This week we met with Billy Wermerskirchen who is a 3rd generation owner of Bill's Toggery located in Shakopee, Minnesota. Upon entering, the shop had an immediate feel of home. Everyone knew everyone, and it was apparent that the shop has centered itself around importance of community. Billy greeted each person by first name as they entered the store, and made sure to give each customer his undivided attention as he tended to each of their needs. We were lucky enough to witness Billy in his element as he fitted a customer for a suit. We also were able sneak a peek into his family life, as he juggled appointments, and a quick family moment between him, his wife, and his son. In between his full schedule of appointments, we were able to chat with him for a few minutes about the past, future, and present of Bill's Toggery.
Tell us a little bit about how the company started.
Billy: My grandfather started the company back in 1931. He started out with $150, and a dry-cleaning service in Minneapolis. Eventually he started his own production and then got into men’s clothes and then slowly expanded into the store today that you’re in now.
Somewhere along the line we picked up doing tuxedos, formal wear, and nowadays suit purchasing is a very big thing for weddings, too. It’s evolved into what it is today, and our business is as strong as ever.
We are coming off of our biggest year, this past year and a lot of that is due to the wedding parties. It’s not necessarily that the weddings are bigger or that they are willing to spend more money. The norms of weddings have changed, but our rental service is still going strong. So, that’s just a part of our business.
We are a full service men’s clothing store. We fit anyone from kids in high school for prom, to older gentlemen like you just saw now, to big and tall guys. A lot of people come to us for formal wear tuxedos, because we can fit big, tall, small, and we know how do that.
It’s not easy to do. A lot people look on YouTube these days to see how to get sized. We know right away whether the sizes work or not, and we spend a lot of time on the back-end of things making sure everything fits.
Did the business start here in Shakopee?
Billy: Yes. It started right here in this building.
Was your father an owner of the company as well?
Billy: Yep. My Grandfather was William. My dad was William P., and I’m William J., then you just saw my son who is William R.
So, do you think your son will eventually take over the business? Is that the goal?
Billy: Oh, I don’t know. We’ll see. God-willing we’re still here. You know, hopefully he’s got the opportunity and the choice to do that.
So, what sets your business apart from other tailors?
Billy: There used to be a store like ours in every single town. People took them for granted. Now, there’s hardly any around. There’s just a few shops like us in the Twin Cities. You could never start a store like this from scratch. You just couldn’t. The amount of clothes we carry, the variety of clothes we carry… I mean, clothing stores nowadays are more geared towards more specific demographics.
I’ve got something for the guy that wants something slim fit and fashion forward. I’ve got something for the more traditional guy that wants something a little more loose fitting. So we are full service, we are that way because we’ve evolved over the years. We have something for everybody, and that’s not easy to do.
I just had a customer in from Edina this morning, that didn’t want the big business experience, and he came out here and bought a suit. That was my first customer in the door this morning. So, we are a hard thing to find because of service and selection and fit and just knowledge about the product. You just don’t find that out there anymore. We know how to do that.
What would you say is the most difficult part of your job? And what is the best?
Billy: Oh the best part is helping people. It shows up when they walk out of the door with a smile on their face. When most guys don’t want to be here to shop, whether they are up in weight a little bit, or they just don’t want to dress up… then we show them how much fun it can be, and how comfortable they can be, and explain why things are the way they are.
The thing I like least about my business is doing everything all at once. I like a lot of aspects of the business, just not all at once. There’s always risk, there’s no one else above me. I’m the boss. I get to enjoy all of the rewards, but I also shoulder the risks.
Do you have any favorite memories with your customers? Or just favorite memories in general while working here?
Billy: Oh boy. I have memories of walking in the door and my grandpa being here. I grew up here crawling around the racks, just like you saw my son doing here. I grew up seven blocks away, so when I had nothing else to do, I would come in and wait for my dad. Also, all of the employees over the years. I’ve gotten to know a lot of people.
What is your goal for the future of this business?
Billy: My goal, well, because we are very service-orientated, and very hands-on, and our level of quality is very high, I’m not looking to open up more spots. I’m looking to maximize the business that we have in this spot. I would like to be able to hire more staff, so that I can have some help on the floor. It’s just a matter of getting word out, and getting more business.
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