Over 90% of family-owned businesses do not make it to the 3rd generation.
After COVID-19, that figure may be much worse.
But when our economy finally recovers, one of those businesses still standing will be Mitchells.
It won’t be an accident.
The clothing retailer that began with a small shop next to Compo Shopping Center has evolved into high-end stores on both coasts.
But as they’ve grown, the family — now nearing its 4th generation of owners — has not forgotten the values of founders Ed and Norma Mitchell. They’ve served Mitchells well for 62 years, and they are the reason it’s weathering this crisis as well as any company can.
Consider this: While nearly every other clothing store in the country has laid off or furloughed staff, Mitchells continues to pay salaries — and benefits — for its employees.
All 430 of them.
“That’s the path my grandparents forged,” explains co-CEO Bob Mitchell. “Our business is all about relationships. We have great, strong relationships with our clients and our associates. We felt an obligation to focus on our people.”
In mid-March, the stores — which in addition to the flagship and headquarters in Westport includes Mitchells in Huntington, Long Island; Richards in Greenwich; Wilkes Bashford in San Francisco and Palo Alto, and Marios in Seattle and Portland — pivoted.
With doors closed, they turned to e-commerce. It had been a small part of the business before, and sales are still nowhere close to what they were pre-pandemic.
But Mitchells has always been about the personal touch. Associates reach out to customers by email, phone and text — not to sell, just to say hi and check in.
Many customers, in turn, are concerned about the personnel they’ve developed close relationships with. When they hear what the store is doing, they are grateful.
They’re even more gratified when they hear that Mitchells donated 20% of all sales for 2 weeks to Meals on Wheels programs in each community they serve.
“This is a different path than any retailer we know is taking,” Bob Mitchell says. “But we’ve always been conservative in our spending. Our secret sauce is our people. We want to do the right thing by them, so we all can get through this. This is the ultimate test, and we’re trying to do the right thing now.”
The response from associates has been “phenomenal,” he notes. “They are deeply appreciative, and very proud of us.”
One employee said, “I have always known I work for a unique, special family business. I feel blessed and proud to be part of the Mitchells’ extended work family.”
A new associate emailed simply, “I picked the right place.”
“First class act. A role model in these tough times,” a longtime customer told the Mitchells.
Bob Mitchell sees June 1 as the “most hopeful” date to reopen. Whenever it is, he believes “people will want to go out, see other people and interact — even with masks. People crave connections” with other shoppers and with staff members they’ve grown close to. Many Mitchells style advisors, tailors and others have been with them for over a decade; some for half a century.
Since 1958 Mitchells has supported every fundraiser, charity and organization that asks for help. Behind the scenes the family has performed countless acts of kindness, for untold numbers of folks in Westport, and far beyond.
Jack and Bill Mitchell followed their parents’ lead. Now their children have continued that tradition of care, concern, and treating everyone right.
Ed and Norma would be very, very proud.