Young Professionals Mike Draper, right, told Juice that Raygun will be expanding from Iowa to other parts of the Midwest, starting with Kansas City. (Juice file photo)

Mike Draper, right, told Juice that Raygun will be expanding from Iowa to other parts of the Midwest, starting with Kansas City. (Juice file photo)

What Raygun’s new store says about Kansas City

Published on October 11th, 2013 | by Josh Hafner

The decision by Des Moines’ Raygun to open a store in Kansas City, Mo., reflects an effort to expand in underdog areas of underdog cities, according to owner Mike Draper.

The store’s third site and first out-of-Iowa location will open next spring in the Crossroads Art District, a growing hub of galleries and small businesses known for hosting the area’s “First Fridays” art events.

The new shop will feature 2,200 square feet of retail space, the owner said, about twice that of the Des Moines store. The Raygun team plans to expand to more out-of-state stores over the next 10 years as the company transitions from one that champions Iowa to one that champions all of the Midwest.

Draper first envisioned Kansas City as a possible third location last year, he said, and has visited the city regularly in the past six months. He chose to locate to the growing Crossroads district because he sees there a kindred spirit to his store’s home base in the East Village of Des Moines, he said.

“What made Des Moines different is we opened somewhere where we added to a community,” Draper said, noting the East Village was far less developed when he opened his store there in 2005.

The Crossroads area in Kansas City is popular, but doesn’t feature as many popular retailers as the city’s Country Club Plaza. Raygun sees an opening there and in Kansas City in general, said Draper, who sees a resurgence in the two-state metropolis that he feels central Iowans once overlooked in favor of Minneapolis or Chicago.

“Over the last five years, you noticed hip kids were going to Kansas City. It didn’t require any explanation,” Draper said. “We want to get into the brain-drain cities, the ones that have this invisible underdog mentality that will support what champions the city.”

As a company that initially started out championing Des Moines through humorous sayings on T-shirts, Draper said his stores transitioned slowly to feel out its appeal in Iowa and beyond.

“It was a big jump for us to do Decorah shirts,” he said. “But we kind of found out what worked and tried to lay the groundwork as a Midwestern company. We said we’ll never open up outside the 12 states in the Midwest. This is our permanent boundary. We’re going to be a Midwestern company.”

Raygun opened its Iowa City store in 2010 as a testing ground to see whether the store’s brand and model could work in other cities, Draper said. Today, the Des Moines store sees seven times more business than the Iowa City location and is looking to expand, Draper said. Raygun works in Des Moines because it’s been able to help craft a cultural identity for the city, he added, something Iowa City found long ago in the University of Iowa.

“That’s why we wouldn’t do a place like Madison or even an oversaturated city like Minneapolis or St. Paul,” Draper said.

Do you think Raygun will work outside of Iowa? What other Des Moines businesses could succeed outside the state?

About the Author

covers young professionals for The Des Moines Register. Josh can be reached at or on Twitter via @joshhafner.

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