In addition to shopping beautiful menswear, my main joy at trade shows is catching up with retail friends, especially those risk-takers unafraid to regularly reinvent the business. At last week’s Chicago Collective, I chatted with Jim Murray and team from A.K. Rikk’s in Grand Rapids, Michigan – a store that has always viewed fashion through the lens of luxury lifestyle, entertainment, and design. Discussing current challenges and opportunities, Jim’s optimism and insights are truly inspiring.
“I want to start by congratulating every vendor and every retailer who held retail prices this summer! It was like holding a stock you believe in and it paid off for a lot of us! Our June online markdowns were at 30 percent while others were at 70 percent. We know this because the prices bought are searched online and we have decent SEO that guides them to our site!
“Our highest-end clients have not stopped spending money, so we’ve diverted a lot of our OTB to luxury and special items! But, of course, the menswear business is changing in many ways. For example, annual tie sales that once were 80,000 units are now 8,000. And swimwear has become virtually as important as suits! In fact, we believe that swimwear will be the name of the game for spring/summer ’22. This summer (’21) was supposed to be the ‘comeback’ season for vacations but the Delta variant disrupted things a bit. Still, we’ve seen a notable increase in swimwear sales so we’re taking a huge position on leisure life by or on the water for spring 2022. (Who knows: we might even come up with a surprise new location or two…)
“As for challenges, finding the right staffing has been tough. When the pandemic first hit, we reduced our staff from 47 to 25. We now have numerous positions open that we’ve been unable to fill. Here in West Michigan, we’re competing for employment with a lot of other businesses. There are signs up and down our street for sign-on bonuses, cash, even free pizzas for interviews. It’s hard to compete when Arby’s is offering a $1,000 signing bonus!
“Many of my industry colleagues are worried about supply chain issues. But in my opinion, late deliveries might actually prove to be a good thing. Perhaps we should all be decreasing production, increasing prices and lowering markdowns, both to save the planet and to stay in business!
“For these same reasons, we’ve recently added a consignment business. It already generates $15,000 a month, requires no advertising and we pay for it only after it sells! We’re hoping to take it online soon.
“Other changes we’re making: we’ve pivoted into men’s jewelry in a big way, as well as evening leisurewear ($5,000 cashmere robes from Isaia). We’re also investing in the growing shirt-jacket category, which has not yet reached its potential since the goods have not been available.
“Bottom line, we believe that fashion-obsessed luxury customers are still obsessed and still have money; we just need to provide them with a solution for their obsession that is neither business attire nor black-tie attire. Hopefully, we can keep it going for at least another season or two before it’s time to reinvent again.”