Even though Sy Syms says this has been "a soft year" for discount clothing stores like the ones he and his daughter Marcy advertise in their television commercials, he remains confident that the world will always have "educated consumers" who will continue to be his "best customers."
That's one reason Syms opened his second local store last week. The new Syms is located in the old Korvette's space in Rockville, helping to complete one of the many new "off-price" shopping centers -- composed entirely of discount stores -- that keep popping up around the metropolitan area.
Syms paused in the midst of opening day floorwalking to assert that the bargain-hunter phenomenon he banks on is never going to fade despite a sales decline. In 1950, he said, 11 percent of all consumer products were sold in discount stores; for 1982, he said the figure is expected to be about 6 percent.
"Everybody thinks in a recession [off-price business] is super-duper," Syms said. "It's not. This is a soft year. A certain element of the buying public constantly looks for a bargain. That element has been in the buying public for 100 years. . . . They're people who'll look for a bargain in a recession, depression -- it's part of human nature."
Over the past 22 years, Syms has built up an eastern chain of 10 stores that sell brand-name clothes, shoes, luggage and linens at a discount. In addition to the Rockville store, new Syms outlets will open this year in Fort Lauderdale and Boston. Last year, the company opened a 100,000-square-foot warehouse outside New York City in New Jersey.
All of this has been achieved, Syms said, without borrowing to finance his inventory.
"The only time we borrow is when we have to buy land to build our own building and take out a mortgage," Syms said.
Syms said he has longstanding "verbal agreements" with his suppliers and manufacturers that he won't open a store in a particular locale unless the population is 2 1/2 million or more. These agreements also extend into limitations on television advertising and mail solicitation, he added.
The company is owned by Sy, Marcy and his other five children. Syms said he doesn't foresee going public or selling to a larger company in the near future. He said that if the family were to "cash in some chips," it would be only a minority interest.
Plans for 1984 include opening a store in Chicago, but that expansion "depends on the efficiency of my company -- when I go into my stores and I don't see dust in the corners and my employes are treating my customers with respect," Syms quipped.
Syms will continue to produce and book his own advertising with Marcy's assistance, a task that comes easily to a man who once was a radio announcer. He said he spends only two days out of the year on that aspect of his business.
And that's enough, Syms believes. The "educated consumer" slogan, after seven years of air time, is approaching household-word status.
And what is an "educated consumer"? It simply means, Syms said, "you know you're not getting ripped off."