Best Buyers 2012: Steve Ramenofsky, Garys

Garys’ iconoclast: A straight shooter who’s as quirky as he is creative, Steve Ramenofsky’s vision is all about change.

Steve Ramenofsky is not known for being politically correct. At a chain of clothing stores where he worked for 10 years before joining Garys (moving up from seller to clothing buyer), he was ultimately fired for wanting to reinvent how the store was merchandised. “The business wasn’t growing and I had some definite opinions. But the owner was a nutcase; I was a thorn in his side and he had had enough of me!”

Moving back to Southern California without a job, Ramenofsky called his friend Dick Braeger to see if there were any openings at Garys. “He said ‘No, but why not come help us out with our big clothing sale?’ More than 26 years later, I’m still here…”

Ramenofsky, who takes his job very seriously, handles everything from buying (with John Braeger) most categories of menswear to changing lightbulbs/cleaning toilets to visual presentation and display. “He has an innate ability to call out what will work,” says Neal Kusnetz of Robert Graham. “He often combines humor and sarcasm but bottom line: he’s incredibly knowledgeable, one of the few who truly gets it.”

“The visual merchandising is the fun part for me,” says Ramenofsky. “It’s something I think I’m good at so it’s satisfying. Also rewarding is seeing what I buy sell, especially in the exact way I envision it. That’s very cool!”

As for changes in the business, Ramenofsky remembers the not-so-distant past when buyers could simply buy what they loved. “A vendor would walk into the store and if we liked what we saw, we bought it, paying no attention to open-to-buy. Those were great times, but they’re over! Financial discipline now rules and fortunately, Johnny is really good at it.”

Asked about current business, Ramenofsky says it’s pretty healthy. “We’re showing steady, albeit not huge, increases over last year; our expenses are in line; our overhead is down. But while business is okay, I don’t think many stores have done a good enough job as fashion retailers in educating our customers about the new slimmer fit. If we could get more guys into that look, convincing them that they’d look and feel better in modern styles, business would improve considerably. As fashion retailers, we can’t just be order-takers, we’ve got to educate. And it’s got to come from the selling floor…”

Specific areas of strong selling at Garys include unconstructed sportcoats, jeans (with the exception of red, bold colors have not been a major factor in fall bottoms but Ramenofsky predicts they’ll take off for spring ’13), Robert Graham and Tommy Bahama sportswear and Canali, Hugo Boss, Zegna and Isaia clothing. The total mix currently breaks down to about 35 percent clothing, 45 percent sportswear, 10 percent furnishings/accessories and 10 percent shoes. “Footwear used to be stronger,” observes Ramenofsky. “But we’re now selling lots of casual shoes at lower pricepoints, so we’re not getting the same dollar volume.”

As for tricks of the trade, Ramenofsky maintains that buyers can’t get too bogged down in what other stores are doing. “You’ve got to know your market: we’ve got to stay true to Orange County and not get too distracted by what’s happening in Seattle or Dallas. For example, we keep selling these island-inspired shirts: Tommy Bahama, Kahala, Reyn Spooner, Nat Nast. Even my very cool 14-year-old son recently asked me to get him a couple of Hawaiian shirts; I nearly fell off the couch because I hate the stuff! That’s why Dick originally opened separate stores for resortwear: I couldn’t stand to see it in our fashion stores! But we now house it in a special room in our regular store and despite my personal taste, it sells well, to both tourists and our regular customers.”

What’s the best part about working for Garys? “It’s a wonderfully eclectic store with good people who provide great service to the community,” says Ramenofsky. “I know my personal vision doesn’t always appeal to everybody so I shake my head a lot these days and try to tone it down. Because everybody knows I can be an asshole about things; I’m very opinionated…”

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