David Eggleton has been running Suits on Broadway for more than 18 years. But after three decades in business the iconic Auckland retailer is shutting up shop for good, citing pressures bought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
The lease for the suit shop, which started 30 years ago in 1992, had come up for renewal, but co-owner Eggleton told the Herald trade “uncertainty” had forced him to choose to decline the offer to extend the lease.
The pandemic and potential for more lockdowns in the future had made it impossible to plan and run a profitable business in the already difficult formal menswear category, Eggleton said.
Even before Covid-19 disrupted trade, the formal menswear segment of the retail market was a tough space to operate in as society moved towards a more casualised workwear.
“Because of uncertainty, we just can’t plan in this sort of climate,” Eggleton, who runs the business with his wife Deidre and sister Carol, told the Herald.
“There was a multitude of things, but basically we had to re-sign a new lease and I didn’t want to sign it for too long a term and [the landlord] didn’t want to look at short term.”
The last day of trade for Suits of Broadway is yet to be finalised, but the shop will be closed by March 31. Eggleton hopes to wind up the business in the middle of March and is currently running a sale to get rid of all stock.
“Covid has had quite an effect on our sort of business. As a suit retailer, business suits have pretty much gone by the wayside … our business customer has all but disappeared.”
The other customer looking for formal suits for events such as weddings had also been wiped out by lockdowns and alert level restrictions, he said.
The shop had faced the tough reality of six months without trading in the last 18 months due to various lockdowns and alert level changes, Eggleton told the Herald.
The market was changing prior to Covid, but the pandemic exacerbated that much quicker than it would have otherwise, Eggleton said: “There was always that direction of dressing a little bit more casually but I think Covid has pushed that forward faster.”
This year marks 44 years in the menswear retailing trade for Eggleton. He started his career straight out of school in 1978, working at a shop in Pukekohe before going on to work 25 years at Leo O’Malley Menswear.
Eggleton purchased Suits on Broadway 18 years ago in 2004. It was established in 1992.
Being in retail had been “fabulous” for the most part but the last few years had been a grind, he said.
Talking about the shop’s impending closure, Eggleton said: “It was a hard decision to make”, but it was “the only decision I could make for my sanity. I had lost my passion.”
“Having to deal with my lease and all of the pressures of not knowing whether we were going to be open or whether we were going to be closed, and if we were going to be closed how we would live without turnover” had taken a toll on Eggleton.
“It was a limited choice Covid gave us really.”
Eggleton said he was not alone in calling time on his business as leases came up for renewal as Covid had been both a source of stress and worry for most businesses, and expected many people would wind up operations this year.
He said leases for retail spaces were getting out of hand in proportion to turnover that you could do in the current marketplace.
As retail commentator Chris Wilkinson, managing director of First Retail Group, puts it operating in the formal menswear segment of the retail market was a tough gig even before the curveballs thrown by the pandemic.
Wilkinson said he had real concerns about the future of retail as more and more independent retailers opted to shut up shop for good as more leases came up for renewal.
“The traditional menswear sector has been facing some challenges for quite a long time. He said businesses that have been around a long time that are not vertical retailers – buying their products from someone else and adding a margin into it – that model has been under increasing pressure.”
Covid-19 had affected all apparel businesses, some more badly than others, he said.
“Apparel was already one of the categories under the biggest threat as younger consumers have shifted their spending from products to experiences.”
He suspected that the retail sector would continue to see more closures as uncertainty lingered as to when market conditions would improve.
“If an opportunity to exit a site comes up like a lease comes up we’re seeing more and more businesses having to make those cathartic decisions … there’s an increasing amount of unwillingness for small business owners to put in more of their own capital in.”
While change and adapting to new market conditions was no doubt uncomfortable for small businesses, particularly traditional operations, Wilkinson said it was needed to be able to survive in current market conditions.
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