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Men's clothier prospered amid recession

Jos. A. Bank expands stores, product line with promotions, sharp marketing

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Attorney Bruce Powell shops at a Joseph A. Banks clothing store in Baltimore, Maryland, on June 27, 2011. While other clothing stores struggled during the recession, the men's store was able to thrive and even open new locations around the country.

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BALTIMORE -- Most retailers struggled through the recession. Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc. thrived.

While other men's clothing chains were shutting stores and cutting costs in the face of shrinking profits, the Hampstead, Md.-based retailer was expanding and investing.

Jos. A. Bank opened new stores -- 110 nationwide since 2008, bringing the total to 527 -- broadened its product line, started outlet and tuxedo-rental businesses, and announced plans recently to take its e-commerce site international.

Most important, throughout the downturn the company, which specializes in career wear for men, offered promotions and sharp marketing -- at one point even offering to take back suits from men who had been laid off.

Now, as the economy sputters back to life and many retailers work to rebuild, analysts say Jos. A. Bank is ahead of the game.

Sales of men's apparel in the United States have been shaky, falling from $53.2 billion in 2009 to $51.3 billion a year later, according to the New York-based market research firm NPD Group. Sales climbed to $53.4 billion in April of this year.

NPD has found that men stop shopping for themselves when times are hard.

"They'll only buy when they're forced to replenish," said Marshal Cohen, NPD's chief retail analyst. "They'll wear their boxer shorts until the elastic wears out and their socks until there are holes in" them.

Some of Jos. A. Bank's rivals struggled during the downturn.

Analysts attribute much of the Jos. A. Bank's success to its deep discounts. Sales are offered so frequently -- often, several times a week -- that some shoppers joke they're not sure when there isn't some sort of promotion or sale going on.

Jos. A. Bank Chief Executive Officer R. Neal Black said bargains were the only way to attract cash-strapped shoppers during the recession.

"We offered pretty compelling values at a time when consumers needed it," he said. "The consumer will let you know what he is willing to pay."

Jos. A. Bank also gains from a lack of competition in its niche.

Men's Wearhouse is Bank's biggest rival, analysts said. Department stores have become less competitive, and stores such as Brooks Brothers attract a higher-end customer.

As the economy continues to improve, Mr. Black said, the company will have to watch costs. Prices of raw materials already have started to rise and the company has begun to increase some prices.

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