Catching up with David Matsudaira

David MatsudairaWho says you can’t start a new business in a precarious economy? Opened for just a year and a half, Squire Fine Men’s Apparel in Brookfield, Wisc. has shown strong increases over plan, says David Matsudaira, store president and CEO. He leased the 5,000 sq. ft. space that had formerly been Suiters after the store where he’d worked for 10 months went out of business. (He also hired some of their unemployed staff: “We were a great team to begin with!”) With his many years of menswear experience (first at his father’s clothing store in Seattle, which closed in 1989, then at The Bon Marche, Gottschalks, and Bon-Ton), Matsudaira has learned a thing or two about menswear retailing.

The beautifully merchandised store features a balanced mix of 40 percent tailored, 40 percent sportswear, 20 percent furnishings and accessories. Clothing is in the $700 to $1,500 range; hot lines include HSM, Jack Victor, Hickey Freeman, Tahari and Trussini. “There are two reasons that clothing business is strong,” says Matsudaira. “One is that the average AUR is increasing; the other is that guys in the Midwest are enjoying dressing up again…”

Squire Apparel

That said, Matsudaira took a more pragmatic approach to clothing than his predecessor, eschewing the aspirational $2,000 suits (that rarely sold unless marked down) and focusing the business based on his knowledge of what the customer would spend: $700-$1,200 retails to start, eventually layering on $1,300-$1,500 pricepoints.

“These days, you have to closely watch your turn and know exactly where your ROI is coming from. In the ’90s, it was hard not to make a profit; today you have to truly understand your financial statements…”

While he’s doing well with clothing, Matsudaira has implemented a strong focus on sportswear, especially sport shirts. Hot lines include Bugatchi, Robert Graham, Luciano Visconti, Tommy Bahama and Robert Talbott; the average retail is $150. Pants are also doing well (“We had to reorder a faded Bedford cord from Hiltl at $215 retail so many times that they ended up doing a special cutting for us!”); softcoats (Talbott, Kroon, Hart Schaffner Marx) are said to be on fire!

Matsurdaira quoteAs a full-price store, Matsudaira understands that promotions are risky in terms of credibility but that they’re also a necessary evil. “We ran a mid-November gift card promotion via direct mail and it was hugely successful,” he confides. “We have to be careful in order to maintain our upscale image but this was really successful, bringing in a lot of extra business. Most of our marketing, however, is simply getting the word out.”

Matsudaira maintains that his store has been successful mostly because it fills a need in the community. “Guys were driving an hour and a half to shop Nordstrom in Chicago; now they no longer need to do that,” he explains. “Because the community really needs a store like this, there’s been a tremendous amount of support. When Suiters closed, I was amazed at how many customers came forward to help me, offering all kinds of services, cost appraisals, even financing (which I ended up not needing.) Also gratifying was how many vendors held goods for me, located additional goods, extended credit, and did everything they could to make this work. I realize how lucky I am: being able to do what I love while working with so many wonderful people. An added plus: I get to discuss business with my most important retail advisor of all: my dad! Obviously the business has changed tremendously since he had his store but when it comes to customer service, he taught me everything I know…”

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