Every independent specialty store needs a ‘special sauce,’ something that makes the store distinct from all others. For David Guenther, whose 3,000 square foot J. David’s in Santa Clarita (Los Angeles) just celebrated 40 years in the menswear business, three ingredients have made a difference: 1) their shop dog Stitch, “Customers adore him, and he loves them back!” 2) a prime “easy-in, easy-out” location outside a mall; and 3) the slew of celebrities who shop there; several who’ve been televised wearing J. David’s custom clothing. Says Guenther, “Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, Dodger Gary Sheffield and Joe Cocker have given us items we now display over the fireplace in our lounge area. Blake Griffin wore a J.David suit when accepting his NBA Rookie of the Year award. These things make me proud.”
But the pride intensifies when he speaks of his team, including store manager Jeannie Slitzky and Michelle Franchino. “We’re all about customer service; our team will do anything to perfect the shopping experience, whether in our store or at their home or office. Our business is mostly custom; our sellers have undergone extensive training. Mastering the fitting process means fewer adjustments when the clothing comes in, four to six weeks later.” He goes on to explain that the tape measure does not always tell the whole story. “I’ve learned from many years of doing this that you need to consider more than measurements: the slant of the shoulder, the bone and muscle structure, these indicate whether to add or subtract an extra fraction of an inch…”
His pride extends to his longstanding relationships with vendors, many who are now good friends. “Solly Yamin is a terrific guy who does a beautiful job with Maxman suits: they’re well-constructed and easily tailored; we’ve made more money on these suits than any others. As for 34 Heritage, our customers buy 6, 7, 8 pairs at a time. It’s the best-selling denim brand I’ve ever carried; Richard Binder and Ken Haruta are real gentlemen.” In the shirt category, Guenther singles out Mizzen & Main (you throw it in the wash; it never wrinkles) and Haupt Ceramica (“their flannel is like butter!”) Geoff Nicholson gets his vote for top neckwear designer. “He’s got tremendous knowledge and passion for the product. You can tell by the way he handles the ties, with so much love. He’s also a master at display; we’ve been selling an astounding number of ties at retails from $125-$165.”
Guenther believes people respect the way he does business “because we do what we say, and say what we do.” He confides that he rarely does promotions, even end-season when inventory is down to nothing. “If it’s end-season and a customer selects a shirt, I might give him a surprise 30% off at the register. I explain that I didn’t want him to buy it just for the markdown, but seeing he really loves it, I’m happy to give him an end-season deal.”
Guenther also shares his story of a serious health issue in 2008: a brain aneurysm with a 2 percent chance of recovery. “I was 44 years old, endured 35 hours of surgery and was in a wheelchair for a year. The store survived because my team and my customers (including CEOs of Fortune 500 companies) offered to help with anything I needed. I’m forever grateful…”
A recent 40th-anniversary celebration at the store gave Guenther a chance to express his gratitude, as people showed up from far and wide. “It was our biggest volume weekend ever,” he acclaims, with both humility and delight.