Q And A With Mary Jane Denzer
Fresh off her store’s move to the Ritz-Carlton, the queen of Westchester fashion shares her wisdom on understanding customers, beating the department stores, and the secret to three decades of staying power.
Courtesy of Mary Jane Denzer
After 35 years in high-fashion retail, Mary Jane Denzer is still going strong. Her eponymous clothing boutique spent 20 years as a fixture on Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains, and now the grande-dame of Westchester couture has relocated to new posh digs at the Ritz-Carlton Westchester, also in White Plains. So what keeps this chic octaganerian’s business ahead of the pack? We caught up with her just a few days after the debut of her new location to find out.
Mary Jane Denzer
Why did you decide to move the store from your Mamaroneck Ave location to the new space at the Ritz?
MJD: I had been watching this location ever since the building went up; I kept passing it and dreaming about it but my lease was not up in my old store until the end of April [2014.] Amazingly, the space was still available when I started to think about moving. I had been at the other location for about 20 years, and I felt it was time for the next chapter. The Ritz is a luxury location, and we feel with our luxury clothes we need to be in a luxury location. It [the Ritz] pretty much says the best of everything.
What is the secret to your staying power?
MJD: The staying power comes from loving what I do everyday. It’s a fascinating business with so many different sides to it, and everyday there’s something new and exciting about it for me. I’m one of the lucky people that found what I love and proceeded for most of my life.
And what about on the business side? Retail is a tough game—to make it as an independent store for 35 years is quite a feat.
MJD: Well we’re quite business savvy, we really do concentrate very hard on the business end of it—and having had so much experience for so many years, I think I just know how to run a business. In this difficult world of today, it takes credibility and knowledge and professionalism and service [to make it]. We’re a very rare kind of store now, very unique. There used to be a lot of stores like mine when I first opened in 1980, and now there are hardly any. Shopping at my store is not like shopping in a department store, it’s very, very different. We individualize attention and service, and also the selection we have is totally different.
How do you compete with the big luxury department stores?
MJD: I think differently than department stores. I really understand my customer because I have always been my customer. Also, I’ve been around for three generations of women: I dressed the grandmother, her daughter, and now I dress the granddaughter. I understand them, and I know them; they’re not only my customers, they’re my friends. And I’m very hands-on. I’m out on the floor all the time, listening and looking and watching and dealing with the customers myself. So I understand what they want, and I understand what their needs are, where they’re going, what their lifestyle is.
You’ve built a strong brand that way, but you can’t be all things to all people. How do you make sure your employees are carrying on that brand in every interaction?
MJD: My employees are trained in my way of doing things and they’re in love with the store, just like I am. They love the clothes and they’re all very knowledgeable about fashion, so it’s been easy to train my employees.
Has being in the luxury business insulated your store from the ups and downs of the economy over the years?
MJD: Basically our customer always dresses; this particular segment of the population is not terribly affected by an up and down economy. They’re pretty constant in their way of life. They live with luxury always—whether it is a home, a yacht or a private plane, or art, jewelry, or gorgeous clothes. They just like luxury, and they can afford it.
I guess it’s good, then, to have that luxury customer segment here in Westchester?
MJD: Yes, but we pull customers from all over the country. They come from everywhere. A lot of them fly in on their planes to Westchester Airport and come shopping for the day. Or they come up from New York City.
So do you see yourself slowing down or retiring anytime soon?
MJD: No way. I’m never retiring. Why would I? I love what I do; it’s not like work, it’s just so exciting to me. I think it’s so sad to retire, look at what happens to people when they retire! The only way I would ever retire is to go onto another career. There are a lot of other careers I would love but I have to stick to this one because I know how to do it the best.