FROM OUR JULY 2024 MR AWARDS ISSUE: ALAN GIBELEY, GIBLEES: SPECIALTY MERCHANT OF THE YEAR

by Karen Alberg Grossman

The entire MR team proudly presents our July 2024 MR Awards issue. If you haven’t received a hard copy, please page through a digital version at  Issuu, and we’ll continue to post individual stories here on  MR-mag.com. If you haven’t been getting MR in print, be sure that you are on our mailing list for future issues by completing  this form.


Success, as officially defined in the Oxford dictionary, means “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” We prefer a different definition, one we discovered in writings by children with disabilities: “If you achieve what you want and are happy, that is success.” And to that, we add our own observation: the most successful people are those who follow their dreams and inspire others to follow their own. May dreams come true for MR’s innovative and intrepid 2024 honorees. May you keep on creating

If you don’t know Alan Gibeley, it’s not surprising: he likes being under the radar and he’s not big on socializing. “I rarely accept dinner invitations; I’m just not comfortable with it,” he explains. “I don’t like owing favors unless I’m sure I can deliver. I don’t mean to be antisocial, but that’s just me.”

From the time he was in eighth grade, Alan knew he’d follow his father, Robert (who died two years ago), into the men’s clothing business. “As a kid, I’d wake up early Saturday mornings to go to the store with him. In later years, he’d take me with him on buying trips. My dad, Robert, was a stand-up guy with old-school values. Pay your bills on time, negotiate with your vendors for terms, and check every line on every invoice, from shipping to taxes. I was (and am) less meticulous, less detail-oriented, less focused on the numbers…

“That said, some of my dad’s obsession with details rubbed off on me, so of course, I have an in-store accounting person (Nancy is the best!) as well as my terrific outside accountant, Pat Bruno, with whom I communicate daily. I believe in a team approach: if it were just me making decisions, we’d have four or five stores by now and go quickly out of business.”

A retailing major at Syracuse University, Alan graduated in 1992 with a minor in marketing and post-college experience at Filene’s Basement and Sports Authority. He’s known to be as smart as he is unpretentious. Much of his character comes from being one of 13 siblings. “Chaos and confusion reigned. We would sleep two or three to a room, even after turning the sunporch and attic into bedrooms. We had to wear earplugs just to get our homework done! In a big family, everyone chips in. There are always a lot of eyeballs on you so if you take too much pasta at the dinner table, you hear about it from all corners. You learn to compromise, to make order from chaos.”

Apparently, the family (now including Robert’s 30 grandchildren!) remains close and supportive of each other. One of Alan’s brothers owns a tuxedo rental store down the block from Giblees; other siblings are successful entrepreneurs in the retail and restaurant businesses. But not immune to tragedy, Alan shares that his twin sister, Amy, was killed in a car crash 18 years ago. “She was a wonderful person, energetic and caring. She had a successful online kids’ business. If you ask any of my 12 siblings what was the worst happening of their life, losing Amy would be the first thing mentioned.”

Alan is known to be compassionate, always trying to uplift spirits and keep everyone happy. “That said, it’s hard for me to enforce discipline, so I’m trying to be tougher when I need to be. Sellers making mistakes has cost us plenty over the years, plus it’s better for them to know what they might be doing differently. Fortunately, I’m learning to be tougher, slowly but surely…”

Interestingly, Alan’s current staff of 25 employees includes some well-trained sales pros who joined the team from now-struggling luxury department stores. “They seem to be on Cloud 9 working here,” Alan confides. “We treat everyone the same and we want everyone to have a life. So if your son is sick, or you really need to watch your daughter’s baseball game, or you’re hungover from too much partying, just be honest! We’ve all been there. We all cover for each other.”

While Giblees might have started out under the radar (as Alan puts it, Danvers is not Newton), this instinctive merchant has gradually elevated the mix, the staff, the vibe, and the energy via numerous moves, expansions, and renovations over the years. Giblees’ spacious open selling floor is still in the process of renovation, with six full-time tailors getting a newly expanded tailor shop. Key designer brands (Eton, Canali, Brioni, Isaia, Etro, Jacob Cohen) each have their own in-store shop, creating a first-class luxury vibe.

Fortunately, recent business has been strong. “People are wanting to have fun these days so they’re dressing up for events,” Alan affirms. “Sport coats have been particularly strong, from Isaia ($3,500–$4,500), Canali, and Brioni in brighter colors and bolder patterns. Average tickets are higher than ever, and maintained margins are at 60 percent for most of our brands. If they drop below 50 percent, then we start worrying.

“Of course, we’re realistic,” he continues. “We draw from a large geographic area with diverse household incomes, so in addition to luxury brands, we carry a good assortment of menswear at moderate price points: suits at $895 from Jack Victor and Byron, tuxedos from $795, jeans from 34 Heritage at about $200. But our growth has been in luxury: suits averaging $2,100–$2,200, in-stock opening at $1,875. We do a really nice job with luxury shirts from Eton. We still sell a lot of Canada Goose outerwear, but with less frigid temperatures this past winter, it was the first season we cut back a bit.”

Do his customers ask for specific brands by name? “The vast majority do not. They come in asking for our advice on what they should be wearing. They come for our service and for our reputation. My guess is that 1 in 10 customers asks for a specific brand. Of course, our luxury customers show an affinity for made-in-Italy, but that’s because we’ve been featuring it for so many years.”

Alan estimates that Giblees carries more than 75 menswear vendors in addition to a small women’s business (mostly fashion outerwear not requiring a fitting room). Online sales, first launched 20 years ago, now make up about 10 percent of store volume, which is where he’d like to keep it. “We used to do more, but I feel we’re now at the right level. We have much more to gain by growing our in-store business, especially since the big brands are cracking down on which independent stores they sell. We all feel the frustration: menswear merchants spend years nurturing little-known brands only to watch these brands drop them and go direct to consumer. My buying philosophy is simple: Whatever brands we bring in, we must mean something to those companies. We’re good to our vendors, and they’re good to us.”

Among other success secrets is Giblees’ focus on regular price, which accounts for a good 90 percent of sales. “We hardly discount, except for a few special events, but we do offer a 5 percent rewards program, and we have a small sale room in the back of the store. It seems to me that too many merchants are marking down goods too early. If the numbers fall off for a week or two, they pull the trigger without considering the whole picture, like unexpected 90-degree weather in the middle of October. A slowdown is not always due to the product.”

Giblees’ customers range from guys in their 30s to Boomers. “We don’t get many in their 20s, but we have plenty of young men in their 30s who stretch to buy Canali, and others who are happy with our selection at $895. TailoRed from Peerless does very well for us at a nice margin. We’re selling a lot of Martin Dingman slip-on shoes at $250 but we’re also selling Santoni at $700–$800. Our range of price points is what sets us apart from the ultra-luxury stores.”

A youthful perspective is offered by Carlos, who started working at Giblees eight years ago at age 18. “It started as a summer job and now it’s my life,” he confides. “Alan is awesome, and I love it here! I’m seeing a lot of young guys coming around to sport coats. They want to dress up. They want to spend money on nice clothes. They want to special order clothing in custom fabrics that they personally select. They’re also buying Isaia overshirts and Canali suits. Personally, I like the new pant styles with one- inch pleats: it’s kind of old school but with a modern twist. But I don’t think the huge, oversized styles on the runways will catch on: fitness is too important to these guys; they want to show off the results of their hard work.”

Inquiring minds want to know: the family name is Gibeley, but the store is Giblees. Why? As Alan explains it, “My grandfather changed it years ago; unfortunately, I never asked why. It might have been that Gibeley is technically pronounced with a soft G. Or it might have been to escape antisemitism. My grandfather was Jewish; born in Spain, he fled to Turkey and then Cuba… He arrived in the States in 1945 and opened his store, Joe the Hatter, in downtown Salem. That was our beginning.”

Alan and his wife, Christina, have two daughters: Hannah is 19 and studying at FIT; Emilia is a junior in high school. Will either follow their dad to work at the Danvers store? Alan isn’t sure. “Hannah already dreams about creating a fabulous women’s department for Giblees but she’ll have to prove herself first. (Plus, she loves NYC so we might have a problem getting her here…) Since the last three years have been easy, I remind her that retailing is lots of fun when times are good! It’s when in-store traffic slows and business gets tough that it takes the real professionals.”

INDUSTRY ACCOLADES

“I’ve known Alan for 15+ years. He’s always had incredible taste, and always manages to showcase each brand’s unique identity. Through the years, I’ve watched his store evolve into a truly special luxury experience.” —Catherine Uy, Brioni

 

“I’ve known Alan since I sold him Zanella and Hugo Boss in the 1990s. I’ve watched him over the past 30 years quietly turn his humble store into a fabulous, much-admired upscale menswear emporium in Boston’s North Shore. Alan is a true gentleman: fair, honorable, caring. He has great people skills and takes good care of his employees; people want to shop in his store for its friendly, happy vibe.” —Tom Cohan, Robert Barakett

 

“Alan is a problem solver with an entrepreneurial spirit. He sees an opportunity for eveningwear; he builds a dominant formalwear shop. A brand’s fixtures don’t fit into his store aesthetic, he builds his own fixtures, even better than the original. I’ve always respected his can-do mentality. For Alan, the obstacle is the way forward.” —Erik Wilkinson, Eton

 

“I’m proud to have known the Gibeley family since 1975. Alan is an excellent merchant who has taken Giblees to a new level. He treats his customers, his dedicated team, and his vendors with great respect. This is a well-deserved award for Alan and his staff.” —Richard Binder, 34 Heritage

 

“I’m so happy to see Alan recognized with the leaders of our industry, as he is a true merchant. He has a unique product mix, cleverly adapting to the lifestyle and taste of his North Shore customers. He features high-profile Italian brands like Brioni, Isaia, and Canali, in the winter months Canada Goose and Bogner for the sporty crowd, maintains a healthy formalwear business, and even offers a handful of special outerwear and sweater pieces for women. He’s never afraid to use his gut and take a chance.

“Alan is very funny and a joy to work with. He values his family, customers, employees, and vendors. Working with Alan is like working with a friend-he’s unassuming and has no ego. He’s sincere and genuine. Like his dad, he makes everyone feel like extended family.” —Peter Belci, Canali

“Alan is such a great guy and deserves this recognition. He’s stayed relevant, always evolving his business to keep pace with the market. He has a talent for identifying and developing a team that exudes energy and excitement for the products they sell and the customers they service. All this, and he is wicked smart!” —Jim Shay, Isaia

 

2 Replies to “FROM OUR JULY 2024 MR AWARDS ISSUE: ALAN GIBELEY, GIBLEES: SPECIALTY MERCHANT OF THE YEAR”

  1. Congratulations Alan! Such a deserving choice as Retailer of the Year and a wonderful person!
    All the Best!!

    Tom Garner – Torino Leather Company, New Orleans

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *