With a colorful history spanning four generations, Shaia’s product may have changed, but their values remain.
Ken Shaia, buyer, director of operations, merchandising and sales, represents the fourth generation of the Shaia family to work in the business: 91 years through depressions and recessions, and the store is still going strong. What is the key to such longevity? To Ken, the answer is simple: “Our success is rooted in my great-grandfather S.G’s values: affectionately tending to customers, dispensing the kind of personal attention and knowing guidance that transforms clients into friends and occasional shoppers into devoted fans.” S.G. Shaia immigrated to America in the early 1900s. Processed through Ellis Island and relocated south, an outbreak of cholera in Birmingham led to the increased population of the seemingly “healthy” rural surrounding areas. In 1922 S.G. bought his house and the neighboring store space in what is now the affluent and bustling Birmingham suburb of Homewood, growing flowers and grapevines in the garden, and selling dry goods in the store. In the ’50s and ’60s, S.G.’s son A.J. managed the business as a department store selling housewares, sewing notions, patterns and bolts of cloth, but as the neighborhood grew in affluence, A.J.’s two sons Leo and J.L. slowly moved the business to menswear.
While luxury menswear is a far cry from dry goods, it is this aptitude for adapting that has served the Shaias well. “We built a business around catering to the needs of our customers,” he says.
But in these recent times of heightened austerity, and with a large stake in the tailored clothing business, Ken is focusing on educating his customer. “While all of our brands have a high recognition, we try to give customers more information about the product. We’re finding that when it comes to tailored clothing, customers are less and less educated, so we try to give them greater insight.” With much of their business centered on luxury Italian brands, Shaia’s has recently made a move to more domestically made product. “We had a event that focused on handcrafted products. We had vendors who made shoes, shirts, ties, banjos, a mixologist and an artisan butcher that set up stations throughout the store. All of the vendors talked about the art of their craft. We had a great turnout.” Another more recent event welcomed Billy Reid and his vendors in collaboration with a local brewery and a local bourbon maker driven by social media. This artisanal sensibility is also present in the store itself, with an eclectic mix of merchandise and decor. “Some fixtures have even been here for over 90 years,” he says. “Others are finds that my wife and I came across while pursuing one of our hobbies, antiquing. Nothing about Shaia’s feels like your typical static retail store.”
Ken maintains that another key component to success in the luxury business is time. “When high-end customers come into the store, they are likely to run out of time before they run out of money.” One way to manage customers’ time in this age of technology is e-commerce, but currently there are no plans to implement it. “For now we are going to stick to what we do best, which is helping customers one on one with their needs.” With the recent 400 sq. ft. expansion, there will be even more space to do so. “We recently opened up a shop-in-shop with Scott James that’s been very well received. It has its own storefront and entrance and its doing nearly $300,000.” And with Ken reporting a steady upswing in business, Shaia’s can look forward to another bright century.
Shaia’s at a Glance
- Established in 1922 by S.G. Shaia
- Director: Ken Shaia
- Location: Homewood, Ala.
- Size: 6,500 sq. ft.
- Ratio: 100% men’s
- Assortment: 100% branded
- Category breakdown: 55% sportswear, 45% tailored and furnishings
- Top vendors: Canali, Eton, Hiltl, Isaia, J Brand, John Varvatos, Luciano Barbera, Rag & Bone, Scott James, Trussini, Zegna