Jos. A Bank: From Pants to Plenty; A Sartorial Success Story
- Categorized in: Carroll Business – Past Issues
Jos. A. Bank's President and CEO R. Neal Black
Jos. A. Bank’s corporate headquarters is not located in a skyscraper in Manhattan. Or even in a glass-fronted tower in downtown Baltimore. Instead, the national men’s clothing manufacturer and retailer operates out of a one-story building off Maryland Route 30 in rural Hampstead.
The company dates to 1905, when Charles Bank, a Lithuanian immigrant to Baltimore, opened a factory making trousers. Joseph is the name of Charles’ grandson, who began working at the plant at the age of 11. Over the years, the company expanded from manufacturing to its own retail stores, and transitioned from privately owned to publicly traded and back again.
In 1999, the venerable men’s clothier underwent another transformation. By then a publicly-traded company whose ties to the original family were long gone, the board decided to recruit a new management team.
“They were disappointed with the growth results and they saw an opportunity that wasn’t being achieved,” said R. Neal Black, who joined the company in 2000 and subsequently became president and CEO.
“The goal was to take a sleepy, mid-Atlantic menswear company and make it a national brand,” said Black, a former executive in national department stores. “Its reputation was okay. Its products were okay. It wasn’t in danger of failing. But it was under-managed. It wasn’t going anywhere. We had to get to the next level.”
In the years since, Jos. A. Bank has done just that. The number of retail stores has grown from 100 to the current 530, found in almost every state in the country. There are 20 factory outlet stores as well. The company employs 5,673 associates, as they’re called, 802 of whom live in Carroll County.
Gross sales have quadrupled since 1999, from $194 million to $858 million in 2010 or, put another way, a 400-plus percent increase during that period. In the pipeline are more retail and factory outlet stores. Tuxedo rental within the retail stores and a big-and-tall Internet web site debuted in 2010. There are also plans to grow the catalogue/Internet side, which currently accounts for about 10 percent of sales.
The corporate headquarters encompasses several departments. One wing houses the executive team, where a display case exhibits its many industry awards. The distribution center is housed in another wing, where automated equipment and a sewing area (for tailoring beyond an individual store’s capacity) fill the vast space.
The company has taken over an adjacent building for warehouse, catalogue/Internet staff and other personnel. Together, the two buildings total 700,000 square feet.
Jos. A. Bank no longer makes its clothes in the United States. The last U.S. factory closed in the mid-1990s, according to Black, and items are now made in about 20 different countries. They are then sent to corporate headquarters for sorting and shipping to the appropriate destinations.
That process is done in the distribution center, where rows of shelves are lined with boxes of finished items. Shirts, sweaters, casual pants and accessories – "flat goods" in the trade – drop from automated bins into numbered trays. Suits, coats, dress pants and outwear, which require hangers, glide along overhead racks.
The company was built on clothes “for an office environment,” said Black, or, in a word, suits. During the managerial transition, the decision was made to maintain that core customer.
“We stayed where our customers are,” offering affordable corporate attire, said Black, who expanded the company in other ways. It now offers everything from underwear to formalwear, including an extensive line of casual clothes.
Nonetheless, the company has managed to increase the number of young customers. “Men out of college, in their mid-20s and 30s, need suits for work,” said Black.
In the world of men’s fashion, Jos. A. Bank is known for its classic styling. Black has enhanced the company’s reputation for quality, but it does not compete with the high-fashion, high-end menswear – “limited mainly to Italian menswear,” he said – or with the youth-oriented casual market.
But that does not mean that the company ignores trends. In fact, said Black, “we follow fashion closely. By its nature, classic is not trendy. But you have to keep classic up-to-date. We change things – color, tailoring – a little bit all the time.”
A mini-store in the corporate headquarters illustrates the point. Built as a pocket-sized replica of a typical Jos. A. Bank retail store, down to the wood floor, shirts are stacked in neat piles, jackets are arranged against a back wall and a rack of ties in stripes, polka dots and paisleys features the hot new color, purple, to coordinate with the Baltimore Ravens football team. The display of current items allows company marketers and merchandisers to actually see how they work in a typical store environment.
Men’s apparel is a seasonal business. More than half, or 55 percent, of sales are made in the second half of the year. The fourth quarter of the year, from November to January, is the busiest selling period by far. It starts the day after Thanksgiving and continues through Christmas and New Year’s, for self-purchases and gift-giving.
“The week after Christmas has become a big week for retail,” said Black. ”It used to be mainly returns but now a lot of shopping happens.”
Jos. A. Bank is active in the community. In an on-going arrangement, damaged merchandise is delivered monthly to St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore, a faith-based nonprofit. The company turns artwork from children at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, an acute care facility, into “Miracle Ties” whose sales benefit the center.
The tie project “is popular in Baltimore,” said Black. In 2010, it raised $50,000 for the center. “In 2011, we’re going to make it more national,” he said.
The company also supports the Susan G. Komen Maryland Race for the Cure and Career Gear, which provides business attire for men, along with other services. Every Thanksgiving, all employees receive a turkey which, if they choose, may be donated to the Hampstead food bank.
“So many of our associates who work here are part of the Carroll County community,” said Black. “We feel we are part of it.”