How one retail entrepreneur is moving forward, counter-trend

by Karen Alberg Grossman

Raja Ratan, founder of Q Clothier and Rye 51 in Dallas, is an entrepreneur, and clearly a risk-taker. He’s betting that his custom clothing business is strong enough to support a major expansion, despite this seemingly endless pandemic. Pending locations include Chicago (Oak Street is slotted to open mid-September), Boston, and DC.

“Our balance sheet is healthy so we can weather the storm,” he explains in a recent interview with MR. “Unfortunately, for 75 percent of luxury retailers, if the government doesn’t come through with more support, they’re not going to make it.”

Ratan’s Q Clothier business in Dallas is mostly custom (4-week delivery with a rush option) and mostly vertical. “We buy the fabrics and we partner with the factory so it’s truly vertical. We can offer exclusive product with controlled margins because we don’t sell many of the same brands as other retailers nor do we compete with our own vendors. Sadly, too many luxury merchants are discovering that the clothing they just got shipped is already 60 percent off online, often on the brand’s own website! I predicted early on that this model would ultimately unravel and thus started manufacturing rather than buying.”

In addition to custom clothing (retailing at $1,000 and up using fabrics from only the finest Italian mills), Q Clothier has a casual brother, Rye 51, that specializes in ready to wear luxury casual apparel. That said, even jeans, polos, shoes, and other casual items are also available custom since the pandemic has obviously accelerated sportswear sales. “No one’s buying suits at the moment,” Ratan confides, estimating that about half of his volume is now sportswear-driven. “The sportcoat is the new suit, often in a softer stretch fabric. We’ve got fabulous models from Italy retailing from $500-$800. We’re navigating carefully but I’m confident that suit business will climb back up. It will be a few months in coming but it will happen. Suit business has always been cyclical: men are social creatures; most of my customers tell me they’re going crazy sitting at home.”

Ratan’s family has been in the clothing business for 50 years. He graduated from UT in finance but after a year of financial consulting, he opened an 800-square foot shop in Dallas selling custom shirts. “Business grew organically, with 18 years of profitability. We’re now looking at 10 shops, each 2,000 to 3,000 square feet, all with a polished/rustic feel, and of course a whiskey bar!”

Another smart move: Ratan just hired Emily Reuter Young, former director of custom clothing at Trunk Club, to recruit the right team for the expansion. “Our clothiers are all-important,” he maintains. “Our current footprint started in Dallas and moved outward from there in mostly Southern cities: Houston, Atlanta, Fort Worth, OKC, NOLA, Little Rock. We’re also looking at DC, NYC, and L.A. We’re marching forward so when the pandemic calms down, we’ll have the right platform and team in place.”

In the meantime, Ratan admits that he’s cut back a bit on staffing (from 4-5 to 2-3, depending on location) and he’s mastered the art of negotiating with 10 different landlords. “Most understand that we’ve got to take this ride together and massive negotiations are part of it.”

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