There’s a party going on in Charleston, S.C.
This year, M. Dumas & Sons is celebrating its 100th anniversary — a milestone for any retailer, let alone a third-generation family-owned one — and on Thursday, the men’s specialty store will close down Society Street for a block party and fashion presentation that will showcase a century of M. Dumas style.
When the store opened in 1917, it was a uniform purveyor for service jobs and is credited with introducing Levi’s jeans to the Charleston market.
During the Korean and Vietnam wars, it was the sole provider of uniforms for naval officers stationed in Charleston and also offered a large selection of hunting and outdoor apparel, as well as shotguns and fishing poles.
By the Sixties, the business transitioned into more traditional men’s wear and over the years it has introduced brands such as Tommy Bahama, Sperry, Woolrich, CC Filson, Barbour, Duck Head and Southern Tide to the Charleston market.
Owned today by David Dumas, the grandson of founder Mendel Dumas, the store carries tailored clothing and sportswear from brands such as Hickey Freeman, Samuelsohn, Jack Victor, Eton, Rodd & Gunn, Faherty, Vince, Paul & Shark, Bonobos, Ledbury, Filson and Johnnie-O.
David Dumas believes his family’s store has managed to thrive over the past 100 years because of its “commitment to balancing customer feedback with our keeping a pulse on industry trends. It has always been our goal to ensure that every piece we bring into the store resonates with our customers, and we’ve made an effort to consider their feedback when going into the market to find and curate new lines for the store.”
He said it’s important to “strike a balance between the customer’s input on the items they want to see in store, and finding those emerging designers and lines to bring a fresh perspective to what we’re offering. As we toe that line, we’ve heard from our customers that they appreciate the thought and consideration that goes into each item found in store, and so we feel confident that our decisions in this area have contributed to our continued success over the years.”
It also allowed the 8,800-square-foot store to undertake a $2 million renovation in 2015 — a move intended to show its continued and ongoing commitment to the community.
Last July, Dumas brought Gary Flynn, the first non-family member in the store’s history, on board as president and chief executive officer to run the business on a day-to-day basis. Dumas is battling a debilitating medical issue that affects his vision.
Flynn had worked most recently as senior director of retail design and merchandising for Samsung but has a three-decade-plus career in fashion and retail, working for companies including Nordstrom and Hugo Boss.
Dumas said Flynn “brings a lot of great experience to the table that will enable us to keep moving forward with our goals for the company. We’re researching and exploring a number of possibilities, including e-commerce, expansion within the existing building, additional locations in the region and perhaps even a women’s store. I believe we have much more to do at M. Dumas & Sons, and we look forward to the next 100 years of business here in Charleston and beyond.”
Flynn, who relocated to Charleston to take the job, said he’s gaining an equity stake in the business and hopes one day to eventually own it outright.
Until that time, he will work to build on the success that M. Dumas has enjoyed for the past 100 years, particularly its knack of “finding brands early and riding them.” Although it was among the first to carry Tommy Bahama, it moved away from the label when distribution got too wide. Ditto Vineyard Vines. Today, that colorful sportswear category is dominated by Southern Tide.
Overall, M. Dumas is about three-quarters sportswear and accessories and one-quarter tailored clothing and furnishings, a mix that allows it to peacefully coexist with another Charleston institution, Berlin’s, which has been operating a specialty store in the city since 1883.
With both stores, customer service continues to be king. “We have so many loyal customers,” Flynn said. Many are older men in the 50s and 60s who have lived in Charleston their whole lives. But as the city continues to attract tourists with a vibrant restaurant and hotel scene, these visitors are becoming a larger part of the business.
Additionally, Charleston is attracting new households at a healthy clip, Flynn said, prompting the store to evolve its merchandise offering to focus on more premium and modern brands. “And it’s been successful,” he said.
Although M. Dumas doesn’t yet have an e-commerce site, it still does 25 percent of its business by calling, texting or e-mailing customers directly with style suggestions.
Flynn said upgrading the company’s web site to e-commerce is “on my mid-term list to accomplish. I know it can be 25 to 50 percent of our business someday.”
Shoe sales have also gathered momentum in recent months as a longtime local shoe merchant closed up shop, opening up distribution for desirable brands such as Ferragamo, Cole Haan, New Balance and others.
“We put a shoe department at the front of the store and now we’re doing three to four times the business we did before,” he said.
The centennial celebration is helping raise awareness of the business. Since February, the store has been hosting monthly events, many of which have a charity tie-in, which will continue through the end of the year. Its logo was also updated for the anniversary: M. Dumas & Sons, a Century of Style, a Heritage of Service.
But the most elaborate event will happen on April 20 when 20 models — two from each of the last 10 decades — will line Society Street, sporting looks popular at that time. The event will raise funds for the the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital in Charleston.