Editor’s letter: wake-up call

by Karen Alberg Grossman

For more than 30 years, one of MR’s key roles as the voice, and the conscience, of the menswear industry has been to speak for the myriad of small retailers and emerging brands who worry they’re not important enough to matter. For this reason, I feel compelled to share a few of the anxious emails I’ve received from specialty store readers who fear they might not survive the ramifications of this global pandemic.

Writes one: “I think we’re facing a make-or-break for many independent retailers. Many of us operate month to month on a shoestring. This could break the shoestring. As a token of goodwill from our wholesale partners, I would greatly appreciate an extra 30 or even 60 days dating on my spring merchandise invoices. Do you think this idea has enough merit for vendors to be willing to do this?”

Writes another: “We are–all of us—waking to a Brave New Day! Not a total lockdown…yet! However, I think that might be the way we go as a nation as other countries have chosen to stifle the virus. I know we’re faced with a moral dilemma as to how we handle our employees. What will our tailor do to make up for all the hems he won’t be sewing? I know what is right and just so of course we’ll take care of our people, even with minimal business coming in.

“But in the broader picture, I sit here this morning and say, what the heck! I have not heard from one single vendor of the many we work with, to say ‘How’s business?’ ‘How are you doing?’ ‘Is there anything we can do to help?’ ‘We’re here for you if there’s anything we can do.’ Of course, we have invoices to pay but not one of our vendors has contacted us and extended our terms. Any of these gestures would have been so meaningful but they haven’t happened…”

So let me reiterate: What the heck? These specialty store merchants are the heart and soul of our industry. They’re on the front lines; they know their customers and help brands tweak product accordingly. They give back large chunks of what could be personal profits to their communities. They’re the first to help their customers, their vendors and each other in times of need. They’ve shown incredible loyalty to the brands they’ve helped build, even while these very brands have gone direct to consumer, often off-price. Clearly, now is the time for wholesalers to lend a hand to independent specialty retailers who have never needed it more.

To be fair, a few vendors are already doing this. Raffi Shaya from Raffi has been personally calling his accounts, giving them health tips and talking terms on an individual basis. Paul Buckter and Andrew Weisbrot from Zanella have sent out letters, offering their accounts not just dating but a discount on future orders. (As Weisbrot says so well, “This industry was built on relationships and friendships. If we are not willing to help each other now, what the heck are we doing it for?”) Says John Tighe, president of Peerless, “Of course Peerless is open to working with stores on an individual basis.”

Bottom line, we’re all in this together and as I’ve always believed, what you give out comes back to you in spades. I also believe that when the dust settles (and it will!) on this horrific pandemic, it will be the local brick & mortar specialty merchants to whom consumers will gravitate, craving the warmth, camaraderie, expertise, and personal attention that these retailers have always provided. If vendors don’t help protect these stores now, it might be too late.

16 Replies to “EDITOR’S LETTER: WAKE-UP CALL”

    1. So interesting to read this article and thanks for sharing this Karen.
      I actually have been reaching out to many of my better specialty stores, and just making sure they are healthy and being careful with this pandemic threatening all of us on so many levels. I’ve also actually came up with an idea and offered some of these great stores some of my personal original vintage tribute belts to feature in their stores, as a one of a kind rare find vintage creative section in their stores, to get any of their customers excited about selling them some great vintage musical tributes that people have been asking me for many many years to do again to excite the few shopping customers all over again.
      I’ve sold these gems to these aw better men’s stores around the country, and at my raw sample cost only direct, so they could all make huge margins on each sale, and making each of their stores even more special, where these vintage Bill Lavin musical classics are now only available at their stores. It’s been a huge success story and hopefully will help our greatest specialty stores survive.
      I pray that this virus will pass soon and that we all realize how precious life is on this beautiful earth. 🙏♥️😎

  1. Very well said Karen. Thank you for bringing this extreme important issue to the forefront.
    Retailers truly are on the front lines, and I being just a small yet serious vendor have a heavier heart for them than for
    myself. We are all very much concerned what will be, and must work through this together to not
    ignore the facts we both need to continue and help each other.
    Let us all keep prayers this too shall pass, and remind ourselves we are all human.

  2. The retailers are our true partners. We will grant them 60 days term till they feel confident and make the sales and pay the invoice.
    Thanks for Sharing
    Management of Garment Group Inc.

  3. very well said, Karen…thanks….
    we are all in this together, we have been calling accounts and hearing from many to make sure all of them are ok and see what we can do for them, we need each other. we need to stay calm, need to work together and help each other out. we all made the goods for them and need them to take them and if needed work with them on terms/payments…..we have been lucky to have many great retailers that we are working with and helping them out…it goes 2-ways, vendor and retailer. let’s all hope this passes soon and all of us remain healthy and back to normal soon…..

  4. Great thoughts, Karen!! I know people on both sides right now. in many ways, I operate on both sides. Mostly people
    are a little afraid to communicate right now. But, I don’t think communication is ever wrong. It might cost you something
    to make a call. Or, it might not. It is the people who matter more than anything else which is the lesson we all need to
    focus on!

    1. Thanks Karen for your thoughts. I have been a men’s sales rep for 46 yrs and this is as tough as it gets. Your forum on MR is helpful to all whether in retail or wholesale. Will our families, friends, and customers be healthy? Many in our business are near retirement and on paper have lost a lot. Many are concerned about their businesses. All real life issues. I have been on the phone and computer all day offering support backed up by my company I represent, Peerless. I think it is time to go out for a walk and be grateful for what I have—-even the gym is shut down. Be positive everyone!

  5. Thanks for sharing this Karen. Calm voices, and common goals are key to moving forward through all of this.

  6. Karen I agree with what you area saying and the other people who have commented. If you love this business, like I do, we are all in it together. No one should be selfish and think of themselves.
    We do a lot of better Made in Italy belts. We produce in the region of Bergamo this is the most affected by the Virus. We are helping our Italian Factory financially, by paying then early. We don’t want to loose them either. My point in saying this is we can’t forget the manufactures vendors.

  7. Thank you for that. I have personally reached out to every vendor today asking for extended dating. I believe there will be much support for this, particularly if you have a history of on time payments. I encourage others to do the same.

  8. Thank you for sharing this information, our retailers are in the forefront and we all can be greatly impacted by this pandemic. But more important we are all in this together. Our vendor community loves it when our stores are thriving and when we hit a situation such as this we want every store standing to survive. Of course we will work with our stores understanding that our vendors, whether they are big or a small, are facing the same with material cost and production, employee salaries. So yes, we are all impacted and we will be following up with our stores to see how we can support them through this difficult time.

  9. Great article Karen,all specialty stores should contact there top suppliers and ask for a extra 60days. Any supplier that does not try and help there good customers should not be the supplier going forward

  10. Karen,
    What I find is just as important as our clients, customers and retail community, is the COMMUNITY itself. Why are we so insulated? Why it it fight or flight for so many? In times like these, in drastic moments, ones that can make or break our future. Why isn’t more about how to step out of our own dilemma and extend our hands outward. Look to volunteer, move the conversation into how we can help our neighbor, or even our neighbor’s neighbor. We are connected thru a life thread that we cannot explain. This is a time to worry, it is a time to reflect, it is also a time for a call to action.
    I can help, we can help, we all should help.
    Food, supplies, a conversation, a smile, a moment of love, showing someone that we are more than just an industry, we are all a family.
    My thoughts go out to all those affected in an industry I have called home for so long.
    We move on, we evolve, we find our common purpose in the good of humanity.
    Heavenly Harvst will always be there for those in need.
    We are proud to be a partner with MR.
    Please email me the things you are all doing, and things others in our community are doing to help those who need it most.
    We will hold them close to our hearts, and keep them in your prayers. We will be there for them if we can.
    jmckinney@heavenlyharvest.org

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