BROWNSBURG, Ind. – Citing the prolonged weak economy and changing consumer trends, the owner of Laughlin’s Menswear said today that he will close the store he has owned for 27 years and sell its entire inventory with a quitting-business sale that begins next week.
“I almost did it a year ago but decided to hang in there and keep going. I might have stuck it out had we not had this recession,” Steve Laughlin said. “I’ve been here since 1984 so this was not a decision that comes lightly.”
The public sale of the store’s inventory will begin Thursday. The store, 1032 East Main St., will be open from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. weekdays, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Saturday and 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Sunday during the quitting-business sale.
Laughlin, who was raised on a farm near Rushville, earned a bachelor’s degree in natural resources at Ball State University and went to work for the Indiana Department of Fish and Wildlife. He moved to California and worked in sales for several years before returning to Indiana. He worked in the Brownsburg store before purchasing it for the owner.
“All those years I’d been looking for something I liked and I found I really liked talking to people and really liked the retail business,” said Laughlin, who borrowed money from his father to buy the store.
Laughlin’s forte was word-of-mouth marketing and he captured attention for his store’s tuxedo rental section by hiring high school students to wear formal wear to classes as proms neared each year. “It was the least expensive thing I could do and it had the most punch,” he explained. “The store’s main focus was on the everyday men’s wear but I think high school kids are a blast because they just want to have fun. I’d hired one high school student each year, usually a football player at the end of that season, train them in time for the Christmas shopping season and they’d work at the store until the end of the school year.”
Like many independent men’s clothing stores around the country, Laughlin’s business flourished during the 1980s but began a long cycle of ups and downs through the early 1990s that stretched through the 2000s. Laughlin said sales slowed in 2006 with the arrival of the Kohl’s store in Brownsburg and dropped again in 2009 as the recession hit.
With chain stores purchasing massive lots of clothes from shops in China and India at lower prices, Laughlin and other independent retailers have seen their suppliers struggle and go out of business over the past decade. Compounding the store’s challenges were two other national trends: more consumers are also purchasing their clothes online, and more men are wearing increasingly casual clothes in the workplace and at previously formal events such as weddings.
“Men don’t dress up as much for work us they used to do years ago. First it was casual Friday and then the whole work week became much more casual. That’s when the trend toward buying clothes really moved from the independent men’s stores to the big box stores,” Laughlin said. “We’ve really battled that by delivering a higher level of customer service but the time has come to call it quits.”