Small business survival in a big-box universe

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No one was home when UPS attempted to deliver the really cheap 24-inch TV I bought on impulse last week. Instead of promising to try later, the UPS note directed me to pick it up the next business day at 1900 Ridge Road East.

Odd. I didn’t know that UPS had a depot at that location. In fact, that address belongs to Vittorio Menswear & Tuxedo. Has the logistics biz gone upmarket? (It would be so convenient—my cummerbund is showing signs of wear.) 

“Excuse me, but I’m told I can pick up my UPS package?” I skeptically asked Vittorio, expecting an apologetic, “So sorry, signore. That’s just a mistake. See the building in the back.”

Instead, I received a cheery, “Certainly, sir. If UPS can’t deliver, they bring packages here for pickup.” And not from the presumably Italian Vittorio, but from his successor owner, Matt McDermott. 

Matt explained that they accept packages for UPS pickup and hold packages UPS can’t deliver. The old rule was that UPS tried three times before bringing the package back to the UPS Center where the clerk would process a “return to sender” shipment. (That’s something I know all about, having worked as a UPS Center clerk in a previous life.)

Matt McDermott
(Photo by Lori & Erin Photography)

What a sensible sideline for a retailer! I doubt that Matt and his wife and business partner, Jennifer, are paying the mortgage on fees from UPS, but every bit helps. Having driven past Vittorio’s for years, I’ve wondered how it is doing in this increasingly casual era. I do own a tux—purchased many years ago for college choir—but I haven’t been invited to a “black tie” event in years. 

There was a Vittorio, incidentally, Vittorio Barbagallo. He started the business in 1972. When he retired in 2012, Matt and Jennifer took it over.

Retail’s a tough business

Matt works a lot of hours. A lot of hours. His biggest competitors are the mall shops so he can’t afford to be closed on Sundays or evenings. 

Like most retail, formal wear is seasonal and cyclical. Rentals peak in the May prom season when Matt has a dozen part-timers helping out. Late spring and early summer are also big for weddings, the other key source of rental demand. 

Seasonality wreaks havoc with cash flow, of course. That’s one reason that Jennifer works full time at Catholic Family Services, bringing home a steady paycheck.

Although formal wear is not as fickle as the dress business, Matt has to be constantly responding to cycles in formal fashion. As he explains, “It used to be that guys would wear a suit to work and rent a tux for special occasions. Now work wear is khakis and formal occasions means a suit.” 

Going with the flow, Vittorio’s both sells and rents suits. In many wedding parties, some will choose to rent and others buy, depending on the odds of wearing that suit for another occasion. 

Like many small-business owners, Matt’s active in the community, participating in the NextGen, peer-led philanthropy initiative at the Rochester Area Community Foundation and as president of the board at NeighborWorks Rochester

Successful small businesses have to be creative to hold their own against national competitors. Matt has access to wholesalers who can rent to him on a moment’s notice when he needs a 46-extra-long in that fuchsia that matches the bridesmaids’ dresses. And he taps a nationwide network of independents when the bride’s brother in Memphis needs to get fitted. 

“But you can’t out-Walmart Walmart,” he says. 

Great service and community engagement are critical success factors.

And there’s that side business in shipping and receiving! Noting Matt’s long hours, UPS approached him a couple of years ago to serve as a UPS Access Point. It works for Matt. 

And it works for me—next time I’ve a prepaid package destined for UPS, I’ve a convenient place to drop it off.

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