Q&A with Jared Mees of Tender Loving Empire

Published April 27, 2022

Jared and Brianne Mees

Tender Loving Empire, which Jared and Brianne Mees founded in 2007, is more than a record label and network of retail stores. The brand has become a home for more than 700 independent artists—including jewelers, ceramicists, clothing designers, food artisans, and musicians. Three-fourths of these artists live and create in the Portland area, and many of them have grown their businesses alongside the Mees's.

In addition to four street stores, Tender Loving Empire now has two locations at PDX: The first, in Concourse D, debuted in 2017, and the second opened in the newly expanded Concourse E in May 2021. PDX talked to Jared Mees about how their PDX stores have turbo-charged their sales—and their broader mission—and what advice he'd give to local businesses considering a PDX location.

How'd you initially make the decision to apply to PDX?
Our mission is to support our artists, our employees, and our customers, so it seemed like a slam dunk to get all our artists in front of all these new people and show them what Portland creativity is all about. It was also cool to have a store that was busy more often, more of the year, [than our street stores]. It stabilized our retail business.

What was the process of opening both stores like?
For a burgeoning business, the amount of effort you're going to have to expend is tenfold [compared to] what you'd expend to open a street store.

It was rewarding in the end. But it was challenging for someone who's just starting out at the airport: more meetings and a lot more guidelines and restrictions. Hiring a great architect and great contractor is the only way for the average small business to get it done. You have to open your mind up to things being complex, and realizing you don't have to understand it all—you just have to know key people that you ask questions of.

Do you have a different product mix in your street stores and your PDX locations?
We're selling a lot more apparel at PDX stores than we are our street stores, but by and large, it's the same mix—just a lot higher volume. You see what works and what doesn t really fast. In a lower-volume street store, you might [stock] something that's really cool, but if you don't have the volume [of customers] you won't know quickly if it's a great design. At PDX, thousands of people come by every day.

Anything else you'd like entrepreneurs to know about working with the airport?
Ultimately, it's a great opportunity for a business to find new customers and to grow in a meaningful way, with a great support team and in a great environment. People definitely have to take on a lot of change, but we've seen a lot of good things come from it. I encourage people to try if they think they're excited for a new chapter in their business.

Want to open your next location at PDX? Talk to us.