The lobby area at the offices of Touch of Modern, which sells an eclectic mix of items, including flamethrowers. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle
Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

“Yes!” he cheerfully replied.

“Um … why?” I said.

“Because they’re cool?” Hum said.

And there you have it, the essence of Touch of Modern, the fast-growing, irreverent San Francisco e-commerce site that, in addition to flamethrowers, sells apparel, accessories and home goods geared for guys. Neither CEO Hum or his three co-founders had any retail experience when they launched the site in 2012 — just an instinctive feel for what Millennial men want to buy and how they want to do it.

Stacks of shoes at the offices of Touch of Modern on April 12, 2017, in San Francisco. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle
Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

“We really didn’t intend to start an online store just for men,” Hum said. “We wanted to target people just like ourselves, and we just happened to be men.”

They must be doing something right: In just four years, annual sales have now crossed the $100 million mark. Executives said the company is profitable but declined to give specifics.

While brick-and-mortar chains are shutting stores or just plain shutting down, online entrepreneurs like Hum are filling the void by tossing aside the business model that underpinned American mass retail for nearly 60 years in favor of one that favors speed over volume, curation over sameness, style over usefulness. Flamethrowers may not be practical, but they sure are cool. And cool is what moves product now.

“Web 3.0 commerce has really been about lifestyle and want versus need,” said Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, a former Google executive who now runs video shopping site Joyus in San Francisco. “If you look at all the companies that have come out of this last generation of commerce, it’s all about introducing you to discover new products, and the model of how you discover lifestyle product is very different than the model for how you search for a utility product.”

Instead of trying to sell everything to everyone, Touch of Modern wants to sell a carefully selected assortment of merchandise to men with themes like “The Denim Depot” and “All Black Everything.” The company…