At a time when many independent retailers are struggling to stay afloat, a few intrepid merchants are actually opening new stores. In this first of a series, Karen Alberg Grossman talks with Craig DeLongy of John Craig Clothiers, about to open his ninth store, about his success in Florida.
You’re one of only a handful of independents with so many stores: what are you doing right?
I can’t take all the credit: the economic climate in Florida is the best it’s been in years. Hotels are having incredible increases, tourism is up, home prices are almost back and confidence is building daily. Our locations are in places where you would love to spend a week, or the rest of your life. Florida is all about color and we are known for showing men how to bring color into their wardrobes.
We also have put together a great management team. My daughter Blair heads this up as vice president of retail operations. None of this would be happening were it not for her help, dedication and her desire to build the John Craig brand. Early this year we added a full-time sales and marketing manager to give us a 24/7 look at growing our business through social media and unique opportunities such as our lifestyle magazine with Wainscot Media.
I also have a great support team in Lee Moore, Shaw Retail Group and Steve Pruitt, Blacks Retail. These two men bring a wealth of retail business knowledge and work like a board of directors in helping me make decisions.
How different is the resort business from regular business?
We actually have two different types of resort businesses. In our three hotel locations, Ritz-Carlton Naples, JW Marriot Orlando, and Ponte Vedra Inn & Club, we get a new customer every two and a half days. We still send out thank-you cards to those who give us an address but unlike the business at the Winter Park location, we do not reach out on a daily basis to these customers. Product and displays always look new exciting to the hotel guest. With multiple stores we can maximize business by transferring between stores, thereby reducing markdowns and maintaining higher maintained margins.
The second type of resort business is what we experience in Jupiter, Naples and Bonita Springs. These customers come to Florida to stay for a week to seven months (Florida residents pays no state tax after being here for six months). They leave their northern closet at home and they want to look colorful and up-to-date in their new home. They are good shoppers because they’re always in a good frame of mind in sunny Florida.
What are your hottest brands/items/trends?
Peter Millar, Robert Graham, Samuelsohn, Canali, Gardeur, and Eton are selling very well. We opened a Peter Millar Crown shop in our Downtown Naples location last October and have seen double digit increases from a store that was already selling this brand well. Pre-Spring buys from all of these clothing companies have helped us increase our clothing sales for more on-time deliveries.
We continue to see color and fabrication as the main driving forces behind what we sell. Whether spring or fall, we look to pop our windows, and our clients’ wardrobes, with color. Last spring we had some very nice success with double breasted coats. This fall I’m excited about the abundance of overcoats for our traveling clients (yes overcoats!)
Would you share some mistakes made and lessons learned over the years?
We opened two stores in Naples in 2006 and 2007. Two great locations with incredible potential. But dealing with stores that do almost 80% of their business in six months was an experience I was not prepared for. During this time I was in a member of the Luxe Group, a Retail Communities group headed up by Danny Paul. Thanks to Danny and great retailers like Coffman’s, Great Scott and others, I got through those difficult times.
What would you do differently if you could?
Everything that happens has a reason. In 1974, I came to Florida to chase my dream as a professional golfer. That never happened but I met my wife, Suzanne. In January 2009 our business was really suffering from the economic downturn. Then I meet Lee Moore with the Shaw Group who has been a major factor in our success and growth. You really have to accept what is in front of you and make the best of what has been sent your way.
What do you have planned for the future?
This fall we open in a new center called Sundial, located in downtown St. Petersburg. It’s a young vibrant area that’s been rejuvenated and is growing quickly. As we say on our website, we’re all about “promoting the John Craig way of life.”