The Brooks Brothers division of Allied Stores Corp. is bucking the trend of regional and national bankruptcies in the retail marketplace by opening two new stores in this area, one in Chevy Chase, the other at the Tysons Corner Shopping Center.
The company's plans also include opening four more stores this year in the United States and five or six new Brooks Brothers in Japan within the next three to four years, in addition to the five stores already operating there. Locations in Europe and Canada are also being considered. The two new stores in this area give Brooks Brothers a total of 30 outlets.
Brooks Brothers President Frank T. Reilly says his company is succeeding where others may fail because the purchasing habits of its typical customer--whom Reilly says is perceived as "a professional businessman, pretty well-established"--have not been changed by the current recession.
"Our customer may be affected by what's happening in the economy," Reilly said, "but they are not inclined to just cut back. It's not a question of buying a new suit or buying groceries. Whether they've got as much freewheeling spirit to spend money as a few years ago, I don't know.
"During these times, people invest in good quality merchandise that won't go out of vogue quickly. The value received per dollar spent for Brooks Brothers merchandise is high." rooks Brothers clothes predate the current "preppie" craze by about 164 years. Since its founding in 1818, the store has harbored a reserve of conservative customers whose taste in clothes is fairly unchanging. The merchandise at "Brooks" reflects this conservatism, making it unnecessary--or unheard of--for the stock to change.
Brooks Brothers' brand name button-down shirts were introduced in 1900 by then-president John Brooks, who had observed British polo players wearing that style of collar to keep the flaps of the collars from blowing in their faces. In 1904, the store introduced Shetland Isle wool sweaters in this country. Seersucker suits followed in 1930.
"Up until the 1950s, everybody wanted to look like Daddy--chinos, loafers, button-down collars, Shetland sweaters--from little boys on up," Reilly said. "Then we went through the period where the last thing people wanted to do was look like Daddy. Now we have a much broader appeal. The heart of our business is probably 18 or 19 year-olds to about 60."
The stores in Japan were launched, Reilly said, in part because management here realized Brooks Brothers had a large Japanese--as distinct from Japanese American--clientele. He added that when he became president of the company, he was shown "a file 12 inches high" of correspondence from Japanese companies urging Brooks Brothers to open stores in Japan.
Reilly attributes the success of the Japanese stores in part to the fact that, until recently, most clothing in Japan was custom-made and that ready-to-wear clothing of the quality offered by Brooks Brothers was not available.
Brooks Brothers is able to cut its operating expenses by manufacturing its own merchandise in two shirt factories, a clothing factory and in shoe and neckwear factories. e manufacture a significant amount of what we sell, plus we have contractors who manufacture for us," Reilly said. "Because we're manufacturers, we know what it costs to make things . . . The net of it is we do get better value. Someone doesn't have to pay for commissions, showrooms."
In addition to the new stores in Tysons Corner and Chevy Chase, Brooks Brothers outlets will open this year in Indianapolis; Stamford, Conn.; Troy, Mich., and Bal Harbour, Fla. Further expansion is then planned for the Midwest and the West Coast.
Meanwhile, Reilly describes the company's currently bullish stance, a situation not at all suggestive of the sheepish "golden fleece" that is the Brooks Brothers logo.
"In total honesty, our customers are not affected by the recession ," he said. "We have seen a slowing down of momentum, but now there is a revitalization of momentum. Our spring clothing sales were affected by bad weather, but we have not felt the recession."