TUCSON, Ariz. – Franklin’s, the first men’s clothing store west of the Mississippi River to sell the iconic Polo clothing line and the nation’s first to carry the popular Tommy Bahama brand, is marking its 50th anniversary.
“It’s rare for a small retailer to survive and thrive for 50 years. You have to evolve to stay ahead of the curve,” said owner George Fangmann. “Nothing is sacred anymore. All the large stores now carry the lines that used to distinguish the smaller ones. For us to be different we have to shop and find the lines that are not in department stores or we have to buy them differently.”
Fangmann has been focused on creating a difference since he purchased the store. He moved to Tucson in 1967 to attend the University of Arizona and worked at Franklin’s until moving home to New Jersey to work for his family’s business. He returned to Tucson when the store’s owners asked him to manage a fourth store they were opening. Over the years, the company closed three stores. Fangmann has been its sole owner since 1993.
Fangmann said Franklin’s, located at 5420 E. Broadway, will be closed Saturday through Tuesday as its staff marks down prices 20 percent to 60 percent for a 50th anniversary sale that is open to the public on Thursday, June 3. Sale hours will be 9:00 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday.
“It’s quite rare, especially these days, for a company to celebrate 50 years in business. In a university town, the challenges are even greater because there’s just a constant churn of the retail base,” Fangmann said. “Still, we’ve had a number of customers who have shopped here for decades and remember our store near the campus.”
That campus location was sportswear driven and also carried traditional dress wear. Franklin’s, which since 1960 had carried the Lacoste brand with the famed crocodile label, opted for a new product in 1972. A buying trip to New York resulted in Franklin’s becoming the first store in the entire western United States to sell the Polo brand.
Fangmann also made a splash with a label that remains hugely popular today.
“We were the first Tommy Bahama account in the country. I bought it over the phone from Tommy Margolis in 1988. He was on the beach in Miami. He had a line called Genera and he asked me what I thought of the name ‘Tommy Bahama.’ I said, ‘It’s a horrible name!’” Fangmann recalled, noting it didn’t stop him from buying another winner.
In 1993, he shifted away from the store’s trademark traditional men’s wear to contemporary European styles to fill changing market demands.
Fangmann notes Franklin’s has been more than a trend-setter. One former employee is shaping today’s clothing industry. David Witman, a former member of the Wildcats swim team, managed the then-Franklin’s store in Phoenix until his wife transferred to Chicago.
“A few weeks later a Nordstrom guy called me. I said, ‘You’d better hire him and watch him,’” Fangmann said.
Witman is an executive vice president and the general merchandise manager for Nordstrom, a Seattle-based retailer with 112 full-line stores, 68 clearance stores, 52,000 employees and $8.5 billion in revenues last year. He was recently named one of the 100 Most Powerful People in the Men’s Fashion.
Fangmann notes menswear retailers have faced tremendous market pressures across the nation yet Franklin’s continues to succeed.
“There are 3,500 fewer specialty stores than a decade ago. I’m the face of Franklin’s. It speaks to the idea that I wanted to survive so I can do what I want to do,” he said. “What I want to do is serve customers. And, I plan on Franklin’s being here 50 years from now, too.”
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For additional information, contact Eric Woolson at (515) 681-3967 or George Fangmann at (520) 747-0680.