Ready to Geaux
Tuxedos to Geaux is revolutionizing men’s formal wear in southeast Louisiana.
At Tuxedos to Geaux in Metairie, clothier Mel Grodsky offers his ever-growing client base the chance to feel like a million bucks … for only $159.
Pay that price and Grodsky will package a full custom-fit tuxedo (coat, pants, formal shirt, cummerbund and tie) and throw in a lifetime of free alterations.
It’s a shocking value that begs the question, “What’s the catch?”
The modern era of virus-riddled emails and “one neat trick” diet pills has molded a cynical, beady-eyed crowd of consumers, eager to Yelp a scam artist out of business. Yet Grodsky has no discernable tricks up his cuff-linked sleeves.
The business model of Tuxedos to Geaux relies on a constant stream of new clients. After all, the promise of free alterations and service for life doesn’t make for a profitable returning customer. But the guarantee and its ensuing loyalty has yielded rewards.
“Everybody that walks out of our store thanks us,” says Grodsky. “Word-of-mouth is far and away our biggest source of clients.”
To his New Orleans clientele, he’s Mel Grodsky, a longtime business owner and fixture in men’s retail. As the good word carries his business further and further afield, however, he’s become known less by name than by trade. “Some of the fraternities just call me ‘The Tuxedo Guy.’”
The Tuxedo Guy makes calls to campus after campus, servicing LSU, Southeastern, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, dozens of area high schools, and anywhere else that beckons.
“We’re running,” Grodsky says. “I’m on the road all the time since I fit them all myself.”
The Birth of Tuxedos to Geaux
Tuxedos to Geaux established its brick and mortar in March 2014, but the richer thread begins in 1860 when the New Orleans clothing store H.B. Stevens’ opened on Canal Street.
A similar shop, Porter’s, set up later on Baronne.
The two popular stores merged in the 1970s under the ownership of the Chicago-based Hart Shaffner & Marx. The company sprinkled several Porter Stevens locations, now marketing men’s and women’s retail, throughout Louisiana and Mississippi.
Hart Shaffner & Marx filed for bankruptcy in 1995, shuttering all the Porter Stevens stores. Seeing an opportunity, Grodsky bought the rights to use the name.
Grodsky took the Porter Stevens cachet and opened a smaller location geared solely toward men in Metairie’s Lakeside Shopping Center.
The clothing business has always been ingrained in Grodsky. Just two years after Lakeside Shopping Center opened in 1965, Grodsky began working at his father’s store, Wright Tailors. He then went on to helm Mel’s School Uniforms, Mel’s Monograms, and J. Michael’s, which he closed shortly after taking over Porter Stevens.
“At the time, things were changing,” he says. “Styles were changing. Men weren’t wearing suits like they used to in the old days.”
Inventory at the Grodsky-owned Porter Stevens adjusted to meet the trends. “But Macy’s was killing us,” he says. “They took every brand we had and put it into low costs like Walmart does and tried to put us out of business.”
But Grodsky remained savvy, and soon the changing trends swung his way.
“About two years before we closed, I kept getting calls from kids coming into the store for one fraternity, one high school prom, or one thing or another,” he says. “And we really weren’t in the tuxedo business. So I decided to aim for a special price point where I could compete with the big guys who were going after us.”
Making the Leap
Demand for tuxedos was on the rise at LSU fraternity houses. “I was driving around providing this very unique service,” says Grodsky. For group sales, he would travel free of charge from Metairie to Baton Rouge to outfit his new clients.
Predictably, the $159 tuxedo set took off.
“Every time I’d find one fraternity, another fraternity would want to do the same,” he says. “So I was running around like crazy.”
The word spread beyond college boys to groomsmen, Mardi Gras revelers, and even ringbearing toddlers. (Grodsky describes his demographic as “anyone who needs a tux.”)
Finally, Porter Stevens had an edge on the monolithic competition.
“And they can’t compete with us on service and experience,” adds Grodsky.
The venerable “Porter Stevens” name packed less of a punch as Grodsky’s business expanded well beyond New Orleans consumers.
“A great deal of the students I outfitted, and continue to outfit, aren’t from Louisiana, they’re from all over the country,” he says. “Plus, the ones from Baton Rouge didn’t know Porter Stevens. They couldn’t associate Porter Stevens with anything even though it had a history since 1865.”
Grodsky credits his daughter, Sarah, then an LSU student, with crafting the magnetic new name.
“We figured if they can remember ‘tuxedos’ and they can remember ‘Geaux Tigers,’ it’ll work out,” he says.
Rent vs. Own
“Why just rent a tuxedo when you’ve got to bring it back, and then you’ve got nothing for your money?” argues Grodsky.
But for men who don’t foresee a formal occasion again in the near future, the high price tag attached to most quality tuxedos can’t be justified.
“I don’t know how it works in other cities,” says the New Orleans entrepreneur, “but here you have so many occasions to wear a tux.”
Even so, for non-residents, it’s no stretch to reach cost-effective status when the cost is less than $200. At Tuxedos to Geaux, “you pay just a little bit more than a rental, or maybe even less than a rental. Wear it twice in five years and you’ve paid for it,” Grodsky says.
Along with lifetime alterations, Tuxedos to Geaux tailors to clients’ ongoing tastes.
“Say you’re in a wedding and need a vest to match the bridesmaids’ dresses, but then you want a Mardi Gras vest down the road,” Grodsky says. “Once you buy a tux from us, every accessory we sell goes to half price.”
For two years, Grodsky sold his tuxedo package in Lakeside Shopping Center.
“Then I decided that keeping the mall overhead and hours was not going to work with this price range. The price is really critical to compete with the rentals.”
Grodsky vacated the mall, his workplace for almost half a century.
“Basically I retired for a week,” he laughs.
He turned to Brinkman’s, a men’s clothing store on Severn Avenue in Metairie, with a strategic suggestion.
“I told them, ‘Why don’t you let me just put a little tuxedo department in there and I can take it a little easier?” he says. “No more nights. No more Black Fridays. No more seven days a week.’”
His pitch succeeded … and then some. “Within six months, we outgrew that space.”
Now Tuxedos to Geaux makes its home on 16th Street, where Grodsky pays one-third of the rent he paid at the mall.
The staff consists of Grodsky, two full-time employees, his wife and his daughter (who is being groomed to take over Tuxedos to Geaux), along with an alteration team that includes two full-time and one part-time worker.
With the approach of Mardi Gras and prom season, he’ll find part-time help to handle the sales spike.
Even while maintaining his bargain price, Grodsky has been able to secure well-made tuxedos thanks to tremendous volume.
“I found three sources of tuxedo suppliers that work with me,” he says. “They know they’re going to get paid and that I’ll cut a high volume.”
Mardi Gras Spike
“Before us, people were just getting the cheapest thing they could find for balls,” says Grodsky. “Those rentals usually run about $99, and that doesn’t even include accessories.”
Patrons of Tuxedos to Geaux also skirt the obligation of returning the tux the next day. “Who wants to do anything the morning after a Mardi Gras ball?” Grodsky points out.
Tuxedos to Geaux also extends service to last-minute celebrants.
“If you come in town and get tickets to Endymion or Bacchus two days before the event, just call us from your hotel, give me your measurements, and I’ll deliver your tuxedo to you Downtown at no charge.”
Tuxedos to Geaux offers both tuxedos and suits at the $159 price. To add a vest, Grodsky tacks $10 on to the bill.
“You either pay us $159 or $169. We make it really simple,” he says.
Grodsky established the tuxedo package in 2009 with minimal inventory.
“It was no big investment,” he says. “Now we’re stocking inventory like crazy. Every six weeks we have 500 or 600 tuxedos come in from overseas.”
His customer service strategy and client base stem from his days running Mel’s School Uniforms.
“We took care of 112 schools in the area,” says Grodsky of his days in the uniform business. “The schools loved us, but our profits were all tied up in inventory. We gave so much service away that it was time to move on and get out of it.”
The New Orleans Connection
While his customers call and email from everywhere, Grodsky finds room to showcase a little hometown pride with a selection of novelty shrimp boot shirts.
“That comes from my days in the mall,” he explains, noting that he previously stocked Lacoste shirts, but when Macy’s offered slashed prices, Grodsky had to back down.
“We needed a polo shirt to replace it,” he says. “My older daughter came up with a shrimp boot logo. Everyone knows shrimp boots in south Louisiana. Soon, we were selling more of the shrimp boot shirts at half the price of the Lacoste shirts because people could relate.”
Grodsky says his biggest challenge is “being dependent on buying things out of the country,” but he notes that the only way to compete with big retail today is to source outside the United States. As such, he’s susceptible to issues outside of his control.
And then there’s Mardi Gras.
Non-Louisiana manufacturers gear their business entirely toward prom season. “They figure if they can get their tuxes out by January, that’s wonderful,” Grodsky says. “But I tell them, ‘You don’t understand! Mardi Gras will be over by the time you unload the boat.’”