The story begins when Sid Segel opened a small tuxedo rental business in suburban Boston. His sons, Ira and Robert, used that business as the seed to open Mr. Sid in 1967.
Today, that small shop has morphed into a 10,000-square-foot upscale men’s store in Newton Centre, Mass., that is run by Sid’s grandsons Stuart and Barry. The brothers, whose late father Ira was an institution in the men’s wear industry until his death in 2015, celebrated the milestone with a black-tie event last week. Later this month, the Segels will take the plunge and open a second store in downtown Boston in the newly developed Seaport district.
Here, Stuart Segel talks about the anniversary, the planned expansion and the qualities that have enabled Mr. Sid to survive.
WWD: Managing to survive as an independent retailer for 50 years is quite an accomplishment. How did the business get its start?
Stuart Segel: My grandfather, Sid, had a tuxedo rental business and had a branch in Newton Centre. My father and uncle opened their business on Sept. 25, 1967, and eventually it transformed into this. They decided to call it Mr. Sid because back then a name meant a lot for credit purposes. My uncle Bobby was partners with my father and was very instrumental in the store’s existence. He really loved the clothing business and was a man we all emulated. My father bought him out and he moved to California, where he became a rep for many lines and was very successful.
WWD: When did you come into the business?
S.S.: I’ve been in the business since 1989. I graduated from Boston College and my father didn’t want me to go into the business so I was going to go law school. But my dad had just opened a store in Palm Beach [Florida] and the man who was supposed to run it got sick and he asked me to help out. I did and I realized I really loved the business. I told my father that this was what I really wanted to do and he saw the potential in me. So I gave up the idea of law school and joined the business full time.
WWD: And what about Barry?
S.S. My brother graduated from Skidmore and was working for TJX in their training program. He was there for a couple of years, but he also felt like this is where he wanted to be.
WWD: Has the store ever carried women’s?
S.S.: We’ve had a couple of entries into women’s over the years. In 2000, we opened Ms. on the lower level. It was very sportswear-oriented but eventually evolved into a full collection. We were very successful with it — we also had a hair salon at the time and it really brought in traffic, but we gave it up after four years. It was challenging to find help able to give the same experience as we did in the men’s store. Also, I wasn’t a women’s wear buyer — that was really hard for me — so we gave it up. We knew that our success was going to be on the men’s side.
WWD: What do you do to connect with your male customers?
S.S.: We pound everything that men are attracted to in terms of travel and lifestyle. And it’s gotten us through challenging times. The key for us is to recognize that we’re a men’s store and can exist and grow. It’s not just about selling replacement clothing. We’re involved in Oktoberfests, Memphis in May, which is a big barbecue fest where guys can wear jeans with a great Gitman shirt and Alden boots. We’re also hosting a Mr. Sid cruise with this high-end cruise ship line, the Silversea. We’ll be going throughout Italy, stopping at some of our vendors, having a nice lunch in Sardinia. We’re promoting the appreciation of life, not just selling a suit.
WWD: But you still sell a lot of suits. Who are your top vendors?
S.S.: Zegna is our number-one brand; we’ve been with them for more than 40 years and have a close partnership. We also have Isaia, Brioni, Castangia, that’s one of the nicest garments made with great value. We try to offer something unique. We merchandise everything as full collections, not by vendor. We feel it’s still about offering the best value, fit and look more than just putting in shops. We really edit our assortment.
WWD: It sounds like you’re heavily Italian.
S.S.: We have a few domestic companies we work with, but who does it better than the Italians?
WWD: What’s your percentage breakdown between clothing and sportswear?
S.S.: We’re still a big suit store, around 60 percent. It’s hard to make up the volume of a suit sale with sportswear, but sportswear is catching up. Soft jackets are not inexpensive and we sell sportswear with a layered feel, which is important to the size of the sale. A lot of our clothing business has shifted to made-to-measure — they tell us we’re the number-five account for Zegna in the U.S., which is pretty good for a store in Newton, Mass.
WWD: You’ve had other branches over the years, but now you just have the one store.
S.S.: Yes, we’ve had other stores in Cambridge, and Acton, Mass., as well as Palm Beach, which we had for 15 years, and we’re going to open another store in the new Seaport location in Boston, a very exciting part of the city.
WWD: Tell us more about the new store.
S.S.: We’re going into a new development by WS Development that is a lifestyle center with condos, restaurants, a movie theater and an Equinox. We’ll have 2,500 square feet on the lower level, and we’re planning to open in the middle of October with a grand opening on Nov. 9. Peter Millar and Filson are also opening stores there.
WWD: Did you see an opportunity now that Louis, Boston closed?
S.S.: Louis was one of the greatest stores in the world — not just Boston or the U.S., but the world. We didn’t think there was an opportunity for us while they still existed. When they closed on Boylston Street, they went to the Seaport district, but it was being redeveloped to build luxury condos, so they closed. So we believe there’s a real opportunity for us. There aren’t many multibrand specialty stores in Boston and we feel Boston deserves a store like Mr. Sid.
WWD: The retail business isn’t easy, especially for independent stores, yet you’re expanding. What makes you confident in your success?
S.S.: We’re going to start off small. The retail landscape is not healthy, but our business has been good and we have the right formula to appeal to the people there. We’ve been thinking about it for a year and a half. We have a good group of young people working here who want to grow and we believe it’s important for a business owner to recognize that. When I took over from my father, we knew we needed to recognize that an investment in Mr. Sid is an investment in young people — we need to show them there’s a future.