Growth in menswear used to be as static as a navy blue suit, but it’s getting some spring in its step again.
With a boost from younger men putting more effort and dollars into their appearance, growth in menswear now outpaces that in womenswear. And the effect is being felt by the oldest men’s store in Minneapolis, Hubert White, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
“The last three years we’ve had better sales than ever, with 2015 being our best sales year ever,” said Bob White, the store’s president.
Hubert White outlasted many other luxury retailers downtown, such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, Mark Shale, Sims Ltd. and Justers. White attributes the store’s success to staff, merchandise and a little bit of luck when a space in the IDS Center became available in 1998.
“The move to IDS was a huge success. A total game-changer,” he said. In the heart of downtown, the IDS location put 50 stories of potential clients at its door.
When the retailer relocated from its former location at 6th and Marquette in 2000, it was also time for a refresh. The old location lacked any natural lighting and was furnished in dark cherry. “I could spend 30 minutes explaining to customers how to get there and where to park,” White said.
The new space was all windows, cleaner displays and lighter woods, with an expanded space for casual wear. “Younger men are more comfortable in a lighter and more congenial atmosphere,” said project designer Jim Smart of Smart Associates in Minneapolis.
The move gave White a chance to remake the store for a clientele that saw casual Fridays morph into everyday casual. Suits, which made up nearly 80 percent of sales in the 1980s, now make up only 40 percent. While many of the clients who are lawyers, bankers and doctors still wear suits, a large percentage have gone semi-casual.
“A good store speaks both languages. Hubert White has an amazing assortment of merchandise,” said Arnold Brant Silverstone, president and chief design officer at Samuelsohn, a brand that Hubert White has carried since the 1990s.
Jake Schlaeger, 42, an investment banker with an office in IDS, said he’s as likely to wear a sportcoat, dress shirt and jeans as he is a suit and tie. Although he likes casual wear, he spends freely on both business and casual attire. “I have a passion for wanting to look good,” he said. “My buddies give me crap for it, but they’re starting to pay more attention to how they look, too.”
“Men are taking greater care in their grooming and appearance,” said Ashma Kunde, global apparel analyst for Euromonitor. Not only are younger men defining their identity by what they wear, but men in their 50s and 60s want to look younger.
Still, few men over 50 spend much time looking online or on social media for fashion guidance. Russ Nelson, a client at Hubert White for 35 years, is typical of a customer who has little time or patience to shop. “If I spent 15 minutes in the shop buying clothes, that would be a huge amount of time for me,” he said. “I don’t browse. They have shirts, suits and ties picked out for me. I buy it and move on.”
Nelson, president at the Nelson, Tietz & Hoye commercial real estate firm, may spend little time choosing clothes, but he’s a frequent visitor at Hubert White, which is on his way to and from the office. Like many of the retailer’s best customers, Nelson considers White and many of the salesmen his friends.
Hugh Newman, who owned the Sims Ltd. men’s store that closed in downtown Minneapolis in 1994, said a sense of family is important to customers. “I think there’s great value in a local owner’s commitment to a community,” Newman said. “There’s an emotional connection that means something to the customers and the employees.”
Developing relationships with customers inside and outside the store has always been a key ingredient in the store’s secret sauce, says Brad Sherman, general manager and vice president. “You can’t develop a client base by waiting in the store,” he said. “We need to be out in the community socializing with clients and relating to their experience.”
Staying relevant means being active in the community. White sits on the board of the Minneapolis Club and has been active on the Downtown Council and Rotary Club. Sherman is a member of Interlachen Country Club in Edina and a director at the Western Golf Association.
The retailer’s top salesman, Chuck Simpkins, who had sales of about $1.3 million last year, said he stays in touch with many clients electronically. “I’ve been at Hubert White for 29 years, but electronics changed my business,” he said. “I check e-mails at 7 a.m. and I may send a few texts with pictures of new items or remind someone of an upcoming event.”
His job title might as well be salesman-buyer-concierge. In addition to selecting merchandise on buying trips, he stays current on new restaurants to recommend and makes reservations, too. “My job has become a lot more than finding someone a jacket tailored to perfection. I try to funnel people to great places,” he said.
So far, the company does not offer online ordering. Matt White, Bob’s son, is involved in operations and social media at the store, and thinks it will happen eventually.
For now he’s more interested in getting out the word on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr. “We take pictures of sales guys or customers wearing our clothes to drive likes and bring people in,” he said. “We can show guys how to put patterns on a shirt, suit and tie together.”
Sherman gets philosophical about the importance of the way a man looks. “What do men have to show off but their personality and their clothes?” he asked. “Their skin and their hair goes. It’s really easy to make a difference in clothes being just a little mindful.”