Wally’s Menswear: Defying the odds

Wally’s Menswear has been selling classic clothing for 45 years!

Everyone says that it can’t be done: a small traditional store in a hip college town staying in business for 45 years. But Wally Showalter has proven them wrong!
He started out working as a commercial manager for Farmers Insurance Group in South Texas. “It was a lot of travel and my wife Nancy was not happy about me constantly leaving her and our two sons, who were two and five years old at the time. As it happened, my brother-in-law owned a shopping center so when a furniture store closed, I took his suggestion and opened a clothing store in that space. This was April 1, 1968.”

Steven and Wally Showalter

Steven and Wally Showalter

Showalter admits it was a leap of faith. “I knew nothing about men’s clothing but my brother-in-law assured me that I was smart and could learn. I also had no money to establish a business so he lent me what I needed; fortunately, I was able to pay him back within 15 years.”

Today, Wally’s Menswear in Austin, Texas has done the impossible, staying in business for 45 years selling classic mid-priced men’s clothing in a 1,500 sq. ft. store. (“It used to be three times the size…”) What they sell: a lot of Ralph Lauren, Vineyard Vines, Tommy Bahama, Jockey, Gitman, Johnston & Murphy, Sperry Topsider, Alden (special orders). Tailored clothing (suits from $395 to $495) is mostly from Sewell Manufacturing out of Bremen, Ga. Navy blazers are selling particularly well, as are jeans from Polo and Cutter & Buck.

So how does Wally compete with big guys like Macy’s and Dillards? “We don’t take extravagant mark-ups,” says Wally, matter-of-factly. “If something costs 50 bucks, we sell it for $100 or $105, not $125. Our customers always know they’re getting value.” Wally adds that he now does some radio advertising and an occasional newspaper ad, unlike the first 30 years when it was strictly word of mouth.

His son Steven, who started working at the store in 1990, now shares many of the buying responsibilities, shopping the Dallas Mart regularly. “He’s a special person,” says Steven of his dad, who used to work six days a week but has cut back to four. “A lot of our customers come in just for him.”

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