Welcome to the General Store Revolution: From Asheville to Los Angeles, retailers are seeing the importance a warm smile, a friendly “hello,” and a comfortable, functional, stylish piece of clothing that’s handmade locally with love. The Insider caught up with two major players in general store merchandising and management to get their tips on stocking classic items, listening and responding to customers, and — gulp! — even selling menswear and accessories with success.
Maybe it’s the indelible childhood memories the term evokes. Maybe it’s the scope of the merchandise and the way there’s something for everyone. Maybe it’s the sensitivity of the store buyer and the way she works hard to connect with each one of her customers. Maybe it’s all that, plus a spectacularly stocked menswear section, but whatever the reason, the brick-and-mortar general store continues to thrive across the country, sustaining relationships with locals – and drawing tourists – wherever said store has put down roots.
Women’s gift shops and lifestyle stores are experiencing explosions in revenue by selling high-margin dresses and jewelry. Now the men’s side of the business is poised for similar growth.
Families are flocking to one-stop shops that feature a little bit of everything. Even if you’ve avoided stocking men’s items in the past, you may feel motivated to do so after reading tips from these retail masters of main street.
Mast General Store, a family of nine stores in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, and Harriet’s General in Culpeper, Virginia are among an affordable but upscale-branded set of general stores – a set that also includes The Drake General Store in Toronto, Mohawk General Store in Los Angeles, and Albert’s General Store in Bay City, Michigan, among many others – that are achieving success both generally and in their ample menswear and accessories departments.
The Insider spoke with Sheri Moretz of Mast and Kate Shrewsbury of Harriet’s to get the specifics on their general store formulas.
Selling Menswear and Men’s Accessories – What Works, Why, and How?
Kate Shrewsbury, who’s been in retail merchandising and management for years, opened Harriet’s General with her husband in 2012 and they’ve sold exclusively American-made items from the start, adding vintage earlier this year.
“We’ve been selling menswear since we opened,” Shrewsbury told us. “We are in a very small town that has very limited menswear so it was very well-received.”
Their men’s lines include “colognes, soaps, leather goods, Dopp kits, jackets, Stilson, Red Wing Heritage [the lifestyle line], pocket squares, ties, belts, men’s toiletry lines, and then some vintage men’s items – jackets, belts, and accessories.”
The Mast General Store has existed, originally under a different name, since 1883 but was closed in 1977. Sheri Moretz, who has been with Mast for over twenty years and currently serves as the store copy editor and storyteller, explained, “John and Faye Cooper reopened the Mast General Store in 1980. At that point in time, their menswear was fairly limited but they had very fashionable overalls, some flannel shirts, a lot of heritage brands like Pointer, which is made in Bristol, Tennessee.”
Now that Mast has expanded to nine stores, their men’s offerings have expanded as well and includes, “several heritage brands like Woolrich, Columbia, Pendleton, as well as brands that are made for us. We’re pretty strong in Carhartt, Royal Robbins, shirts, and hats.”
The Waynesville Mast Store, built in the 1930s.
Pro Tips on Selling Menswear and Accessories from Sheri Moretz of Mast
- Stay Timeless – “Our buyer focuses a lot of attention on classic styling and quality. Many of the items that you will find in the men’s department at any Mast Store are never out of style — khakis, classic cuts, plaids, button downs, tailored, but not overly tailored, and comfortable.”
- Ask Questions and Listen – “For selling, it’s all about listening to the customer — where will they be wearing it, what is their attitude toward style, etc.”
- Customer Comfort is Key – “After interacting with our guest, we can help them put together an outfit that is stylish and will make them feel comfortable at whatever function he will be attending.”
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Visual Merchandising Trends: See the Displays that Make Buyers Look Harder, Shop Longer, and Spend More.
Buying Local, Building Relationships, and Product Trendspotting
“Our buying charge is to look for things that will fit within our brand, to look for things that our customers are looking for, and then to try to buy in this order: locally, regionally, nationally, and then internationally,” Moretz says.
Not only are both quality products and fair price points the priority for the buyers at every Mast General Store, they’re also “looking for a story. Is there a good story that we can help tell?”
Though their commitment to American-made goods has its challenges, particularly price-point, Shrewsbury notes that “it’s nice because you have more of a relationship with the vendor. It’s a much more hands-on, local experience than it is dealing with companies that produce mass amounts of things and don’t know exactly when they’ll be shipped.”
Though Mast Store has an online store and can, as Moretz puts it, “answer the call” of the shopper who just has to buy something at midnight, their biggest challenge at the moment is “finding and staying ahead of the trends so we can have what customers are looking for when they’re looking for it.”
Connect With and Support the Local Community
“The Mast General Store,” Moretz told us, “is a unique entity in that we are a destination in all of our communities. Whenever someone walks through our doors and we can’t meet their needs, we try to send them to someone who can. And if they’re looking for other things to do — where can I find the best pizza in town, where can I go for a hike, what else can I do when I’m visiting? — we try to introduce them to the area. All of our stores are downtown and are seeing a resurgence and continue to see revitalization and new interest.”
“General” Advice for Aspiring General Store Owners
Shrewsbury reminds retail-hungry entrepreneurs that you “definitely have to have worked in the retail business before you start. For some people it just seems sort of glamorous to them and easy and fun and social — and of course that’s wrapped into the package — but there’s a lot more to it than that.”
The Mast philosophy, according to Moretz, is to “know who you are and know the community that you’re moving into. Don’t assume that all communities are the same. Go in and listen and people will tell you the things that you need to do. Our experience is if we can help others do better, a rising tide floats all boats.”
Ultimately, in order for general stores and any retail store, really, to stay afloat:
“We all need to work together to get people back into downtowns, to help the merchant across the street, to send business to your local restaurant.” – Sheri Moretz, The Mast General Store
You don’t have to ask us twice: we’ll see you over on Main Street!
By Katie Schorr