YORK — Procrastination is not in Ronnie Bailes makeup.
He arrives for work every morning at 8:30 and the doors dont open until 9.
The shop closes at 6, but he wont leave until every customer is attended too.
He tries to keep ahead of business every day.
Its a big puzzle, a big game, he says. You have to stay on it every day, you have to manage it to make money.
But it is the procrastinator especially men that Bailes caters to.
Need a new suit for a job interview or wedding and you have put it off to the last minute? Bailes is your man, he can have a tailored suit in your hands in a matter of days.
Just have to have a pair of purple pants or a size 15 shoe? Bailes is your man. He knows who to call and he will have what you want as quickly as possible. Just like Burger King, special orders dont upset Bailes. They are the staple of his business.
And when a man and his wife walk in, Bailes is their man too. He said a woman helping a man shop generally results in a 20-percent increase in sales. The man may have come just for a shirt, but a wife will make sure he leaves with another shirt, a matching tie or two, maybe even a pair of pants.
Bailes is the second generation of his family to run The Mens Shop on North Congress Street. His father, Furman, started the shop in York shortly after returning from the military in World War II. Ray King partitoned 900 square feet of his Western Auto store at 33 North Congress St. for Furman.
The store stayed there until Ronnie Bailes moved it to its current, larger space, 49 North Congress St. The location had been Clarence Motz carpet and floor covering business.
When Bailes took ownership in 1972 there were three mens stores in Rock Hill, one in Fort Mill, one in Clover and his in York.
Now Im the last man standing, he said. Bailes estimates there are less than 200 mens stores left in the Carolinas. His closest competitors are in Spartanburg and Greer and he frequently talks with their owners. Sharing information, and sometimes even merchandise, is one of keys to success, he said.
As a specialty store, Bailes makes no apology for his prices. A top-of-the-line suit can cost $700 and a mid-range suit $300. A white shirt with French cuffs is $70 and a ball cap with the logo of a lab sporting a bowtie is $20 and up.
What Bailes sells is quality and customer service. His suits can last up to 20 years and most are American made. Suits from Hardwick Clothes in Cleveland, Tenn, carry the label that says, The Mens Shop, York S.C.
His logo merchandise lines of t-shirts, polo shirts and the like have icons such as skipjacks, labs, birddogs and the ubiquitous Palmetto tree. His sportswear lines have taken up much of the stores space that, the front of my shop looks like a t-shirt store, he said with a laugh.
Two of his lines, Sewell suits of Bremen, Ga. and Florsheim shoes, have been sold since the store opened in 1948.
Bailes will size up a customers literally the first time they walk thru the door. When Fred Thompson of Tennessee came to York while campaigning for president, other merchants gave him freebies. When Thompson entered The Mens Shop, Bailes tried to sell him an extra-long suit.
Bailes and his staff most college students or retirees are good listeners. Unlike when he started, customers now want a specific item. Bailes will special order the size, color, pattern they want and call them when it arrives. If they dont like, Bailes will usually keep it in stock.
The customer is always right, Kenny Bratton, of Bratton Funeral Home.
Bratton hung around the shop as a teen when his brother worked there in the 1970s.
He hung around so much that I put him on the payroll, Bailes said.
One of Brattons first jobs was to make the Collect-a-suit-club rounds on Saturday mornings. He went to doctors offices, shops and liquor stores, to collect whatever someone could pay on their accounts. Many gave him $2 every week until the suit was paid for, he remembered.
The lessons learned at The Mens Shop are ones he continues to use daily at the funeral home, he said.
Being a good listener also helps Bailes anticipate changing fashion trends. Inventory is usually purchases a season, or even a year, in advance.
Most of all, Bailes said adapting to change in fashion and business practice has been the key to his success. Ive been doing this 41 years and Im still excited about change.
When he took ownership in 1972 mens stores would typically have 80 percent of their assets tied up in inventory and sale volume would cover up your buying mistakes, he said Now, he has about 30 percent invested in inventory and he reorders more frequently.
The shop is celebrating 65 years in business and Bailes who turns 65 in January said there are no signs of stopping. Neither of his adult children are interested in running the business, he said. Its also a difficult business to sell because it is based on relationships with customers, an asset thats almost impossible to transfer. Trust is built one sale a time.
Most of all, Bailes wants to see how things continue to change. The store is more attuned to social media. A Facebook page for his 65th anniversary got more than 3,500 likes. With the economy slowly recovering, I want to see this through, see it come back.
Whatever the changes, there will be one constant. Its the sign over the front window display. Its a slogan from suit maker Hart Schaffner and Marx and one of Bailes tenets too.
Dress up or dress down, thats your business. Dress well, thats our business.
Don Worthington • 803-329-4066