by Karen Alberg Grossman

If you haven’t already gotten your copy of MR Magazine’s January 2023 issue, never fear! We’ll be posting every article right here on over the next week or so. You’ll also be able to pick up a copy at most of the menswear trade shows coming up in January, but be sure that we have your name on our mailing list for future issues by completing the form at the link here.

What’s the state of the menswear business in independent specialty stores these days?
There’s no question that independent specialty merchants who weathered the pandemic are doing exceptionally well, putting more money into the business than ever before. Between PPP dollars, forgiven long-term loans, and slow repayment plans, things were looking really good until sales showed some weakness mid-October 2022. But business had been better than ever for fall/winter 2021, followed by a strong spring 2022. Retailers had low inventories but managed to turn goods faster with fewer markdowns.

Meanwhile, their ace in the hole: independent merchants continued to provide exceptional customer service. While they were once competing with professional sales associates and excellent training programs at better department stores, these days, you can hardly find a salesperson on a department store selling floor. Meanwhile, specialty merchants continue to shop the market with specific clients in mind, curate compelling assortments, and turn business relationships into true friendships. They’ve created an in-store ambiance that upscale customers are happy to support, giving them a clear advantage over their larger competitors.

With a recession looming and prices rising, what’s your crystal ball on the menswear business?
Although the economy will likely struggle a bit, I believe independent stores will continue to flourish. 1) With the money they’ve put into the business since the pandemic, they’re in a better position to weather an economic slowdown. 2) They have good people who they pay well who are committed to the business. 3) They’re able to procure unique product, delivered in top-notch fashion and displayed with commitment and style! 4) They have sellers with the tools and knowledge to help customers put new looks together. 5) They’ve developed a made-to-measure/custom business over the past two to three years that creates loyalty and continues to grow. 6) Suit sales have been the best ever these past 18 months. 6) Independent stores have passionate owners who love what they do. Without that passion, most of these stores would have closed years ago.

So you’re optimistic?
Yes. While independent retailers will of course be somewhat impacted by a recession, I’ve never seen them this financially healthy in my 50 years in menswear. I believe they’ll pass the price increases on to their customers, but I don’t think that will be a deterrent to upscale shoppers who are seeing increases at supermarkets and gas stations but they’re not doing without.

What’s the most important thing independent merchants can be doing to maintain excitement on the selling floor and subsequent sales increases?
I think they need to focus on the recent trend of combining tailored clothing, sportswear, and outerwear. It’s a whole new way to dress that most guys have not yet mastered and includes shirtjacs, quilted vests, soft sportcoats, and accessories. With the advantage of well-trained sellers, the independent stores can own this business.


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