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Fighting the big guys to preserve an Arlington icon

(O.K. Carter for the Fort Worth Business Press, May 11, 2019)  

Once, there were numerous independent men’s clothing competitors in Arlington, all gone now, falling victim to malls and online clothing sites, some with multi-million dollar advertising budgets.

Despite its 400,000 residents, Arlington has only one surviving independent, non-chain, upscale men’s clothing store. That would be The Man’s Shop, owned by Wally Hardin.

For Hardin, 63, survival in a shrinking industry has been a tricky endeavor requiring a growing litany of non-haberdashery skills.

He’s had to place growing emphasis on social media promotion and a fashion-consulting and apparel-selection strategy for a shrinking pool of corporate customers who want to dress for success – with Hardin and his staff’s help, looking good without having to fret about it or spend a lot of time on it.

The store, located in an out-of-the-way corner in downtown Arlington, is itself a legacy business.

Hardin’s mentor, local legend and long-time boss Eddie Williams, a now-deceased former crooner for the big-band sounds of the Frankie Masters and Henry Busse orchestras, opened the original store in 1946 and moved to the current location on South West Street in 1970.

Hardin began working at the store while he was still a student at the University of Texas at Arlington. He bought the store when Williams retired.

“If we’re not the oldest continuously run business in Arlington, we’re certainly the oldest clothier,” Hardin says of the 73-year-old enterprise. “But the thing is, I knew this was the business I wanted to be part of since I was in high school.”

Once, there were numerous independent men’s clothing competitors in town, all gone now, replaced by mall and shopping center stores and competitors with hundreds – sometimes thousands – of national outlets and multi-million dollar advertising budgets. And there’s now a booming online clothing sales industry.

Some relevant statistics: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 1977, clothing purchases represented 6.2 percent of household spending. Today it is less than half that, replaced by spending for travel, eating out, activities and technology.

Hardin’s store also sails against the wind of another trend.

“The business casual look has grown steadily stronger with casual Fridays spreading to other days, no ties ever and low-cost fashion retailers cutting into the high fashion trade,” says Hardin, a realist.

In short, tieless business guys wearing jeans and sneakers are likely to show up anywhere.

What to do?

Build his brand, develop promotions and cultivate a loyal customer list, about the only affordable way to do that being social media. For Hardin, knowing what he needed to do and what he wanted to do – which was to keep on as he’d been keeping on – were two different things.

“I didn’t understand social media and I didn’t want to do it,” he confesses. “But I knew I had to make it a tool.”

Hardin found people to help him develop an online persona, also incorporating a connection with collector automobiles, along with a funky trend of Man’s Shop hats showing up in photographs from around the world.

There’s a website, a popular blog with all kinds of video show-and-tell fashion tips, and extensive use of Facebook, Instagram and other social media.

Man’s Shop social media manager Kendyl Shrogin quickly discovered that while clients did engage on items such as sales, events and promotions, what customers really wanted was advice from Wally Hardin and his staff about fashion trends.

The company’s blog now features all kinds of videos from both Hardin and staff – the inside scoop on fashion trends, what works, what doesn’t and why not. Shrogin also found that personal fashion video missives from Hardin had more than twice the feedback of traditional social media marketing.

Did Hardin want to do the videos?

He did not. But whatever works. And it’s working. A sole survivor.

“He is just immersed in the community, lives men’s fashions and is providing a service that he thinks will make them happy,” Shrogin said. “Based on that fact, he’s still around and thriving.”

The Man’s Shop

100 S. West St. in Downtown Arlington 

Click here to read the original story by O.K. Carter, which was published in the Fort Worth Business Press on May 11, 2019. Photo by O.K. Carter.