Man About Town: How Social Skills Rather than Social Media Saved a Small Business


After leaving a New York custom tailoring shop to try his own hand at it in San Francisco, Ryan Devens thought things were going pretty well. He'd launched Tailors' Keep in early 2015 with a local and very focused approach making custom clothing — both traditional tailored attire as well as casual — for a largely tech industry clientele. "We were non-pretentious and eager to educate and instill knowledge with those for whom this was their first rodeo," says Devens.

Things were going OK until eventually the looming cloud of the tech industry essentially required Devens to establish an impressive online presence. "For almost two years we did our best at creating beautiful content through social media and held an event here and there to increase local awareness. But it still wasn't helping us stick our necks above the crowd and in late 2016 we almost shut our doors, liquidating all staff and contractors."

Over the Christmas break, Devens thought long and hard about his situation. The plus side was that he'd taken no outside capital and didn't owe anything — outside of the emotional support from friends and family. "I plotted what this demise would look like both financially and egotistically, and reflected, almost from a third-party perspective, on what had been accomplished the prior two years in a tech-focused city where face-to-face communication is forever on the decline."

That's when Devens got fresh insight on what he'd done right. "People genuinely enjoy scheduling time with me and having me manufacture clothing for them," he says. "It's intimate and special and ultimately a way for folks to feel comfortable and known by my team. 

"I decided I'd literally go for broke and give it three more months and see what happened if I forgot about profitability and prioritized each individual who entered my shop. It sounds simple and perhaps like not a good use of time for a business owner/creative director, but it couldn't have proven to be a better decision."

By the end of the first month of focusing on social interaction rather than social media, Devens could hardly count the number of suits he'd made based on referrals. And putting in the extra effort to exceed customer expectations led to stellar reviews on Yelp and Google, which led to more customers. By August, typically a slow month in retail, Tailors' Keep had its best month ever, beating out the previous year's worst month by 12 times.

"In summary, refocusing on what matters most saved the business," says Devens. "Growth, profitability, cool factor, online content — all take the back seat to creating a genuine experience for each client.  We're in the people business, and these days face-to-face interaction isn't the norm. We're not perfect by any means, but we're honest about that. And hardly by coincidence in custom clothing, imperfect people happen to be our core demographic. There’d be no need for custom clothing if everyone fit off of the rack”

Christian Chensvold is an Apparel Contributing Writer and the founder of Ivy Style.

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