I’m tired of business and fashion reporters giving the world the impression that all retailers are going out of business. I can speak only for men’s specialty stores, but great merchants will always be around. As my father used to say, “As long as men are not going naked, you have a future in the men’s clothing business. You just have to keep up with the fashions of the times.”
The big retailers going out of business are not merchants but rather financial operators who thought they could hustle the public with cheaper and cheaper goods instead of great personal service and style.
Great merchants will always be around. Two examples: Ralph Lauren’s amazing business empire suffered tremendously when he sold an interest to a financial group. When he took it back and recently returned to his roots, his business flourished.
My second example: Stanley Marcus when he ran the solo spectacular Neiman Marcus store in Dallas. In the 1970s, my wife went to a famous re-sale shop here in New Orleans that specialized in designer clothes. She discovered on the rack a fine evening dress (the original retail price was a middle to upper four-figure number) in perfect condition and in three different sizes. Jim Smiley, the store owner, told my wife how he came to own these dresses. In the 1950s, there was a very wealthy oilman in Shreveport, LA whose wife loved to shop at Neiman Marcus in Dallas. She’d been invited to a big formal event and fell in love with this particular designer dress but the event was a few months off and, since her weight tended to fluctuate, she wasn’t sure which size to buy: a 6, 8 or 10. Stanley Marcus, always the quintessential salesman, came over and told her there was a simple solution: buy all three sizes so she could be assured that she’d always have the correct size when party time arrived. In addition, she wouldn’t have to worry that someone else might show up wearing the same dress.
Now that was a merchant! And I truly see a little Stanley Marcus in so many of the specialty retailers I know who just need to focus on their strengths and regain that intrinsic confidence.
David Rubenstein is the owner of Rubensteins in New Orleans, LA.