The way most business is done today is certainly much different than when my dad was a specialty retailer and Karen Alberg’s was a department store exec. In those days, almost every dad on my block in Queens owned a store, worked in a garment factory or showroom, or was a multi-line rep.
When I started working in retail publishing, the top 100 or so clothing retailers in the U.S. were pretty much all department stores or discount chains. Every city had several. And there were thousands of successful “mom & pop” men’s specialty stores throughout the land. That’s all changed but one thing has not. Everyone still wears clothing and has to buy it somewhere.
It’s been tough to see the demise of so many great stores over a mere few decades, but that doesn’t mean retail is dying, just that it’s changing. Many of my successful retail friends who are still around have figured out ways to profit from the changes. Most independent specialty merchants have gravitated to the luxury part of the business where high service breeds customer loyalty. Some have partnered with brands to open stores that may not require the buying skill they used to but make money and friends just the same.
Malls are struggling as the number of big-box tenants decline. But the upshot has been an exceptional number of spaces at attractive rents for young entrepreneurs to make an entry into the business. And, unlike my father who used to travel from his lower Manhattan store to the New York docks selling U.S.-made jeans to foreign sailors, today’s entrepreneurs are savvy in digital promotion, social media and online retailing as tools for generating sales and loyalty. However, they still buy great merchandise and sell it to fashion hungry consumers. Manufacturers have increasingly become retailers as well (with varying levels of success) but, in doing so, they create jobs and outlets that continue to expand consumer choices.
There’s no way to overestimate the impact of Amazon on, mostly, the moderate part of the business. But, rather than complain about it, larger vendors are finding ways to work with Amazon to create more sales and happy customers.
In addition, niche players have, through a combination of unique products, online selling, brick-and-mortar, retail partnerships, and social media, found new and productive ways to build a sustainable brand, either as a vendor or a retailer. ese new business models and others will form the basis of trends that should drive the next 30 years of menswear.
The result is one that some of us old-timers might not like but bodes well for the future. Men’s retailing will survive, just as music and electronics businesses have, despite the demise of Crazy Eddie, Circuit City, Blockbuster and the local record store. But menswear has a couple of big advantages. No one needs video cassettes or records anymore, but clothing is a staple and always will be. As Barney Pressman so eloquently put it, “They’ll always need clothes.”