Q&A: John Carroll of Carroll & Co.

By  December 19, 2012


Carrol and Co. remains a staple in premium menswear with deep roots in Hollywood and Beverly Hills. The West Los Angeles retailer has retained its presence for over six decades, catering to the likes of Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and many others along the way. We recently had the opportunity to chat with John Carroll about his business, Carroll & Co.’s history in the area, how they continue to remain a leader in the menswear world and where John sees the company heading in the next decade.

Q:

Can you tell me a little about the mission of the company and what makes Carroll and Co. different?

A:

When you talk about a mission or difference, our mission is sort of three fold: fine quality, fine service, and fine tailoring. Everything that we commit to is rooted in those three things. We try to be different and most of what we do is private label merchandise. I go to Europe two or three times a year to do the line. We don’t have brands in our store that the department stores do. So, what you’re seeing in our store, I’m sure you’ve heard the term “specialty store” it really is special.

That’s in terms of the merchandise. In terms of the personnel we have a number of people who have been here 20 or 30 years. When you walk into a store, and you talk about the bar Cheers, you know, everybody knows your name, I probably know 80% of the people who walk into the door But the guys on the floor, a lot of them are very familiar with the people who come in.

In terms of tailoring, we don’t send any of our tailoring out. Everything is done on the premises. We have anywhere from seven to eight people in our tailor shop. My two head tailors; one has been here 32 years, one has been here over 20 years and coupling that with our made to measure department where we will tailor a suit, not on the premises but we’ll have a suit tailored out to your specifications. That’s really the area that is growing right now. Made to measure in terms of suits jackets, and so on.

Q:

We’ve heard that you have some customers that have been coming back for 50+ years?

A:

Yeah, we sort of have a little saying in the store. When my father started in business way back in the 50’s he had a very small store on the corner of Charleville and Beverly Drive, and he was there for about three years. We still have some customers from Charleville, so we sort of have a saying that “he’s a Charleville customer”, that’s going back over 60 years.

Q:

Growing up in the family business, did you always want to work in the shop or did you have other things in mind?

A:

I did take a liking at a young age, I was in here ticketing shirts, sweeping floors, taking out trash and filing files. I was doing that around twelve to thirteen years old and I always just sort of liked the business. My father took me on a buying trip when I was fourteen to England and Scotland which was a very memorable trip for me and I kind of got to see how a lot of these factories worked and how a lot of these mills operate and that was very exciting. I think I was a teenager like any rebellious teenager, if I was pushed into the business, if my father had said to me: “you have to come in, I need you” I probably would have been turned off but he was always very low key about it. It was always; if you want to come in it’s there, if you want to go out and go to the beach or ski or something go right ahead. It was always a very, very comfortable place for me.

Q:

Hollywood seems to have a love affair with Carrol & Co. Do you think it stems back to the way the shop was founded?

A:

Yeah, I’m sure there’s a lot of genesis there because my father did work at Warner Brothers, he was a press agent for a lot of famous people. Like any great business, your best advertising is word of mouth. As people came in and people found him they would tell two friends and they would tell two friends and that’s really how the business started. I remember Jack Lemmon once telling me a story that the first time he was here to do a movie he landed in Los Angeles and they actually took him from the plane to Carroll & Co. to outfit him for that picture. He hadn’t seen anything else except Carroll & Co. So there’s stories like that, Sinatra stories, Gene Kelly stories etc.

Q:

As a child or as the owner now do you remember any of the Sinatra stories?

A:

I remember many years ago I remember Sinatra came in and bought a bunch of stuff and our delivery guy had to bring it up to the house. He went up to the house and came back ten minutes later and all of the stuff was still in the back of the truck and I said to him “what happened?” He said: “there’s a big dog in the driveway and I am not getting out of the car until he’s gone. You’ve got to call Sinatra’s house and have them put the dog away or else I’m not coming back.” So I called the house and I spoke to the person and said: listen our delivery man was just there and apparently there’s a very large dog in the driveway and he doesn’t do very well with dogs, could you put him away for five to ten minutes while he brings the packages in?” She went on to describe that the dog was probably no more than five pounds and was so old that he had no teeth, so the delivery man really has nothing to worry about. Just funny little anecdotes like that.

Q:

You’ve been in business for over six decades. These days a business is lucky to stay in business for six months to a year. What do you attribute your success to?

A:

I think I certainly learned a good work ethic from my father. My father was a wonderful merchant, he was very on top of his business, he worked six days a week, that was not up for discussion. He missed a lot of my little league games and a lot of my stuff growing up but I knew that the store was of the highest priority to him and that has carried through to me. I’m involved in every aspect from the selling of the merchandise to the buying of the merchandise, the accounting, the marketing, the advertising. Any and everything, I’m not an absentee owner. From that standpoint, if I was giving advice to someone who was going into business: pay attention, don’t just assume that because you have a Beverly Hills address that that’s a recipe for success because it’s not. We don’t trade down, we don’t bring in merchandise to get a big markup on it and put it on sale which I know is is something that a lot of the department stores do. We’re very fair, we’re not a promotions store, we stick to our guns. There’s always a reason why a store goes out of business; whether it’s luck which we’ve certainly had a lot of or leases. We were fortunate enough to buy our own building about 15 years ago. I still have a lot of drive and motivation.

Q:

The company has evolved and changed with different trends as it should. Where do you see the company going in the next 10 years?

A:

Well, I think we would be remissed to not say that digital marketing is important whether it’s online commerce or online advertising. That’s certainly the growing area in terms of marketing. In terms of merchandise, made-to-measure is becoming stronger and stronger. The reason for that is because men don’t wear (at least in Southern California) suits as much as they used to. So it’s not like somebody needs a couple of suits right away because he’s got to replace some that are old and tattered. So, for him to pick something out and have it made expressly for him in detail, in the way he wants, whether it’s his own linings or his own modeling or buttons, lapels, two button, three button whichever. We have a lot of guys who will do that now and I think that’s just an area that will continue to grow. We’ve had a lot of help from our manufacturers. They’ve adjusted the manufacturing time for made to measure garments so that is no longer a ten week ordeal. It’s more of a four or five week privilege I kind of say.

Q:

We’ll finish up with: If there was one essential piece that every man should have in his closet, what would it be?

A:

I think every man should have a solid navy blue suit and I say that with an asterix because I could also tell you a man’s got to have a great pair of denim jeans. I could tell you a guys got to have the perfect polo shirt. When you talk about a navy suit, it can do a lot. You can dress it up or dress it down, if you want to wear it with a black t-shirt it’s ok. If you want to wear it with a dressy tie and a white shirt it’s ok. It works as a black tie alternative if you don’t own a tux. You can go a lot of places with a solid navy suit.

For more information about John Carroll and Carroll & Co. please visit carrollandco.com