People ask if miss my store, or downtown Franklin, or Main Street, or men’s clothing retail? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. To explain this requires a chronological narrative. Main Street, or downtown Franklin, was my second home. I was raised inside a retail store from the age of two. I had assumed I would live into my late 80s and die of a heart attack on Saturday night or Sunday morning at the end of a busy week on my way to church on the same street. I don’t know if anyone else was continuously employed on Main Street for more than 52 years. Ralph Duke (Gray Drug’s) had more years, but not continuous.
In the years between 1975 and 2003 at our Fourth and Main location, several new clothing stores opened and closed, and all of the older stores selling men’s clothing closed. Cool Springs Galleria opened in 1991, with 5 department stores with 116 to 207 thousand square feet, and 165 other smaller corporate stores.
The demise of men’s specialty clothing stores began in 1988 with casual Fridays and casual dress for church. This came at a time when imported designer labels were replacing quality apparel. Between 1981 when Paul Pigg retired until 1988 our sales grew at an average annual rate of 9 percent. Beginning in 1989, the casual dress trend had a major impact on quality men’s clothing stores and sales declined each year until we closed in 2003.
Marketing strategies changed. I was a novice in computer technology and social media. I bought one piece of software and with my one course of Introduction to Electronic Data Processing I maintained a customer base that in 1988 included 4500 customers. Instead of a spread sheet with cells, it was designed in fields for data input. From this I had a mailing list by zip code, subdivision, alphabetized, for printable track-feed labels. It also enabled a printable continuum of customer data. On a single line it included—name, total purchases, date of last purchase, name of spouse, coat size, pant waist and inseam, style preference, brand preference, neck size, sleeve length, collar preference, and random personal information.
Unlike department stores we did not advertise sale merchandise. We began twice-a-year clearance sales on the first business days of January and July. All of our customers received a letter about 5 days before the sale began. This gave them a few days to buy basic merchandise that we did not reduce, and preview the upcoming sale items.
To understand sales in men’s clothing you have to carefully plan your markup strategy. Even though I was an English major in college, I had minors in Business Administration and Economics. I took a course in Principles of Retailing when I was 51 years old after 35 years experience in retailing. The professor taught us the textbook formula for calculating markup. In the “olden days” small retail stores often sold merchandise at a 33 1/3% markup. As rents and salaries increased markup eventually became 40% and later 50%, which was known as “keystone markup.” Merchants multiplied cost by two. Men’s clothing stores had two clearance sales a year, at the ends of seasons, in January and July. This usually included only seasonal merchandise or out-of-style items which were reduced 20% to open the sale and 50% for final liquidation. For many years that worked well for men’s clothing specialty shops. Today, stores have fictional suggested retail prices and sequential markdowns on in-store or designer labels.
The opening of manufacturing plants in third world countries and the closing of American factories changed that. Garment workers in some factories are paid 25 to 50 cents an hour to produce apparel with designer labels or prestigious brand names. I can explain that with an experience at a clothing store in Nashville. Between the closing of Pigg & Peach and my working at Dillard’s, I needed to purchase an all-weather raincoat. One of the Nashville discount stores ran an ad for all topcoats and all-weather coats at half-price on Friday and Saturday only. My wife decided to buy one for me for a gift occasion. She went to that store on Thursday, before the sale, to look. They had a coat she liked with a “suggested manufacturers retail” tag at $350. It also had a removable sale ticket on the sleeve at $149. She asked about the Friday and Saturday half price sale and purchased the coat that day for $149, rather than the $175 weekend sale price.
The change in retail in Downtown Franklin was influenced by Cool Springs Galleria, and the free standing big-box stores. Main Street stores that sold “consumer items” were replaced by shops that catered to a tourist clientele and sellers of food and drink. We went through that period of closing the office supply store, the drug stores, the shoe store, the hardware store, the locally owned groceries, and the furniture store, and finally the men’s clothing store.
No retail business can survive without great employees. The long list of college and high school students who spent their summer and Christmas breaks as part time employees, included the names of some of the most successful business and professional leaders in their respective fields. The skilled hands of Louise Mason and Martha Putman, fine tuned every garment in our alteration department. Wayne Sims, former manager of National Stores for many years across Fourth Avenue on the other corner, joined Pigg & Peach in 1987, and was part of our team for 16 years. Main Street stores truly are family businesses with a dedicated and loyal extended family.
I miss the retail that I knew and understood. I miss being part of Streetscape, of the Main Street Festival, of Dickens of a Christmas, the Jazz Festival, Pumpkinfest, and other events I helped create and promote. I miss owning a building on Main Street. Most of all, I miss the people. I miss being a landmark, a point of reference, and a source of information and public relations for Historic Downtown Franklin.