh my gosh.” Today there is a real estate convention in town and these two gentlemen came in and said “Yesterday some of our associates were in your store and everybody at the real estate convention is talking about your store so we had to come and see it. This is the most incredible store we have seen anywhere.” We hear that a lot and that is a testament because we work really hard to make our displays amazing, our product amazing and kind of become friends with our guests.  That’s key. You just can’t put a lot of stuff out there.

Store address:

Two Old Hippies
401 12th Ave South
Nashville, TN 37203
+1 615 254 7999