BEVERLY HILLS — This isn’t a story about a retailer that’s succumbed to a challenging business environment or digital disruptors.
Beverly Hills men’s retailer Carroll & Co. — frequented by Hollywood celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, Gene Kelly, Jimmy Stewart and Jack Lemmon — is in the midst of a store-closing sale after nearly 70 years as the founder’s son looks to relocate and reinvent the business.
John Carroll, whose father Richard Carroll started the business in 1949, has his work cut out for him overseeing the store closing sale. But once that task is wrapped, he will reenter the men’s made-to-measure business — a segment of Carroll & Co. that has taken off in recent years. About 400 square feet of the store’s 8,000-square-foot footprint is dedicated to made-to-measure and so much of its business is done there, Carroll said.
“We do so much of our business out of that small space with our plethora of loyal custom clothing customers that, for me to transition our business and be able to continue to service those people who have been so loyal over the years, makes all the sense in the world,” he said. “We do more custom business than we do off-the-rack today. It makes buying clothing fun and interesting. Men traditionally don’t like to shop. That’s just sort of in our DNA, but they do like to get something personal that’s made expressly for them. Obviously, we’re not the only ones that do it, but with the growth in men’s clothing today, I think it would be silly for us to just turn away and not continue to grow that.”
The specifics of the next chapter haven’t been hammered out with Carroll fully immersed on winding down the current business. But he said the goal is to have the new store located somewhere near the existing location.
The Carroll family owns the building the current store is in and after years of people making offers to lease or buy the property, a lease offer came that they couldn’t turn down. Carroll was unable to say who the new tenant is, citing the pending deal.
Richard Carroll, a Warner Brothers Studio publicist, originally opened his doors at the corner of Rodeo Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard before moving 23 years ago to a space on Canon Drive.
Plenty’s changed over the years.
“I’ve been involved since I was about 11,” John said. “I’d come in after school or I’d come in on Saturdays and ticket shirts or clean the stock room. If somebody said to me 40 years ago ‘What is your competition?’ I would say ‘This store down the street is competition and that store down the street is competition.’ In those days, there was probably five or six nice quality, independent men’s stores in Beverly Hills. But when someone asks you that question today, it’s sort of like where do you begin? Not that there’s a lot of specialty stores around, but it seems like every designer has opened a store. The department stores all now have very substantial men’s collections. In addition, you have a lot of direct sellers and then you add Amazon and all the different catalog companies. It’s the term global village. The world has become much smaller.”
Still, even with competition coming from all points along the spectrum, some things don’t change. In many ways, the business has insulated itself from new entrants into the men’s space aided by loyal customers.
Even in the case of technological advancements and gadgetry, the digital world ultimately doesn’t supplant customer service or quality.
“When you talk about technology in the making of a man’s suit, there have been advances with machine-made garments for sure, but when you’re talking about garments that have been hand-worked and are cut individually, there’s not a lot of technology that can affect that,” Carroll said. “There’s avatars and QR codes and I’m a big fan of that technology when it comes to presenting the garment, but when the garment comes in and you put it on, the handwork is going to show through immediately over any advance in technology.”
One arena where technology will likely bear greater weight is in continuing the company’s dialogue with younger generations of shoppers. It’s something Carroll is mindful of and will consider once the new endeavor is off the ground.
“An older gentlemen, for the most part, has always looked at a swatch and picked a suit and he’s been happy,” Carroll said. “These younger guys, who are more tech savvy, they do research online and know brands and labels. You can pull up today [online] what the suit is going to look like. That’s all wonderful and I think the younger generation responds more to that today.”
For now, Carroll is focused on buttoning up his father’s business on Canon Drive, where Carroll & Co. is expected to remain open at least through January.
“It’s a very humbling situation for us to hear from so many customers who have shopped with us, some over 50, 60 years now,” Carroll said. “And to hear how much Carroll & Co. has meant to them and meant to their family. I’ve always known that our store has meant something to people, but how many people really warms my heart. It’s 70 years. A lot has happened in 70 years.”