For more than 30 years, one of MR’s key roles as the voice, and the conscience, of the menswear industry has been to speak for the myriad of small retailers and emerging brands who worry they’re not important enough to matter. For this reason, I feel compelled to share a few of the anxious emails I’ve received from specialty store readers who fear they might not survive the ramifications of this global pandemic.
Writes one: “I think we’re facing a make-or-break for many independent retailers. Many of us operate month to month on a shoestring. This could break the shoestring. As a token of goodwill from our wholesale partners, I would greatly appreciate an extra 30 or even 60 days dating on my spring merchandise invoices. Do you think this idea has enough merit for vendors to be willing to do this?”
Writes another: “We are–all of us—waking to a Brave New Day! Not a total lockdown…yet! However, I think that might be the way we go as a nation as other countries have chosen to stifle the virus. I know we’re faced with a moral dilemma as to how we handle our employees. What will our tailor do to make up for all the hems he won’t be sewing? I know what is right and just so of course we’ll take care of our people, even with minimal business coming in.
“But in the broader picture, I sit here this morning and say, what the heck! I have not heard from one single vendor of the many we work with, to say ‘How’s business?’ ‘How are you doing?’ ‘Is there anything we can do to help?’ ‘We’re here for you if there’s anything we can do.’ Of course, we have invoices to pay but not one of our vendors has contacted us and extended our terms. Any of these gestures would have been so meaningful but they haven’t happened…”
So let me reiterate: What the heck? These specialty store merchants are the heart and soul of our industry. They’re on the front lines; they know their customers and help brands tweak product accordingly. They give back large chunks of what could be personal profits to their communities. They’re the first to help their customers, their vendors and each other in times of need. They’ve shown incredible loyalty to the brands they’ve helped build, even while these very brands have gone direct to consumer, often off-price. Clearly, now is the time for wholesalers to lend a hand to independent specialty retailers who have never needed it more.
To be fair, a few vendors are already doing this. Raffi Shaya from Raffi has been personally calling his accounts, giving them health tips and talking terms on an individual basis. Paul Buckter and Andrew Weisbrot from Zanella have sent out letters, offering their accounts not just dating but a discount on future orders. (As Weisbrot says so well, “This industry was built on relationships and friendships. If we are not willing to help each other now, what the heck are we doing it for?”) Says John Tighe, president of Peerless, “Of course Peerless is open to working with stores on an individual basis.”
Bottom line, we’re all in this together and as I’ve always believed, what you give out comes back to you in spades. I also believe that when the dust settles (and it will!) on this horrific pandemic, it will be the local brick & mortar specialty merchants to whom consumers will gravitate, craving the warmth, camaraderie, expertise, and personal attention that these retailers have always provided. If vendors don’t help protect these stores now, it might be too late.