A COMMUNITY OF QUALITY: PAUL STUART – FINAL DRAFT
Title: His Royal Highness of Hosiery
Paul Stuart/Ostrov Approved
New York City’s grand traditionalist menswear retailer Paul Stuart is, and has been for an unwavering seven decades, a meaningful lifestyle companion to generations of men who care about clothes and how they look in them. Opened in 1938, at the corner of Madison Avenue and 45th Street in Manhattan by haberdasher Ralph Ostrove, the then modest 1000 square foot store was named for his son, Paul Stuart. Today, Paul Stuart is a three-level, 60,000 square foot brick and mortar arena of men’s classic style so large it takes up an entire half square block of New York City real estate. It stands as an unrivaled spiritual and physical menswear force through its near century-old heritage, its ownership—still a family-owned business—and by its sheer breadth of product offerings.
Paul Stuart is a private-label operation, and has always been. All the clothing and accessories Paul Stuart stocks are designed and styled by the store. There is not a suit or trouser, overcoat or scarf, fedora or umbrella, bag, bathing suit, bathrobe or belt within this cavernous space that does not bear the label, and only the label of, Paul Stuart. Filling this vast space with thousands of pieces of the world’s best menswear falls to Paul Stuart’s merchants. They travel the globe to source and style the best product they can for the legions of clients on seven continents who travel to Madison and 45th Street, decade after decade, to replenish their wardrobes. It’s said that if a man cannot find it anywhere else—in New York City or the world—he will find it at Paul Stuart. The validity of this statement is illuminated by what is often considered by male consumers the lowliest of all men’s apparel: The Sock.
Until a retail challenger makes itself known, the big, weathered, historic and gloriously traditional New York City specialty store named Paul Stuart will remain, as it has for years, the undisputed heavyweight champion—His Royal Highness—of men’s hosiery.
The hosiery department within Paul Stuart is found on the store’s runway-length first floor, which spans from Madison Avenue at the store’s front doors to more than halfway down the length of 45th Street, towards Fifth Avenue. The sock department is cozy, tucked into a rectangular cove between the store’s grand front room which holds shirts, ties, jewelry, shoes, and the cash register desk, and the first floor’s rear galleries, exhibiting knitwear, outerwear, caps, hats, scarves, gloves, sport shirts, luggage, canes, umbrellas and basics. When one stands inside of the sock alcove—a mere 200 square feet area—they are able to see the entire front room’s sales floor, the front door, and the entire rear of the first floor as well. The sock cove is like the bridge on a sailing ship, from which an intrepid salesperson can scan the entire sales floor, and plot his course to navigate through his or her day’s business.
“Some salespeople here make the sock room their base of operations,” says Carmine Micciulla, Paul Stuart’s hosiery merchant. Micciulla has held his position as Paul Stuart’s sock shepherd for seven years. He relies on four to five main hosiery manufacturers from Italy and England and elsewhere to keep his stock rooms and sales floor loaded, and works with two to three additional vendors as needed. “When we’re fully merchandised here,” says Micciulla, “we’ll have as many as 8500 pair in the building.”
“I’m responsible for the assortment planning,” says Micciulla. “I collaborate with others on colors and style choices, but I’m encouraged by management to make this my own business.”
“My own business” is an apt description of this merchant’s work in service to socks and the men who come to Paul Stuart to buy them. Micciulla spends at least two hours a day in the sock cove or sock stockroom, folding, stacking, sizing, cycle-counting, storing, sorting, selling, teaching, coaching and immersing sales staff and clients alike in the wonders of socks.
If big trees grow from small seeds, and all rivers lead to a sea, then so too do big sales, and big sales volumes at Paul Stuart, grow from small sales of socks—thousands of them. In an average week at Paul Stuart, over 300 pairs of socks are sold from the little alcove on the first floor. There are salespersons on staff here who write annual business in the seven figures because they’ve chosen to make their sales office the sock alcove. Its sight lines are perfect. It has a telephone. It has a writing and work surface, and it’s directly in the path client’s travel to reach the tailored clothing floor on the store’s third level. It’s a perfectly composed environment in which to create a bond with a client and together, set out for success. Socks don’t require a fitting room, or a tailor, and they’re bought in multiples at a time. Paul Stuart’s clients may initiate new business with their clients outside the store over cocktails, or business dinners, but inside the store, a tremendous volume of business is initiated over socks. It’s rumored that in its best year, which, at Paul Stuart is almost every year, this small hosiery oasis generates close to one million dollars in revenue.
Sales volumes such as those don’t happen by accident. They’re manufactured by skilled merchants, intelligent merchandising, and tactical visual merchandising strategies. The sock alcove at Paul Stuart is uniquely designed to compel a consumer to take action; to feast on fibers—with cash or credit card—woven specifically to cover his feet.
The hosiery alcove has three sides and an open front, with a hip-high, free standing, antique glass and walnut display case from France as its central command and control console. The case is six feet wide, and houses three glass shelves, each shelf hosting fifteen selections of socks in fifteen stacks, each stack eight pair high. The stacks and rows are meticulously arrayed behind the gleaming antique glass like precisely sliced and stacked samplings of the most exotically hued fruit, cured meats and aged cheeses. Behind the case is the driver of this alcove’s overwhelming revenue generation: its rear and side walls. The three walls of the alcove are a hive of dark wood cubicles four inches wide and five inches high. There are fifty-six cubes on both the left and right walls of the cove and 180 cubes on the rear wall. Each cube holds ten pair of folded socks, five in the rear in size large, and five of the same style and color in medium exposed to their audience in a neat stack at the front of the cube. Standing inside of the sock cove is like being inside a gigantic jar of jelly beans, looking out. Hundreds of colors—many you didn’t even know existed—and dozens of stripes, dots, herringbones and plaids cause one to seriously reconsider their perceptions of what socks are, and what socks can mean to a man and his wardrobe.
Micciulla orders basics for the store’s cove weekly, and orders “fancies” four to six times a year, but has a mandate to “chase” best-sellers from his vendors when he needs to. As for chasing, or finding the “perfect” sock – if there is such a thing, Micciulla says, “There is a perfect sock. It has an approachable retail price under fifty-dollars, is made from a superior cotton or Australian merino, and comes with a great color card and no minimums.”
Stuart’s basic sock program comes from England, and is the majority player. Colors, in order of importance, based on purchasing history by clients are black, navy, charcoal, brown, khaki, yellow and plum. They’re bought in narrow and wide ribs, and in over-the-calf and mid-calf lengths. Sizes are medium, large and extra-large. Seasonally, cashmere blended socks rule the alcove’s sales in autumn and winter and Sea Island cotton dominates the spring and summer months.
For a client who requests socks not carried by Paul Stuart, Micciulla will supply that client’s salesperson with color cards from vendors, exhibiting all the colors, patterns and textures offered by them. While Paul Stuart doesn’t offer “custom” made socks per say, its willingness to order a dozen pair for a client is a testament to the store’s belief in its clientele and its hosiery business. “Most professional men in this city wear socks every day of their lives,” says Micciulla. If a client wants his socks, we’ll do our best to get them for him.”
When asked by JAMES MENSWEAR SERVICES if Paul Stuart offers its clients any type of automatic replenishment service, whereby a half-dozen, or dozen or multiple dozens can be distributed automatically to him every month, or bi-monthly through the store, on a date of his choosing using a supplied credit card kept on file for this purpose, Micciulla says there isn’t such a program presently in place. But, with the spirit of a true specialty merchant, who’s always ready, willing and able to be nimble and quick, and who is very much in charge of his business, adds, “Based on your question, it’s now a work in progress!”