Uptown Downtown Menswear Lifetime Achievement Award: John Malouf
One fateful day while shopping for footwear, John Malouf found his calling.
In the early 1940s in Post, Texas, a young John Malouf was planning for the future. About to begin classes at Texas Tech, Malouf knew he wanted to be in business—but just what kind of business he couldn’t say. That changed the day he walked into Durham-Burdine, a men’s shop in nearby Lubbock, looking for new shoes. Almost instantly after his experience there, recalls Malouf, “I knew that having my own men’s store was what I wanted to do.”
He applied for a part-time job in the very same store, and rearranged his class schedule so that he could spend every afternoon on Durham-Burdine’s modest 25 x 125 foot selling floor. Despite being only a part-time employee, Malouf was as dedicated to the store’s success as if he owned it. “There was a period during the war when suits were rationed because of a wool shortage,” he recounts, “and for some reason the government rationed the stock suit houses but not made-to-measure houses. I told my boss that we should have some suits made up at the made-to-measure houses and remove the customer names before stocking , so that we at least had something to sell.” It turned out to be a winning idea, one that helped Durham-Burdine fare better than its competitors.
Upon graduating in January, 1949, Malouf wasted no time looking for a space of his own, and by August of that year, Malouf’s was open for business on Lubbock’s Avenue K. He acted as planner, buyer and merchandiser, and even designed all the store fixtures himself. Reminiscing about the early days, Malouf says, “The first brands we stocked were not well known in Lubbock, because of the tight hold the established businesses had over all the big brands. (There was a large community of locally owned better retailers in the area; we didn’t have the nationals at that time.) But after the first few years, I saw that they weren’t going to New York to look for lines. I decided that this was the way to acquire more important brands.”
He took a particular interest in Oxxford Clothes, and spent the next 17 years attempting to woo them into Malouf’s, a feat he now lists as the proudest achievement of his career. “They were the king of the industry—the Italians did not yet have so much influence—but they already had an account in the area,” says Malouf. “I knew there was a market for luxury in my community of small businessmen, and that I could do a better job with it. I began carrying DeRogatis suits, very expensive but lesser known, to prove to Oxxford I could sell a better suit.
“At the same time I would learn when Mr. Hopkinson, who was president of Oxxford, would be in Dallas to meet with Neimans, and I would fly there to shake his hand so he would know who I was. I would also shake hands with Mr. McDonald, president of the men’s department at Neimans; eventually Mr. McDonald became president of Oxxford. When I called him his first response was, ‘We’re not opening any new accounts,’ but then he called back a month later and said, ‘Okay, come to Chicago.’” Though it took the better part of two decades, Malouf says getting Oxxford “helped catapult us to the top of the chain. There are about 14 cities in Texas similar in size to Lubbock, and to this day none of them have a store or a luxury product selection like ours.”
“It was a good decision on our part,” laughs Bob Denton, Oxxford’s current president. “He’s been our advocate ever since; I’d like to put him on a marketing tape! For him to have built the clientele that he has, and reached that level of quality, presentation and service, in that market… it’s remarkable.”
In 1976 Malouf’s became the first and only non-metropolitan member of the Apparel Forum, Ltd., one of the leading groups of U.S. specialty retailers, at the recommendation of his mentor, Ben Ditto. “He had a great better menswear store in Houston,” Malouf recalls. “He set an example of what a better store should be: the product assortment and how he handled his relationships. Plus he was a great salesman.”
Other memorable figures from Malouf’s past include customers Larry King, Ed Bradley, Steve Martin and Liam Neeson, as well as former president and Texas native George W. Bush. “He shopped with us when he was a congressman, and my son Matthew is still in touch with him. They recently reminisced about the black and white check Hickey Freeman suit he bought from us in 1979.”
Malouf speaks of little beyond the business of menswear, and in fact seems surprised when asked about his interests outside the store. His eventual response: “But I’m here all the time!” (He does go on to mention a passion for giving back to his community, especially his alma mater Texas Tech, the Lubbock Symphony Orchestra and the Lubbock Catholic Diocese.)
His son Michael, one of eight children with wife Eleanor, joined the business four years ago, and Malouf says he is “instrumental in solving problems, supporting our culture and positioning the business for the dynamics taking place in our industry. Michael is an entrepreneur in his own right, having created his own businesses most of his professional life. He has brought an important set of skills to our business, and I’ve been very excited to see him grow into his leadership role.”
Michael reveals his first stint in the store actually began at age 10, but “the fact that I hadn’t worked at Malouf’s for so many years gave me a unique perspective when I started working with my father again. You know the old saying about how much ‘smarter’ your parents get as you grow older? I found there was still a lot to learn from him.”
Make no mistake: at 86 years young, Malouf has no plans to hand over the reins. He’s still involved in all aspects of his business, spending 75 percent of his time on the selling floor and 25 percent in his office or traveling: “twice a year to New York for the major markets plus extra visits to the Zegna showroom in between; twice a year to the Dallas markets; sometimes to Las Vegas and Pitti. I still have the same passion for it,” he explains. “It’s not my work, it’s my avocation. The best part is selling creatively: to elevate men’s understanding of apparel and help them discover things beyond their expectations.”
“I’ve known John on a personal and professional level since the late ’70s, and since then he’s educated a lot of people—his associates and customers,” adds Denton. “But he’s not only an authority; he’s a constant student of the industry. He is extremely curious and eager to share what he has learned.”
Malouf says the biggest change he’s had to adjust to over the years has been “the mode of dress. It has changed considerably, especially in small communities like ours. There are fewer occasions, fewer professions that require tailored clothing. For example, in 1984 we sold 100 units of Oxxford during a one-day trunk show; now a good tailored clothing trunk show is about 10 to 12 units. And as business casual got more casual, guys got less interested in what they wore. There was nothing special about how they looked. But things are always on a cycle, so I think we’ll get back to dress up.”
At Malouf’s, sales in general are on an upward cycle: Malouf reports gains for the past two years and says that in another year, profit will be back up to pre-recession levels. But, he says, “I’d like to continue to grow. I really don’t feel that I’ve reached the peak yet, although it’s been a long journey. I want to keep Malouf’s being the great store it’s been for 64 years. Times have changed and I’m changing with them. But I’ll never change our level of service and quality.”
- Established in 1949 by John B. Malouf
- Locations: Lubbock and Southlake, Texas
- size: 17,000 sq. ft. in Lubbock; 4,800 sq. ft. in Southlake
- Annual sales volume: $6.5 million
- Ratio of men’s to women’s: women’s was added in 1976, and is now 50% of the business
- Ratio: 15% private label/85% branded
- Category breakdown: 32% clothing, 30% furnishings, 28% sportswear, 10% footwear
- Top vendors: Agave, Allen Edmonds, Dalmine, Gran Sasso, Gravati, Peter Millar, Robert Graham, Robert Talbott, Samuelsohn, To Boot New York, Zegna,
- Most exciting in-store event: In 2012, the first annual Malouf’s Night Out was held at the Kingsgate Center store in Lubbock. Benefitting the Texas Tech University Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research, it was an evening of style, sips and snacks as they premiered the newest trends for fall, alongside designers and representatives from their best collections. Entertainment featured a local R&B band, a style show and silent auction.
- Other charitable organizations supported: ACS, AHA, Grapevine Relief and Community Exchange, High Sky Children’s Ranch, Lena Pope Home, Make-A-Wish Foundation, National Charity League, Operation Hope, South Plains College Foundation, United Way