by MR Magazine Staff

awardsTonight MR will bestow its Game Changers Awards at a gala dinner at Gotham Hall in Manhattan. This year’s quartet of winners are: Nordstrom (Retailer of the Decade), Brunello Cucinelli (Most Inspirational), Zegna (Most Influential) and John Varvatos (Most Innovative). In honor of tonight’s event, here we present the memories and plans for the future of some of our past award winners….


On a catastrophe he can laugh about now: Up until about four years ago all of our sales staff was unionized. There aren’t many stores in the country that can relate to that because it was something grandfathered down from another era. About four years ago our sales associates decided to vote out the union. And we were fine with that because it was long overdue; it wasn’t benefitting anyone. Be that as it may, during holiday season the union groups decided to hold major protests outside our store with the big blow-up rats, and people yelling and screaming on microphones to boycott our store, saying we were union busters. It was very upsetting and certainly wasn’t good for business. I even have one of the flyers they were distributing in my office that says, “Unfair labor practices at Boyds” with a picture of myself and my two brothers-in-law with big X’s over our faces. So at this point we can laugh, but at the time we didn’t think it was very funny especially because it wasn’t even true. The people themselves decided to vote against the union!


On his most memorable sale: We got a call from a concierge in Seattle who wanted to send us a VIP customer at 2:30 a.m. So of course we agreed and immediately ordered food and drinks to the store. Turned out it was a very famous actor (hint: Saturday Night Fever, Pulp Fiction, Grease) who was in Seattle to work with engineers at Boeing Field on his new plane. He ended up spending two hours in the store; he was totally delightful and bought lots of clothes!


On a catastrophe he can laugh about now: The day a life-size giraffe (not real!) arrived for decor/merchandising and we realized we didn’t have the space. He’s now sitting in our warehouse, waiting to make his debut.


On changes he’s making to the business: We’re revamping our security tag to make it sleeker and smaller. We completely renovated our denim bar to create a lounge with comfortable seating and we’re already seeing great results. We finished it two months ago and people like that they have a place to sit and chill. We’re also abandoning our current POS system in favor of something faster and are constantly looking for new ways to display product.


On his most memorable sale: It was the last day of the month and I was about $14,000 behind. A new customer, hedge fund president, walked into the store and announced “I have a lot of homes and I need a lot of clothes.”


On a catastrophe he can laugh about now: It was year two or three and I was at a trade show. Everyone was in a certain brand’s booth and I think I got caught up with the excitement because I spent $30,000 in that booth and the brand ended up going out business the next season. That experience taught me that brands come and go. We have to do our research and be more patient.


On his most memorable sale: A well-known rock star was in the store and wanted some scissors to cut off the arms of a very expensive leather jacket. He cut the arms off right in front of us and talked about where he bought the jacket at his concert.


On a catastrophe he can laugh about now: Biting off more than we can chew is a constant battle as I have a big appetite for special and extravagant! Our grand opening party for our store’s new location three years ago was planned in two weeks. Two weeks! As a result we had to make some decisions on the fly. I won’t say how much we spent but hiring a world-renowned DJ was something not very well thought out from a budget standpoint. In the end, however, everyone had a great time and we laugh about it now, but it took some time to accept the idea that we could have done better.


On a catastrophe he can laugh about now: Last year at our annual Halloween party, we were only 30 minutes into the event and the generator blew up and all the lighting, music and production elements went dark. Guests were pouring into the venue and there wasn’t a backup generator. I had visions of closing the party and not only disappointing all our guests, but possibly losing a lot of money. Fortunately, the production crew used extension cords and ran enough power to get the music back on, the bars back open and enough lighting to create a truly Halloween mood for the rest of the night. Crisis averted!


On his most memorable sale: Personally, Clarence Clemons of the E Street Band.


On changes he’s making to the business: We’re consolidating our State Street store’s brick and mortar efforts to a single remodeled and rebranded concept shop we believe will truly focus the Haberdash brand, drive sales and put us on a path to another 10 years.


On his most memorable sale: A major rock legend purchased a bullet studded leather coat by LeMarque to wear at the past Grammys. He loved the coat so much and received so many compliments at the event that he stopped by Vegas again on the way home and purchased another one…no names because that would be indiscreet but he’s a “sharp dressed man.”


On a catastrophe he can laugh about now: Hurricane Katrina was clearly our biggest catastrophe and most stressful time in our company’s history. Unfortunately, we will never be able to laugh about it but we have a strong sense of pride about our recovery and how it made us a stronger company.


On his most memorable sale: Years ago, Elizabeth Taylor came into the store on a Sunday; we’re not open on Sundays but of course we opened for her. She came with her entire entourage and her little Yorkie named Precious. She was looking at $100,000-plus sable coats, but our associates could focus on nothing but Precious stomping around on the expensive furs. I won’t tell you what we wanted to do to Precious…


On a catastrophe he can laugh about now: It wasn’t a catastrophe, but it was very embarrassing. About 20 years ago, Bob and I were invited by the Ferragamo family for dinner during Pitti Uomo at their fabulous Palazzo on the Arno River in the heart of Florence. The invitation said “Dress: Formal.” So what do we know? We were relatively new to the Italian scene so we schlepped our black tuxedos to Florence. As we entered, we bumped into Derrill Osborn from Neiman Marcus, who was always properly dressed in fashionable attire. He was wearing a very dapper dark business suit. I should have known what was coming: I immediately saw that our friends from Neimans, Barneys and Loro Piana were wearing dark business suits, and we were in tuxedos. I took a big deep breath and Derrill pulled me aside saying, “Jack, formal in Italy means dark business suit.” So Bob and I went over to Mrs. Ferragamo, the grande dame of the Ferragamo family, and we apologized for our error and she said, “Boys don’t worry at all,” and made us feel comfortable. It was the beginning of the long valued relationship between the Mitchells and the Ferragamos, but it was a major blooper. I’m still shaking my head and laughing about it, as we all did after a few glasses of the finest Ferragamo wines that night.


On a catastrophe he can laugh about now: This was really about averting a huge disappointment rather than a catastrophe. It was Christmas Eve. I was at my son Chris’s house and when I got back home around 11:15 p.m., I saw that I had a voice message. I played the message and this woman said she left a wrapped tie at Mitchells and asked if I could deliver it. I called her back and said of course, thinking that the delivery would be about a 10 minute drive. It turned out to be an hour each way. The more I thought about it, I remembered what Ed and Norma Mitchell preached to our family: never disappoint the customer no matter how big or small the sale.


On a catastrophe he can laugh about now: Years ago, before computers, a gentleman came in to order a pair of shoes; we of course took his address and phone number. When he came to pick up the shoes, Eddie, our shoe man, took him to the register. As Eddie began to ring up the sale, the guy pulled out a gun and demanded all the money in the register. Eddie, a former Marine, told him to get lost. The guy then shot off the gun into the ceiling. As you can imagine mayhem ensued and the guy ran out of the store. No one was hurt. We called the police and after getting his description, the cops asked if we might know where he is. And we gave them his address and phone number. He was of course apprehended.


On his most memorable sale: A pair of Red Wing boots to David Beckham.


On his most memorable sale: One of my more memorable moments was about 20 years ago. We had a gentleman come into the store and asked if we could put Bill Withers on the stereo and single malt scotch to drink. Luckily, there was a record store across the street. He requested the whole nine including seven outfits consisting of hats, socks, shirts, pants, shoes, pocket squares, etc. He never looked at the price of anything. He never told me where he was going or what he was doing. He wouldn’t give me any information: no address, phone number, or further contact information, etc. After helping select a wardrobe, he then walked me over to the luggage department and asked me to pick out a Gurkha bag that would fit all of the clothes and pack it by 5 p.m. for an evening flight. About five years ago one of his closest friends asked me if I remembered that particular sale. Come to find out, he had been diagnosed with a terminal disease. It was a dream of his to come into our store, buy a wardrobe, and spend seven of his last days traveling with his closest friends.


On his most memorable sale: It was 2007, we’d been open only seven weeks, and it was just me, my friend Randy and our tailor Dau in our 3,000 square foot shop. Late on a weekday in December, very cold, already dark, a bit sleety and I get a phone call from South Carolina in this kind of frantic voice asking if we were still open. We said, of course, come on in, and 30 minutes later a large family rolled in: mom and dad were 70-plus, their very stylish 30-something daughter and her cool husband, and their equally stylish son. Somehow they had heard about us (I was like, “uh… from where?”) and came to check us out. The dad was wearing a Juicy track jacket and a flat-brim Yankees cap…unironic. In a super country-cool, low-key but excited way, he just started throwing jackets on over the Juicy and landed on a beautiful Sartorio jacket. He said “I’ve never heard of this brand, but I kinda like it.” Anyway, about 45 minutes later, we had a pile of clothes ready to be rung up and shipped. The family from SC packed it up, said goodbye, and wished us a Merry Christmas. I think the dad was still wearing the jacket when they walked out. I immediately called my wife Ann and said, “I think we’re going to make it.” We’ve grown a lot since then, but we’ve learned that the currency of encouragement spends longer than the cash. We’re grateful for people like that family—people that trust us and support us and like what we’re doing—because that’s the only way we can continue to grow and serve them even better.


On a catastrophe he can laugh about now: I purchased the store in August 1, 2007. We have a large contingent of entertainment industry clients. I mortgaged my house and family’s future on my purchase of the store. On September 1, 2007, the Writers Guild went out on the longest strike in their history, basically shutting down the industry I live off of. As soon as the strike ended, the economy tanked and our business dropped off 50 percent from the date I bought the store. I learned, by fire, how to run, growand sustain a business.


On his most memorable sale: An older gentleman came in looking for washable, inexpensive cotton pants which we do not carry and left buying $20,000 worth of clothing. Our sales associate almost by accident put a coat on his back and the customer said this feels good. The sales associate then pulled out all the garments he thought would work in his size and said what do you think? Customer said, “I will take them all and can I see what you have in shirts and ties?” Goes to show that you can never tell what a customer is capable of doing.


On his most memorable sale: This was about 30 years ago when I was working the floor at the Bloor Street store. We were at the end of the season consolidating merchandise and I noticed that we had three of the exact same Zegna suit in a 46 tall. And that’s all we had in 46 tall—after all, it’s not a popular size. So as luck would have it, in walked this very famous movie star, Donald Sutherland, who was in Toronto filming a re-make of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. He told me that he needed a suit for a movie and that he happened to like Zegna. So I brought out the Zegna suit in 46 tall, he tried it on, it fit him perfectly and he loved it! But there was one problem: he said that he couldn’t buy it unless we could get two more of the exact same suit for the body doubles. So I sold him all three of these Zegna 46 tall suits, plus three shirts and three ties. I couldn’t make this up.


On his most memorable sale: A guy walked into the store and very casually mentioned that he’d been wanting to shop with us for a long time. He then said that his house recently burned down and he ended up buying $120,000 worth of suits!


On his most memorable sale: I had a guy call and ask me to pick out some clothing that I thought he would like. So I picked out six suits and five sportcoats and he came into the store, looked them over and said, “Okay.” I said, “Okay, what?” And he replied, “Okay I’ll take them.” Now I happened to know that this guy was retiring so I said to him, “Joe, you don’t really need all this. Why are you buying so much?” And he told me that he was moving into a new house and didn’t want to move any old things. That was a nice and unexpected sale.


On a catastrophe he can laugh about now: The Northeast Blackout of 2003: Korry’s remained open for business. We were using flashlights to serve our clients!


On a catastrophe he can laugh about now: In the 1970s, my father and I purchased over $1 million of Faded Glory merchandise with a handshake. During the fall, six semi-trailers arrived at our office during a freak snow storm of 18 inches and we just looked at each other and had no idea what to do with it all. At that time, we didn’t have a big enough warehouse to store and process all of this merchandise. We had to rent a warehouse to unload the trucks. We said to ourselves, “What the hell are we going to do with all this merchandise?” Obviously, this was way before open to buy reports, so we decided there was nothing else to do but be rockstars and hit every major city in the Southern region. We had big fairground sales in Nashville, Little Rock, New Orleans, Memphis, Jackson, and still couldn’t move all of this merchandise. We hired alcoholics at recovery missions (first mistake) to help us unload the trucks and stock the venues. Those same people that helped us unload the trucks were breaking into the venues during the night to steal from us (second mistake). We sold a lot of merchandise at low prices and collected a lot of money in cash. However, it was way too much work for the efforts we put into it.

After our road trip, we completely killed the brand in every city in the South. One story that comes to my mind about this adventure was that we had so much cash on us we knew we had to quickly deposit it. Our first stop in each city was to find the nearest bank and tell them we were doing a test run to see if this city would work for a new store in their area just to get an account open. They greeted us with open arms thinking we would be using their bank in the future. One day, I was at the teller’s window with thousands of dollars and my dad was so tired from all of his hustling that he fell asleep in a chair at the bank. One of the bank officers came up to my dad, woke him up, and told him he couldn’t sleep in the bank. My dad pointed at me while I was depositing huge amounts of cash and the officer quickly asked my dad if he could get him a pillow. I guess you could say we were the pioneers of the original “pop-up” shop concept.


On his most memorable sale: About 20 years ago, a client who had recently had his leg amputated came in to purchase a pair of Zanella pants. The sales associate helped measure the length of the pants. Upon delivery of the pants, the client discovered that we had reversed the pant bottom alteration and shortened the wrong leg to the length of his stump. He came into the store furious, so I visited with him and discussed our terrible mistake. We became friends as he told me about the infection and problems that caused the loss of his leg. We were able to replace the pants (correctly altered the second time) and I personally delivered them to him. In addition, I donated the problem pants to a needy patient at a rehab center. So we helped a stranger and made a new friend too.