I must admit that when I first heard about a new business named “Steve & Barry’s®” my initial thought was of a pawn shop or a catering service. It sounded as though a couple of buddies combined some loose change in hopes of starting up a local storefront. In fact, that part isn’t far from the truth.
However, what followed has the making of a traditional “Horatio Alger” rags-to-riches classic. My prediction, based on what I’ve witnessed thus far, is that this organization will someday be studied as part of most MBA programs as Wal-Mart, Southwest Airlines and G.E. are today. What these gentlemen have accomplished in a relatively short time is nothing short of phenomenal! Steve & Barry’s® is changing the way that consumers shop for their clothes and changing the way that retailers cater to them. They’re stripping away the gloss and giving consumers something real.
If you’ve never seen or heard of one of their operations, you must make an effort to experience their unique offering. A couple of my grandchildren dragged me into one of their stores in our local mall, and I was overwhelmed and very impressed with what I saw. On the other hand, I gave them a year before they would fold and ride off into the sunset, leaving nary a trace of their previous existence. I made that prediction because I knew there was no way any company could sell that quality of merchandise at those prices and hope to realize anything resembling a decent profit. I’ve since added that particular prediction to my growing list of major miscalculations.
Steve & Barry’s® is an American casual apparel clothing chain with about 200 locations in 33 states and plans to open an additional 70 stores in 2007. Those who shop there typically pay 50% to 90% less for the same quality clothing found at competing department and specialty stores. The majority of their locations are between 50,000 and 100,000 square feet, and offer casual wear for the whole family: a wide selection of jeans, T-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, sweaters, polos, cargos, footwear, accessories, and more. They also feature licensed apparel from top American brands, including Marvel Comics, WWE, Hasbro, General Mills’, Hershey’s and Ford, and the largest collection of collegiate licensed apparel in the nation. Most every item in the store is priced around $9.98, although they often run store-wide specials as low as $7.98. Visualize a quality varsity jacket at prices like that!
By providing premium apparel at impossibly low prices, this retail phenomena is single-handedly changing the retail landscape. They’re enthusiastically busting the model. As a result, they’re also significantly impacting entire communities, altering shopping patterns, and impacting local economies. Competitors would be wise not to ignore this rapidly growing customer favorite as they aspire to re-imagine their company daily.
But how did it all begin? Childhood friends Steven Shore and Barry Prevor
have been business partners since they were teenagers living in suburban New York. They started their business careers by screen-printing T-shirts and selling them for $1 at flea markets across Long Island and New Jersey. In 1985, they opened a modest collegiate apparel store at the University of Pennsylvania. Steve & Barry’s® quickly became a landmark destination, as students found they could purchase the same quality collegiate-licensed clothing sold at the campus bookstore for dramatically lower prices.
The success of the original store at the University of Pennsylvania fueled an expansion to other universities across the country such as Michigan State, the University of Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Purdue. The mall superstore format began to take shape in the late 1990s, upon the opening of its first mall-based location near Detroit, Michigan.
This fantasy fairy tale could easily end here as old friends Steve and Barry gallop off into the sunset on their white steeds to live happily ever after. But wait, it appears that their legend is just beginning. I remember reading about this next chapter in their epic tale in the business section of USA Today. What a concept!
In 2006, Steve & Barry’s® made retail history when the company teamed up with NBA basketball star Stephon Marbury of the New York Knicks to develop an affordable, high-quality, basketball sneaker. Believe it or not, they did it. They sell the sneaker for just $14.98 compared to shoes of comparable quality selling between $100 and $150! When I heard about this development, I assumed the obvious … the shoes must be made of cardboard to sell at that price. Then I saw them featured on a segment of ABC’s “20/20” television news show. They pointed out that Marbury actually wore these very shoes during all of his NBA games. If that weren’t enough, “20/20” commissioned a professor of footwear design at the Parsons School of Design in New York City to test the sneakers. He cut them in half and discovered they are similar in construction and materials as the most expensive basketball sneakers offered by other top brands retailing for over $150! This Starbury Collection of shoes, high-quality jeans, jackets, hoodies, T-shirts, hats and more will certainly put smiles on the faces of many youngsters who, until now, simply couldn’t afford clothing of this quality. Hats off to Stephon, Steve and Barry!
However, things didn’t stop here. Public response to the Marbury project was so monumental that Steve and Barry sought out other similar opportunities to offer their growing horde of loyal fans.
You’ve probably seen the popular television commercials promoting their next line. They’ve partnered with popular TV/movie actress and fashion icon Sara Jessica Parker to create the BITTEN collection designed for women of all ages and sizes. The collection, offering nearly 1,000 apparel and accessories pieces, including jeans, woven and knit shirts, suit separates, wool and cashmere sweaters, dresses, jackets, lingerie, T-shirts, sweatshirts, sleepwear, swimwear, bags, jewelry, belts, footwear, and much more, just recently hit their stores. The name BITTEN reflects Sara Jessica Parker’s initial reaction upon entering a Steve & Barry’s® store. She said she was blown away by the store, the company’s mission statement, their products, prices and employees. She says she was “bitten” by the Steve & Barry’s® bug.
If this organization can create opportunities like this for themselves as well as their customers, why can’t other retailers do the same? My guess is that they can and choose not to. The lure of the profit is far too great. Apparently they have yet to take notice of Steve & Barry’s® tremendous success and continuing growth.
By the way, the story is far from over. In 2005, Steve & Barry’s® purchased over 3.5 million square feet of space in shopping centers throughout the United States, the most of any mall-based chain in the country. The result was 62 brand new supermarket-sized stores, which doubled their outlets. Steve & Barry’s® is planning a series of blockbuster announcements over the next 12 months that will continue to shake the retail landscape. In fact, before the summer ends, former Nickelodeon star Amanda Bynes will also debut a clothing line, “Dear.” Similar to the BITTEN line, Dear will be a women’s brand that will appeal mostly to younger women.
Keep an eye on this very unique retailer as they will be setting standards for their competitors and raising the expectations of eager and appreciative customers for years to come. You might find it very beneficial to take a closer look at their culture, philosophy, mission, and methods as much of what they do so well can easily be applied to any business focused on customer satisfaction … regardless of your product or service.