Guayaberas, personalization and service keep customers coming back to Penner’s in downtown San Antonio

From bespoke suits and colorful guayaberas to designer shoes, Penner’s employees have provided personalized service aimed at helping men look sharp for over a century.

Inside the downtown Commerce Street clothing store, jackets and shirts fill shelves near fedoras, dress socks, jeans, and cologne. Employees take customer measurements and mark garments for tailoring.

Personalized service, fit, quality of clothing and pricing got the company through fire, recessions, a changing downtown, the rise of online shopping and the coronavirus pandemic, according to the fourth generation store operators.

Polish immigrant Morris Penner started the business in 1916 as a second-hand clothing store. His sons Max, Ben and Sam later got involved and Sam opened Todd’s, a high-end clothing store.

Sam’s twin sons Mickey and Mark joined the business in the 1970s after an electrical fire in the building occupied by Penner’s. They temporarily moved the store to Frost Bank as they rebuilt and reopened Commerce.

Mark’s son Matt came on board in the 90s, helped build a website, and introduced other new technology to Penner’s. The family sold Todd’s to Tassio Italy in 2002, the same year Mickey and Sam died.

Mickey’s sons joined Penner’s – Mitchell in 2009, followed by Max in 2013. They now run the store with Matt. Many employees have worked there for decades, they said, and the store has built up a loyal following.

“What has always been instilled in us by our uncle, father and grandfather is that you provide exceptional service, a quality product and free tailoring, (and) you will have a customer for life.” , said Max Penner. “We are lucky. We have the best customers in the world.”

Mitchell and Max recently spoke about operating the store during the pandemic, competition from online retailers, and changing styles. The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: Local buyers make up a large part of your customer base. What about tourists and sales through your website?

Max: Our premises definitely constitute the majority of our activities. We would like (tourist clients) to be a bigger part. Especially with all the development going on in the region, we think this will continue to increase. Going to Market Square is always great because everyone knows that and it brings them right next to our store, and with our storefronts, I hope they come in.

(Selling online) is only a very small part of our business, but it is also growing. We’re doing a lot more social media – Facebook, Instagram – and trying to reach a different audience that probably doesn’t know us.

We sell items online, but at the same time we want to make sure that customers know exactly what we are doing and that we offer free personalization. We’re trying to prioritize more online sales, but that doesn’t come close to what we do in the store.

Q: With more people shopping online, and Amazon in particular, how do you keep customers coming back to Penner’s?

Mitchell: Every business should have a niche. Our guayaberas are our niche. But we also have retro shirts and shoes and hats that are made for us that you are not going to see on Amazon. It absolutely helps us.

Obviously, it’s a fear – “Oh, my God, they’re going to bankrupt us all.” There are just more options, and there are enough people and businesses for everyone. Are we losing any part of our business to online competitors? Yes, but we gain more with experience (store).

Max: Our prices are competitive because you can go online and see the same product and if our price is higher than that, why would you buy it from us? So we have to give it a price where it should be. We have a quality product.

You cannot physically touch the product online. You cannot try it online. You don’t have this salesperson to guide you, to show you what looks good on you, what doesn’t. You can’t get a free seam to make it fit your body like it’s right for you. You can’t duplicate that online, while shopping in bed.

Mitchell: This is what sets us apart. If someone places an order online and we think they might have missed a size or something doesn’t make sense, we’ll call them. “You placed this order; Does that make sense? Let us help you. People like this because it no longer exists.

Q: How have styles changed?

Max: With the suits, you used to have the double breasted and three buttons. Before, they were a little bigger, a little more square and the cuffs were wider. Now, over the past 10 or 12 years, it’s more of a two-button cut and a slim fit, a little tighter with a cuff. Styles are constantly changing, but the costumes for the most part have been pretty stable over the past 10 years.

Our shirts, we try to keep them very old-school with our guayaberas and that retro look, but we’ve got a bit of everything and some of our new shirts will be more of that modern fit, where you can wear them. the outside and the length is a little shorter. We don’t really cater to a specific audience. We have a bit of everything, which is what makes our store so beautiful.

Mitchell: When I joined the company we were selling more pleated pants, probably 80-20 (compared to flat pants). We went exactly the opposite. Now, these are probably 90% flat front pants.

Q: How has the pandemic affected Penner’s disease? Were you concerned about the survival of the business?

Mitchell: We never worried about our ultimate survival. It was not a fun year. Being slower, we left staff, but in the end we are quite lucky. We own our building and the inventory. Our family has always taught us to be conservative.

In this business, it’s timed. Everything you see, we bought it at one point, but you have to get it made, so we buy six months in advance for the season. When we were closed last spring, it was our biggest time of year. April is our Christmas. We got new shirts here – it was like every day – and the doors were closed.

(Our products are) so diverse. During this pandemic, there weren’t many suits sold. Unfortunately, when there was, it was for a funeral. There came a time when I stopped asking our customers what the opportunity was. Usually someone comes to buy a costume and it’s for a good occasion – a wedding, a quinceañera, a fun event, a promotion, an interview. There was a period during the pandemic, maybe four or five months, where it was for the funeral after the funeral.

People work from home and dress a little more casually. We have a lot of casual wear, so that side of the business has picked up with our online sales.

Q: Any expansion plans on the horizon or new things you are considering?

Max: We are definitely trying to grow our business online. We also focus on weddings. When you go to a men’s clothing store to rent a suit for a wedding, you can spend $ 250 to $ 300 just to use it one time. We are trying to get into this wedding business with a comparable price offer. You can own the suit, shirt, and tie and have it forever instead of wearing it once.

Before the pandemic, we planned to set up a barber and a shoe store with old-fashioned shaves, haircuts, and shoe polish.

Mitchell: It is always something that we are considering. It would differentiate us and add another service – that one-stop-shop mentality.

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