by Karen Alberg Grossman

For me, much of the joy of trade shows is getting to meet creative, inspirational merchants who take some risks and defy the odds of independent store survival. At MRket and Project in Vegas, I chatted with two great ones!

Greg Herr at the 34 Heritage booth at Project
Greg Herr at the 34 Heritage booth at Project

Greg Herr, Greenhaw’s, Little Rock, Arkansas

There are few independents that have survived and prospered with an upper moderate rather than luxury orientation but Greenhaw’s in Little Rock is a definite exception. The store’s been around for 39 years, Greg Herr is its second owner.

“The store is 9,000 square feet, all men’s, with a clothing mix that includes Coppley, Jack Victor, Baroni, and Empire. In sportswear, we sell brands like 34 Heritage, Rodd & Gunn, Thaddeus, Southern Tide, True Grit, Maker and TailorByrd. We have a large shoe department and our western boot business is exceptional. Our overall mix is 65 percent sportswear/35 percent tailored. Our target demographic is the guy in his thirties or forties with a more classic, mens-y taste level. We don’t sell really skinny fits but we do bring in newness on a regular basis and our customers respond. We’re bringing in, for example, Richard Chu sportcoats in Japanese fabrics, $150-$165 wholesale. And we’re bringing in DB’s.

“We don’t sell online but our mailing list is growing thanks to social media, newspaper and television ads. For the TV ads, we work with an ABC affiliate and show commercials a half hour before and after ‘Good Morning America.’ The commercials are just 15 seconds but the results have been amazing! So for us, the success secret is maintaining a good mix of products and pricepoints and making some noise about it.”

BJ Stringham at MRket
BJ Stringham at MRket

BJ Stringham, Utah Woolen Mills, Salt Lake City:

“My great great grandfather founded a woolen mill in Utah 110 years ago. Since the store is still named after the woolen mill, people are blown away when they walk in and see 8,000 square feet of fabulous  upscale fashion (5,000 is menswear; 3,000 women’s but we’re soon to add another 1,500 square feet to women’s).

“Some notable aspects of our business:  We have a 1,300-square-foot tailor shop, all out in the open with a glass partition. We have a gorgeous Kiton shop. Some of our core menswear resources are Isaia, Brioni, Eton, Samuelsohn, LBM and our own private label. My 86-year-old grandfather Briant Stringham is still very passionate about the business and still tracks sales and trends.

“We believe the longevity of our company is based on exceptional customer service. We often buy with specific customers in mind and we maintain that the more we differentiate our mix with exceptional luxury product, the better we do.  Not only do we show our customers new product but we get them to try it on. Too often the initial reaction to seeing something on a hanger is ‘no that’s not for me.’ But if you can just get them to try it on, they often change their mind.

“Another success secret: our solid reputation. The business was founded on a cash-only policy and my grandfather still believes that if you can’t afford it, don’t do it.”

Editor’s note: Utah Woolen Mills will celebrate its 110th anniversary on Thursday September 10;  if you’re in Salt Lake City, stop by!