It’s important to understand that the foundation of the fashion industry relies on people. When it comes to designers — their creativity, inspiration, industry journey and vision for their brand is what makes their story and product enticing. It makes them recognizable and relatable. When it comes to customers — they need to feel valued and see value in the brands that they incorporate into their lifestyle. It’s our responsibility to communicate value and see the needs of the customer which should be motivated by the desire to please the customer. Passion drives progress in so many areas across the board.
As part of our series about the 5 things you need to succeed in the fashion industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Gushner. Alex is a fourth generation Buyer of Men’s Tailored Clothing at the iconic, luxury retail clothing store, Boyds Philadelphia. In 1938, Alex’s grandfather Alec Gushner opened Boyds and his family has since built a legacy that has now become a landmark in Philadelphia. Boyds offers a selection of women’s and men’s luxury and designer ready-to-wear brands such as Tom Ford, Moncler, Maison Margiela, Christian Louboutin, Brunello Cucinelli, Brioni, ISAIA, Thom Browne, Loewe, Balmain, and Bottega Veneta. It has recently completed a $10 million-dollar renovation which Alex has helped to spearhead. Over the past 80+ years, Boyds has earned the reputation as the premier place to shop, building a family-oriented tradition of quality and service, with Alex now at the forefront of the store’s destination.
Thank you so much for joining us Alex! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
AG: It may seem counterintuitive, but my love for basketball led me to a career in the fashion/retail industry. I’ve followed the sport my entire life, and as a kid, I can remember my father bringing home a basketball signed by Shawn Kemp, a signed Penny Hardaway jersey (which still to this day hangs in my childhood bedroom) and countless other memorabilia he gifted to me over the years. He had the opportunity to meet many of these players over the years when they visited Boyds. As much as I loved these possessions, my ultimate role model wasn’t the players who wore them, it was my father because he was the one who had the privilege of meeting them at the coolest place in the world in my eyes — Boyds. I admired my father for everything he did, starting with his occupation, and this was even before I loved clothing, which was an obsession that developed after watching my father consistently order suits from fabrics sprawled out on our dining room table. Anyhow yes, my love for basketball, at least in part, led me to fashion, and I’m thankful for that because even on a good day, I’m only 5’10”.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?
AG: It happened very recently, actually. The Eagles’ Wide Receiver Nelson Agholor was shopping inside Boyds. He and some of his teammates come to shop with us pretty frequently. He noticed a group of young kids checking out our store and overheard them marveling at some of the products we sell. So, he gave each of them $20 to spend however they desired. I thought it was a great gesture from a local hero.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?
During my first year working at Boyds, I put together an in-store event in partnership with a business school in Philadelphia, and I asked all of our customer-facing employees (~90 people) to stay after-hours for it. We paid everyone overtime because I was very confident that the event would have a successful turnout. Even my late grandfather stayed to show his support, which was unusual for him in his old age. Hardly anyone showed up to the event. It was my first event I had ever planned and executed at Boyds and at the time, I felt horrified, humiliated and discouraged. In hindsight, I can look back and laugh at the turnout and how seriously I took it, but in reality, it wasn’t the end of the world. Needless to say, I learned my lesson.
Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
AG: Never count your chickens before they hatch, for sure. But more importantly, that failure is an opportunity to learn and grow from your mistakes, so you can knock it out of the park next time around. Life is filled with many opportunities along the road. On to the next one.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
AG: While we carry many designer labels, there’s nothing proprietary about our luxurious products. What makes us unique are the services we offer, the shopping experience we provide and the ongoing rapports we establish with our clients. Our parking lot is located directly across the street from our store (parking can be extremely challenging in Philly and this is a huge draw for our customers) and it’s run by employees who have worked for our family for more than twenty-five years. So the “Boyds Experience” often begins there. We also have sales associates on our team who have been working at Boyds for over 40 years, so it isn’t unusual for relationships with some clients to span three generations. Lastly, we have a thirty-five-person tailor shop, which is, to our knowledge, the largest in the country. No job is too big or complicated for our tailors who fulfill the needs of our clients on a daily basis and all alterations on full-price merchandise are complimentary. So, what makes Boyds unique aren’t the brands that we sell, but it’s the services we offer, the selection we provide, and more than anything else, it’s the relationships we’ve created.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
AG: For me, this is a two-part answer: First, set a long-term goal and figure out a way to reach it by consistently changing your routine with different, smaller initiatives. This way, nothing ever becomes mundane and you push yourself to continuously grow. Second, I’m a big believer in developing and keeping up with hobbies that fit your interests. They temporarily take your mind away from a job and give you the ability to focus on the work in front of you when the time comes. Minimize your stress to maximize your performance with something you enjoy — it’s all about balance. Personally, I love to read and play tennis. They’re my activities that balance out the “always on the go” nature of business travel and/or long days at the store and allow me to reboot and refresh.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
AG: Yes, philanthropy is something that Boyds and my family are very passionate about. The store has been a part of the city of Philadelphia for over 80 years and we do everything we can to show our support for the great initiatives that support our community (i.e. we have ongoing philanthropic efforts and have worked with many local and national organizations over the years, Philly Fights Cancer [our director of business development is the co-chair], the Abramson Cancer Center, Susan G. Komen, etc). Recently, we unveiled our charitable collaboration with King Saladeen, a Philadelphia-born, world-famous artist who has partnered with brands such as Jagermeister, Lexus, Nike, and Champion. We have a billboard in our parking lot that, for the entire FW19 season, bears his artwork overtop of vintage Boyds advertisements. In November 2019, he’s installing artwork in all of our store windows that we’ll auction off in December. We’re donating 100% of the proceeds to Community Partnership School, which is a school for underserved children in North Philadelphia. We’re also creating merchandise with King’s “Boyds bears” and donating 100% of these proceeds to Philly Fights Cancer, an initiative that raised $10mm last year.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
AG: “When the student is ready, the teacher will come.” It’s the old adage that, even when you can’t recognize the “right” timing at that exact moment, timing is still everything. I intended to work outside of my family’s business for five years before joining it. After two years that plan changed, and although I joined our business before I planned to, my grandfather had taken me under his professional wing since my very first day. His wisdom was endless and I’m very grateful for the three years that our lifetimes inside Boyds overlapped.
Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?
AG: The most timely and relevant answer is the purported “apocalypse” of brick-and-mortar retailing, which has changed tremendously over the past five years. To be clear, I do believe that conventional, luxury retailing will continue its contraction at the feet of e-commerce, but contrary to popular opinion, I don’t believe that luxury brick-and-mortar retailing will completely cease to exist. It’s just going to change. As retailers, if can provide a memorable experience for consumers, then I believe there will always be a place for us. If we can’t, and if all we stand for is “product,” then consumers will not see our value and opt to purchase online. The prospect of learning and running an “old business model” in this dominantly digital world very much excites me. I believe that Boyds can shine, and that belief motivates me.
What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry”. Please share a story or example for each.
- Ears — Might sound strange but it’s true. They’re the key to listening and learning. Listening to the needs of the customer, hearing from others in the industry, and being receptive to what’s new and impactful.
- Passion for people — It’s important to understand that the foundation of the fashion industry relies on people. When it comes to designers — their creativity, inspiration, industry journey and vision for their brand is what makes their story and product enticing. It makes them recognizable and relatable. When it comes to customers — they need to feel valued and see value in the brands that they incorporate into their lifestyle. It’s our responsibility to communicate value and see the needs of the customer which should be motivated by the desire to please the customer. Passion drives progress in so many areas across the board.
- Passion for product — Having the ability to spot trends and pay close attention to detail and follow brands/designers/companies who are/have the potential to differentiate themselves and making an impact on the industry.
- Vision –Like every industry, retail is changing at an ever-increasing rate.
- Drive — No one can want to succeed more than you.
Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?
AG: Over the years, our big-box competitors have begun their markdowns increasingly earlier each season, which has a trickle-down effect on the entire industry. As time has passed, this trend has damaged it’s overall health. I think we can improve by working together to create a common understanding of when it’s appropriate to break for sale. I’m not sure how realistic this is, which is a shame because there’s hardly a person working in luxury retail who would disagree.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
AG: It would be a wide-scale charitable initiative that takes gently used clothing and gives it to people who need it. Stay tuned 😊
How can our readers follow you on social media?
AG: Follow me on IG. My handle is @alexgushner. You can also follow Boyds on Instagram via the @Boydsphiladelphia handle.