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Origins-The Birth of the Loudest Store in the Mall

It all started in 1988. Guns N’ Roses, Def Leppard and Bon Jovi were #1 on the charts, and hair scrunchies, bolo ties and aviator sunglasses were everywhere. A ton of junior accessory and apparel chain stores filled shopping malls, but there wasn’t a cool accessory store for both guys and girls. Then came Hot Topic.

In the fall of 1989, Hot Topic opened its doors in Westminster, California. We’d love to tell you it was a huge success, with hundreds of teens clawing their way into the store, but we’d be lying. Sales were disappointing. Some days we barely made a hundred bucks. Was founder Orv Madden’s vision doomed? It was time to take a step back and re-evaluate. First, our location in the mall wasn’t the best. How the heck could we sell anything if nobody could find us? Then we looked at what was selling-costume jewelry. We started buying more stuff like cross necklaces, unisex earrings and leather bracelets and got rid of hair scrunchies, men’s ties and dress socks. Hot Topic found a niche and its name was music-influenced accessories. Whether it was fingerless gloves like Billy Idol or glam metal bootstraps like Poison, music was definitely the driving force behind teen fashion. After our Westminster customers gave us a reality check, we packed our bags, moved to Montclair, California and rocked their mall with the first Hot Topic store to carry all music-influenced accessories for teens.

As business increased in 1990, adding apparel seemed like a no-brainer, and what better way than to add the ultimate music fan essential-rock tees. At the time, finding a rock tee wasn’t easy. You had to buy ‘em from catalogs, small record stores or at concerts. It was unheard of to see a rock tee at the mall, so imagine how our customers flipped when they were able to purchase Bauhaus, The Cure, TSOL and Depeche Mode T-shirts at Hot Topic. Not surprisingly, these 4 titles blew out, so more alternative bands were added. Within a year, we had about 50 different band titles, and rock-inspired clothing lines like Lip Service and Serious were a big chunk of the business. By the end of 1990, we had opened 3 more stores in California and by 1994, Hot Topic was 50% accessories and 50% apparel.

In 1995, Hot Topic had 29 stores open in the Western U.S. and one Midwest store in the Mall of America in Minneapolis, MN. We were ready to take the East Coast by storm and opened store #31 in Staten Island, NY. Our customers loved it, and we got a lot of suggestions that we took to heart. Hot Topic has always been about getting feedback, listening and testing new ideas and products. We’re cool like that.

Just like with the whole alternative music thing, Hot Topic customers were drawn to the underground cartoon, cult movie and comic book scenes. It was a unique culture they could call their own, and it was difficult to find merchandise from these licenses. Hot Topic brought the world of South Park, Care Bears, Superman, SpongeBob SquarePants and lots of other pop icons into our stores.

In 1996, with about 60 stores, Hot Topic became a publicly traded company on the NASDAQ under the symbol HOTT. The cash from our public offering allowed us to open more stores across the country.

Hot Topic, Inc. continues to rock the malls. There are Hot Topic stores in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. Check out the store locator to find the location nearest you.

If you read everything this far, we'd like to say thanks! You'll find a passion for music in everything we do, and you'll see that our customers (you) share that same passion. It's in our stores. It's at HQ. It's in our distribution centers. It's in our product. It's Everything About the Music. Turn it up.

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