BLOG #1 - Father, Son and Business.
BLOG #1 - Introduction to Lou, Paul and MenzMode.
Hey guys and welcome to my first online blog!
When people kept telling me I should write a blog and share my knowledge, I wasn't really sure I could do it. But after really looking into it, I realised that I share my knowledge day in, day out with customers that walk through the doors of my boutique. After being in the menswear industry pretty much since birth, through my father's business and now having worked in the industry for 10 years - I feel as if I have enough knowledge to start sharing with you. But first, a little about us and our business.
The menswear and men's shoe industry has been in our family blood for a long time. In 1966, my father Lou migrated to Australia from a small village in the former Yugoslavia. A place where you'd put on your 3-piece suit and best shoes just to walk to the milk bar to impress the ladies making coffee for their parents in the front yard. Lou found a great love for always looking the part when leaving the house. My grandfather at 92 years old today, says he used to walk out of the house looking a million dollars when the older men were getting ready to shear the sheep. Sheep! Wool! The best fabric for mens suiting. Lou used to watch all the old men in his village shear the sheep, clean it, knit it together and sell it to neighbouring villages, cities and countries. After arriving in Port Melbourne, Lou, his sister, mother and father lived in a share house on Alexandra Parade, Fitzroy. After a week of being in Australia, Lou landed himself a job selling men's shoes for an old Jewish man at the Victoria Market. If you have been present for the stories in store about this, you will know what I'm talking about! Fast forward a few years, Lou and family moved to Coburg where he got a job stacking shelves in a fruit shop, which he hated.
In 1970 Lou then started working at a menswear store on High Street Preston called Terry Lee's menswear. Just a side note, if I had a dollar for every time I've heard, "I bought a suit off your dad in the 70's from Terry Lee's," I'd be a millionaire! He fell in love with the menswear industry and after a few years, had built up a massive clientele around Preston, which was largely based around other immigrants from Yugoslavia, Italy and Greece.
In 1974 Lou was approached by the owner and said, "Lou, you're pretty much running my whole business. You can buy all this stock off me and the business is yours." Without hesitation, Lou said yes and just like that, his first boutique in Melbourne came to life.
Within a couple of months Lou opened his second store, MenzMode a few doors down. He renovated the shop and made it his own. If you drive down High Street, Preston today, the shop front is still exactly the same as he set up all those years ago.
Throughout the 80's and 90's Lou went on to open up over 10 stores state wide. He specialised in providing the utmost service, high quality fashion and an experience that would make you want to come back every single weekend.
After the 1992 recession, the menswear industry took a hard hit, but Lou's resilience and strength kept him going. From 10 stores he downsized to 6: Doncaster, Highpoint, Chapel Street, Northland, Lygon Street and Ivanhoe. Lou and family, including his nephew, my cousin Toni, made these stores what they were. These were hard times for everyone and they worked extremely hard and long hours to keep the businesses going. In 2005 Lou, Toni and Lee came together and restructured the business ahead of major changing times in retail. From there they downsized again to 3 stores: Doncaster, The Glen and Ivanhoe.
In the meantime, I was running a muck at school and playing soccer and not thinking about anything to do with taking over my father's business - until my cousin Toni mentioned it to me and thought it would be a good idea. I started off by working on Friday after school and on Sundays with him, Saturdays were always kept free for soccer! My job was to never speak to customers, only listen to my father and Toni when they spoke, make coffees, clean up after them and learn as much as I could.
This is where I learned most of the things I know about menswear and sales. My father who is the ultimate salesman and has an extremely knowledgeable menswear mind, can turn any single thing into a positive experience for the customer. My cousin Toni had such an eclectic way of understanding the needs and wants of every single person. It was so intriguing to sit back and understand how men needed to be served, serviced, addressed and shown how to wear or what to wear, when they didn't even know themselves. It is a trait that doesn't just come with working in menswear, it's one of genuine compassion, care and love of what you do. That has been Lou's greatest asset.
After graduating from the school of Lou and Toni, in 2009 I was sent to work with long-time family friend Lee, at our store in The Glen. I used to catch two trams and a train to get to work on a Sunday Morning. Death! I learned a lot from Lee and a totally different approach to fashion and selling. I think this was my dad's plan, to learn off the three best people in menswear at the time. Not only that, but to understand there are many different approaches to fashion, business and life and that you need to find who you are as a person to be the best version of yourself so you can become successful in anything you do.
In 2010, I finished Year 12. Within three hours of finishing my final exam, I had a Friday night shift at The Glen and I never looked back. Balancing a soccer career and work at the age of 17 with no licence was difficult but manageable. I started to work full time catching public transport to and from work and then to Pascoe Vale for soccer. It was a big mission, but just like Lou, I loved every single part of it, so I was happy to do what it took.
Two years later, Lee put in the word to my father that I was ready to take the next step and work at our flagship Doncaster store. This was a big deal as this was Lou's go-to - his clients, big corporate men and a very affluent clientele. As Toni had moved on, Alan, Tim and I came through. I learned a lot from Alan in that period that he was with us, he was a former Regional Manager for the Ralph Lauren Group. As he moved on, Tim (now owner of Dyonsu on Chapel Street) came on board with us.
Picture this, it's 2013: Lou - a menswear stalwart, Alan - a former Regional Manager for the Ralph Lauren Group, Tim - the most successful menswear trader on Chapel Street in the 90s - and me! I was way out of my league, but this was all good for me. It was time for me to learn more about the industry that I had started to fall in love with. I can't wait to share all of this knowledge with you over my next few blog posts.
It's 2020, in the middle of a global pandemic. I stand in my store now, look back and reflect on the past 10 years working in this industry. I have learned a lot, made a lot of mistakes, made many friends and created a large clientele on top of the one my father has left me.
I can't wait to continue writing this blog. I'll keep you in the loop with what we do here daily and share some great and funny stories about MenzMode since I've been here. There are some beauties!
Until then, stay safe :)