“IF YOU build it, they will come” is not advice I thought would apply to the opening of a high-end men’s clothing store in Rogers, one that specializes in Italian designers and where a pair of shoes costs nearly as much as the average mortgage payment. This is not a dig. It’s just that these days, with a retail apocalypse in full swing (nearly 7,000 stores, large and small, boutique and chain, closed in the United States last year), opening such an enterprise, even in a more urban area, seems … risky.
But here I am in Rogers, watching Donny Hubbard, the proprietor of Hubbard Clothing Co., get slammed on his very first day of business—on a Monday morning, no less. I watch as his first customer walks out with a pair of those aforementioned mortgage-payment-equivalent Scarpe di Bianco shoes (price tag: $995). And after an entire day of watching—my planned one-hour visit morphs into a five-hour hangout session as I catch Donny between customers and visitors—I get the sense that they will indeed be coming to this place he has built, and leaving the better dressed for it.
When I’d first arrived on the scene, Donny had copped to the risk he and his partner are taking: “Being in retail in general, and brick and mortar in particular, is a bold move,” he admits. “That’s why I figured if we did it, we had to do it really well. We had to make it an experience. People have to walk in here and be emotionally moved. They have to want to be a part of it.”
I watch as visitors to the shop ooh and ahh as they cross the threshold and cast a glance up at the floating ceilings. The space they’ve entered is luxurious, fun and sexy, designed by Chris Goddard of the Fayetteville-based Goddard Design Group.
“If I had tried to do it, it would have been fine, but it wouldn’t have been like this,” Donny tells me. “Chris is the expert, and I trusted him with all of the design decisions. It’s the same thing as when people will get out of my way and let me do their wardrobe: It’ll be 10 times better.”
I believe it. Exhibit A: Donny is the best-dressed, most impeccably groomed man I’ve ever encountered. Today, he’s sporting a perfectly tailored Boglioli jacket, PT01 trousers, a pair of those di Bianco shoes and a Panerai watch. Exhibit B: Donny knows his stuff. He’s been obsessed with fashion since he was 13, when he befriended the owner of Rainwater’s, the men’s clothing store in Fort Smith.
“I thought, This is the sharpest guy I’ve ever met in my entire life,” he recalls, “and I just kind of attached myself to him until by default, he started mentoring me.” After devouring every book and magazine he could get his hands on to learn about men’s fashion and grooming, Donny went on to get his start in retail at Rainwater’s. From there, he became the co-owner and managing partner of Baumans in Northwest Arkansas, which he ultimately rebranded in 2009 as The Independent. He’s back in Northwest Arkansas after a year-long stint as a buyer and merchandiser for Rodes in Louisville, Kentucky.
At Hubbard, in addition to a meticulously curated selection of high-end men’s clothing and accessories, the “gentleman shopper,” as Donny refers to his clientele, is also offered customized tailoring of any garment sold off the rack, as well as custom denim and made-to-measure suits.
But remember: The store is meant to be an experience for shoppers, a place they’ll log off their computers for. That’s why there’s an on-site barbershop offering shaves and haircuts, as well as a speakeasy-chic lounge located just off the retail space. “I believe this space and what we’ve created here can turn shoppers into committed customers,” Donny says as we walk into the “gentlemen’s club,” plopping down on a sleek red leather sofa. But before he’s able to finish his thought, he’s off again to greet yet another gentleman shopper.