Parsow’s Sizzling suits

by Elise Diamantini

Parsow’s proves that there’s more to Omaha than steak.

“It was 1976: I was 21, broke, unemployed and had no aspirations. So I asked my dad for a job at his men’s clothing store. He said he’d hire me under one condition: I cut my ponytail,” recalls David Parsow, owner of Parsow’s in Omaha, Nebraska. “I started vacuuming the store and slowly worked my way into selling. I never had any desire to get into retail, but I had an eye-opening experience in 1978 when my dad brought me on my first buying trip to New York. I was pretty much mesmerized by the energy in the industry and by all the people who devoted their lives to it.”

When his oldest brother Alan decided to change careers and leave the store, David became head buyer. In 1982, his younger brother Steven joined the team, and that’s when, David says, the whole mentality of the store changed. “We now had two young people on the staff buying in a more fashion-forward direction. The first new line we brought in was Zanella. At that time a pair of Zanella pants retailed for $160 and we weren’t stocking anything over $90. I knew my dad would be mad that I bought something so expensive, so I hid the order from him. The next season we received a shipment of 132 pairs of pants. My dad questioned the invoice, asking me why they would list the retail price rather than the wholesale. When I told him that was the wholesale he nearly hit the ceiling! But by Christmas we had sold 129 of the 132 at full retail. That made him very happy and it gave me the confidence I needed to follow my instincts.”

Today, David Parsow and his partner Larry Ginsburg still follow their instincts. The pair scours the market every season in search of new, fresh styles. “When I first got into the business, you relied on your current vendors to show you new things,” admits David. “Now you can’t always rely on the same manufacturers to do that. We have to bring in new merchandise every season, so if our vendors aren’t sharp and always changing, we have to look elsewhere. Customers are much savvier now, so we have to be savvier, too.” David says what excites him most about current business is the major shift in tailored clothing to narrower, shorter fits. Larry agrees. “Now we have our customers’ sons shopping with us. And a lot of the time the son doesn’t want to shop at the same store as his dad, so we have to make the experience different for him and show him younger, slimmer styles. We’re doing well with brands like Tallia Orange and Privé by Baroni.” Tailored clothing is a significant part of the mix at Parsow’s (40 percent), and of that, made to measure comprises about half.

A successful event for Parsow’s happens to be one that they don’t plan at all. “Berkshire Hathaway always has their annual shareholders meeting on the first weekend in May. It brings 30,000 people to our mall. Borsheims, a jewelry store that Warren Buffet bought a number of years ago, is located in the same mall as our store. He hosts a cocktail party reception Friday night and another shopping day for the shareholders on that Sunday, so we do very well during those three days.” [Editor’s note: Buffet was a longtime Parsow’s customer. David’s father Sol began selling him suits in the ’60s and then David took over in the ’80s.]

In his free time, David is an avid comic book collector. He bought his first one from a Salvation Army store for a dime when he was 8 years old. That comic just so happened to be Amazing Fantasy #15, which is now worth over $15,000. In 1992, David combined his love for comics with his love for menswear. “It was at a time when themed neckwear was really popular. We sold a lot of Nicole Miller ties and I talked to her about doing a superhero style. I ended up connecting her with Marvel Comics and helped them design the Marvel superhero pattern that she used for neckties and apparel. It was exciting to sit down and design with her team and the comic designers.”

Fast Facts

* Established in 1952 by Sol S. Parsow
* Location: Omaha, Nebraska
* Size: 6,200 sq. ft.
* 80% men’s/20% women’s
* 5% private label/95% branded
* Classification breakdown: 40% clothing, 20% sportswear, 10% accessories, 10% denim/contemporary, 10% designer, 10% furnishings
* Charitable organizations: Boys & Girls Club of Nebraska
* Top brands: Canali, Zanella, Eton, Ike Behar, Robert Graham, Donald J. Pliner, St. Croix, H. Freeman, Jack Victor