MDFA’s Fantastic Furnishings Finalists

by MR Magazine Staff

NEW YORK – The Men’s Dress Furnishings Association Tuesday honored three of the best businesses in our industry at their annual luncheon at the New York Athletic Club.

Bud and Barbara Blank, the father/daughter team at J.S. Blank, are proof positive that independents can survive in this era of consolidation. The company was founded by Joseph Blank in 1920 and it’s been doing things the traditional way ever since. (Bud has never carried a business card; Barbara just recently dropped the “Murray Hill” exchange on hers.) They built their business on quality, service and the loyalty that results from taking care of your customers. In her speech, Barbara noted that she wants to work for another 30 years like her dad, who has no plans to retire. She also cited one of his favorite quotes: “Management gets what it inspects, not what it expects.”

MDFA’s quartet of winners: Barbara Blank, Paul Fitzpatrick,
George Zimmer and Bud Blank. For lots more photo coverage
of the MDFA luncheon,
click here to visit Schmoozing.

Paul Fitzpatrick, executive vice president and GMM of Macy’s West, has worked there for the past 33 years. He’s most proud of being a mentor to so many in the industry: four of his DMMs have become GMMs. He challenged the industry to continue to take risks and innovate, but at a faster rate. He pointed out that while 70 percent of the department store dress shirt business is in the $20-$30 retail bracket, this business is growing by only 1 percent a year. In contrast, the collections business is growing 20% to 25% a year and woven shirts here are in the $50 to $60 range. He suggested merchandising by lifestyle and bringing in new product on a monthly basis.

Men’s Wearhouse’s George Zimmer, the guy who co-founded the business in 1973 and propelled it from one store in Houston to 750 nationwide (generating $1.8 billion in sales), was honored for numerous innovations, including paid employee sabbaticals and exceptional TV advertising. Zimmer graciously admitted that he’s now pretty far removed from the merchandising and gave all credit to his six shirt and tie buyers.

“We sell millions of dress shirts and ties, which are among the highest margin businesses in the stores,” he noted, going on to share their secret. “It’s something called shirt-stacking, an idea suggested by an employee about 20 years ago. While the customer is trying on his suit, the employees match up shirts and ties to go with the suit he’s trying on. They then say, ‘Sir, we recommend you take what we’ve presented here and nothing more….’ Which they most often do, not realizing they’re spending more on the shirts and ties than on the suit.”