Joe Orlando does not claim to be a brilliant merchant but fortunately, fashion instinct is part of his DNA. His dad, Joseph Orlando Sr, was a men’s buyer for a Detroit department store chain for 25 years until that company got sold to investment bankers. At that point, Joe Sr. followed his heart and opened a menswear shop in downtown Pittsburgh in 1981. It had a good run for almost 37 years but when a new landlord failed to renew the lease at the end of 2017, both father and son thought this could be the end.
“We were scrambling and discouraged until miraculously, a space opened up just a few blocks away,” confides Joe Jr. And not just any space: this was an historic bank building dating back to 1906 with marble walls, marble pillars, 23-foot ceilings and lots of big windows. “We moved from a two-story hidden corner location with tinted windows to an open, spacious, one-level venue on a busy corner. They don’t build spaces like this any more so I know we got very lucky! How many retailers get such a great opportunity to reinvent themselves?”
But it wasn’t just luck: good merchandising instinct played into the equation. With Larrimors, Pittsburgh’s iconic fashion emporium, just two blocks away, the Orlando’s knew they couldn’t compete on some of the big luxury brands so decided instead to cultivate lesser known artisanal makers. “We chose Italian labels with less notoriety but always exceptional quality and make, brands like Sartoria Latorre, which is crafted in the Puglia region of Italy. Tailored clothing still represents about 60-65 percent of our volume; our key makers are Samuelsohn, Jack Victor, and Trussini with average pricepoints from $1000-$1200. We’ve brought in some opening pricepoints (starting at $595) to attract younger guys and we top out at $1595. A growing part of our clothing business is made-to-measure; we now have a dedicated custom salon for this component.”
Orlando is also a strong believe in special events. “We have to cultivate a business with Millennials or they’ll shop online,” he maintains. “Fortunately, our new space is perfect for events. We just hosted a sit-down wine tasting for more than 50 people: it was a huge success (admittedly more for the Tuscany winemaker than for us, but it introduced us to lots of new customers). We also host happy hours for smaller downtown offices: we get 15-20 guys and their girlfriends into the store and these have been quite successful.”
Hot now, according to Orlando, all the easy-care technical fabrics that his customers come back for and buy in multiples. His suit, soft sportcoat and tie businesses are also strong, although he’s not sure who’s actually wearing all the neckwear he’s selling (much of it from Barbara Blank and Edward Armah). Also hot: shirts from Desoto and Stenstrom, five-pocket pants from Alberto and Meyer, $400 handmade jeans from Jacob Cohen (“the fit, the fabric, the detailing, everyone who buys it loves it!”) and outerwear from Movimento, Gimo’s (their double-breasted peacoat with metallic buttons is selling out in August!) and Save the Duck. “I truly believe that artisanal brands are the way to go. The trend is analogous to recent beer consumption: look how much business the craft beers are taking away from big brands. Clearly Millennials are less brand-conscious than previous generations and like to discover their own labels.”
Asked about his dad, Joe Jr. is happy to report that at age 86, his dad still works in the store 2-3 days a week. “He’s definitely my mentor,” Joe confides. “He used to take me with him on buying trips to NYC before I knew anything and he’d always say, ‘If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not buying aggressively enough.’ Now, of course, he worries about my mistakes and doesn’t remember ever telling me that.”
“The best compliments I hear these days about our new store,” concludes Joe Jr., “is that it feels like a New York City shop, or like a mini-Boyds. Now what’s better than that?”