A quarter-century in the men’s apparel business is something to celebrate but Mike Apel is more about gratitude than recognition. “At 77 and a cancer survivor, I’m grateful just to be here and to feel good. The fact that our business is moving forward is merely icing on the cake.”
For his company’s longevity, Apel credits a strong team, headed by his son Darren. “He’s got an MBA in finance whereas I had simply street smarts. We’ve gradually evolved into a full collection: t-shirts, jeans, wovens, casual pants, sweaters. We now have 500-600 square foot shop-in-shops in a handful of specialty stores although admittedly, our wholesale account base shrank during the pandemic.”
“But most importantly, we now have our own stores: eight years ago we took over two Florida stores (Sarasota, Lauderdale) that were good customers and re-branded them Marcello Sport. Then we rebranded two more, in Fort Meyers and Boca, which is our flagship. And our stores are doing well: 85 percent of the product is produced by us, mostly in Turkey. Boca is our smallest store (1,250 square feet) but does the most volume, probably because it’s close to our warehouse.”
Apel attributes much of his company’s longevity to the fact that they’ve never gone after department stores. “I never wanted to finance their purchases or guarantee their margins,” he explains. “We also have a very successful online catalog with 40,000 subscribers monthly; we’ve seen significant growth here these past three years.”
Another success secret: offering constant newness. “We’ve diversified into outdoors stores and western stores which opens up worlds of opportunity. Did you know that more doors carry western wear than regular menswear? Our Riley Jax western wear collection is doing really well, as are the cotton tropical prints in our Justin Harvey collection. And two years ago, we launched hand-painted woven shirts and tees: we’ve sold several thousand units, all done by one amazing artist from Colombia. We’re now adding hand-painted sneakers…”
Asked what he’s learned from his dad, who’s semi-retired but in the office every day from 10:30 to 4:00, Darren doesn’t hesitate: “I’ve learned not to bring in so much inventory,” he says with a laugh, adding that diversification in distribution is key but it must be done carefully. “A lot of our competitors discount heavily online; we believe vendors can’t risk alienating their retail partners. Many independent stores are bouncing back with consumers buying into color: although the pandemic was tough for them, my crystal ball shows better times ahead.”
See the spring ‘22 Marcello collection in Newport Beach, Dallas, and Chicago. And here’s to the next 25!