The Men Who Dress San Antonio Men - Style and service set these stores apart
SAN ANTONIO MAN : APRIL 2012
By: Courtney Burkholder
Photography: Liz Garza Williams
When it comes to building a wardrobe, the gentlemen of San Antonio prefer keeping it in the family … or rather, three families, to be exact. Despite the numerous shopping options from which men have to choose, there is just something special about these small, independently owned men’s clothing stores that keeps their customers coming back, time and again, generation after generation.
It is more than simply the high-quality clothes that line the shelves; it is the personal attention, the impeccable service and the friendly atmosphere these stores provide that make shopping anywhere else simply unthinkable. Family-owned and run, these second- and third-generation retailers take pride in continuing their family tradition and look forward to dressing the gentlemen of San Antonio for generations to come.
In 2007, an article was written in the San Antonio Express-News titled “You haven’t been to San Antonio until…” The article chronicled the top 14 must-do activities when visiting San Antonio. Along with having your picture taken in front of the Alamo and eating enchiladas at Mi Tierra’s, Number 13 read: “Do some shopping at Penner’s, where you can buy a guayabera along with tangerine Stacy Penner shoes and a hat to match!”
An institution among men’s clothing stores in San Antonio, Penner’s has been dressing the men of San Antonio for almost a century. “My grandfather, Morris, came to the United States from Poland in 1916 and opened a secondhand clothing store,” says Mark Penner, a third-generation owner of Penner’s. “My father, Sam, quit school in the third grade to go and work for him, along with his brother, Max. It was a secondhand men’s clothing store until 1934, when they made it into the new clothing store it is today.”
According to Mark, he began working in the family business “before he was bar mitzvahed.” He and his twin brother, Mickey, attended the University of Texas, and when they graduated in 1969, moved back to San Antonio to take their rightful place in the family business full time. “I always wanted to work in the business,” Mark says. “My brother and I were very close to my father, and we wanted to be with him. We fell in love with the business at a very early age.”
Located on Commerce Street in downtown San Antonio, Penner’s has been in the same location since 1927. “We rented this building from the same man for over 50 years. Finally, in 1966, he sold it to us,” explains Mark. Over the years, the store endured numerous expansions and even weathered a fire in 1978. Its loyal customers kept coming back, and business flourished. “We have a very loyal clientele from all over San Antonio and South Texas. The downtown hotels bring in business, as well,” he says.
You may wonder why, with so many shopping options from which to choose, people living in Alamo Heights or as far away as The Dominion would make the trip downtown to do their shopping. According to Mark, that’s easy: “Our strongest advantage is we constantly have a big inventory. When people come to Penner’s, they see more than they will see anywhere else. We carry clothes in boys’ toddler size up to a man’s 8X.” And their private parking lot directly behind the store makes the trip simple and pleasant.
According to Mark, Penner’s has achieved its level of success by catering to its niche markets: “We have a good boys’ clothing business. We sell many, many bar mitzvah suits to young men in San Antonio, Austin and all over South Texas. Our shoe business is second to none. We have a custom shoe line, Stacy Penner shoes, that is our trademark. You can’t find them anywhere else. But we also carry Johnston Murphy, Florsheim and Hush Puppies. We have the best price on Red Wing boots in town. It’s not where we make our money, but we bring customers in through our advertising, and once they see all that we have, they come back.”
Penner’s has also made a name for itself in the Big and Tall industry, as well as carrying a huge selection of custom-made Pisano hats. “We carry a lot of styles that other stores just don’t have. When you custom make, you have to make a lot. We feel secure in making a lot because we know that it’s a good seller, and I’d rather put my money in my inventory,” explains Mark.
Another niche market that has rocketed Penner’s into national recognition is its selection of custom-made guayaberas. “Years ago, my father and I carried China-made guayaberas, and we did very well,” says Mark. “We decided, if we are going to be known for something, we really should go down to Merida, Yucatan, where guayaberas were made originally, and find someone to make them for us. We wanted to be authentic. We now have a relationship with three families in Merida who make guayaberas exclusively for us. They customize each shirt using our top-quality fabrics and buttons, and each is made to our dimensions.” The popularity of Penner’s custom-made guayaberas is evidenced by their huge online demand. “We sell upwards of six dozen guayaberas a day,” he states with pride.
According to Mark, customer service and personal attention are mandatory for success in such a competitive market: “We have seven full-time tailors on staff, waiting on pins and needles to give free, expert alterations.” (Yes, you read that correctly: free!) “We will taper the arms, shorten the sleeves, hem, let out, whatever you need, and there is absolutely no charge. When we give a customer personal attention, pamper him, provide free alterations, then we have a customer for life. Why would he want to go anywhere else?”
Luckily for San Antonio, the Penner family tradition will almost certainly continue for generations to come. Mark’s son, Matt, has worked in the business for 14 years, and his nephew, Mitchell, joined the ranks in 2009. “We get here every morning before 7, and we’re lucky if we close at 6. We don’t leave all day long. We love the store,” says Mark.
Mitchell Penner, the youngest of the Penner men, is as passionate about the business as his uncle: “There isn’t a better feeling in the world than getting here early, working with your family, keeping the tradition alive and seeing the passion in the store and in the community. I have a customer who shopped with my grandfather, his brother, my uncle, and now myself. He started coming here in 1937. It’s a great feeling to see the history and the tradition continue while adapting to new styles and technology.”
According to Mitchell, achieving success in this competitive market is simple: “You have to eat, drink, and sweat the business to make it work.” And make it work they do.
The Penner’s employees obviously agree, as most have been with the store for many years. “We have a profit-sharing program for our employees,” Mark says proudly. “They don’t put a penny into it. At the end of the year, if we have made a profit, we share it with our employees. There you have it.” Mark’s passion for his business has made the Penner’s name synonymous with quality menswear. His philosophy is simple: “Have passion for your business. Every day is a party, and you hope your guests will come. I’m always prepared for my guests.”