How many retailers these days can say that 2015 was their best year ever? We know very few. But Jeff Chouest, owner of Jeff’s Haberdashery in New Orleans and Metairie, Louisiana, is among them.
He opened his first store in New Orleans at age 23 and his second at 25. (He met his beautiful bride Carol at 18 and got married at 20.) “I started out in law school working retail part-time. But when the opportunity came to double my salary and drive a Mercedes by working retail full-time, I jumped on it. In those days, retailing was the most exciting (and lucrative) career out there. Today, you have to kill yourself for every dollar. But I’ve been lucky: I have sellers who’ve been with me for 30+ years who all write really big books. I also have my son Jeff working with me in the business. (At times it’s been both sons).”
Choest’s stores boast a strong clothing business with brands like Canali, Pal Zileri and Coppley. “Our average suit ticket is $1,500-$1,600. And custom is an increasingly important component of the business, which brings the ticket up even more. Once a guy tries his first custom suit, he comes back to every trunk show.”
In terms of strong sellers, Choest also singles out Eton shirts (“I sell a good 100 a month, at retails from $265 to $285) and 34 Heritage jeans. “They outsell all our other denim brands due to exceptional fit and a great selection of fabrics. Since we’ve been carrying the line, we sell out every season!”
But even more than product, the success secret at Jeff’s Haberdashery is a genuine empathy with their customers. “We keep our customers in our hearts,” says Chouest. “Of course, fluctuating oil prices affect their shopping patterns, as does the precarious stock market. So if they haven’t been in for a while, we call them just to see how things are going. It’s that wealth-effect perception that affects their mood and their attitude, so we remind them of an important fact: as down as the market has been at numerous times over the years, it’s never stayed down.”