The last time Ray Lopez bought a suit, Lehman Brothers was still standing. Now the managing partner at Greensboro (N.C.) private equity firm Shamrock Capital Partners is ready to go wardrobe shopping again. Lopez, 43, plans to drop as much as $1,500 at Jos. A. Bank (JOSB) on two pinstriped suits, white dress shirts, and a handful of ties: "I feel more comfortable about the economy. Plus I'm seeing these big discounts everywhere."
Lopez represents a highly prized class of customer this holiday season: men with money to burn. According to an October survey conducted by BIGresearch, men plan to spend about 3 percent more than they did in 2009; women planned to spend about 1 percent less. The previous year, both sexes cut back.
Retailers say more men swarmed America's malls and stores during Black Friday weekend this year than last. At the Macy's (M) Manhattan flagship, Chief Executive Officer Terry J. Lundgren saw "a lot more men than I'm used to seeing" on the day after Thanksgiving. Like Lopez, many were buying stuff for themselves, adds the Macy's chief.
Men spent an average of $100 more than women—about $417—during Black Friday weekend, according to the National Retail Federation. They are less likely to comparison shop than women and so are less aware of price. No wonder store owners are keen to keep them shopping right through the New Year. This year guys are buying what guys usually buy: 57-inch flat-screen TVS, iPads, and game consoles. They are also loading up on apparel, and retailers are eager to win their favor. Saks (SKS) is selling $395 alligator belts, Nordstrom (JWN) has $325 Chukka boots, and Coach (COH) is offering $598 man bags.
Yes, women are still the Olympians of full-contact shopping; not for nothing do retail executives traditionally refer to their customers as "she." Yet even as the recovery bumps along, men seem more secure about their finances than women. A consumer survey conducted in August by WSL Strategic Retail shows that nearly half of men believe their finances would improve, while only a third of women do. Two years ago, men were about as pessimistic as women.
Retailers have stepped up their outreach to male shoppers in recent years—and not just to young, urban dandies. J.C. Penney (JCP) has reorganized its menswear, grouping items by category in addition to brand. The move is designed to appeal to older men, who prefer to shop for, say, pants or sweaters rather than entire outfits or particular labels. The department store chain also added brands such as JOE Joseph Abboud and Claiborne (LIZ), whose updated classics appeal to 25- to 45-year-old shoppers. Coach, too, is chasing men. Earlier this year the purveyor of luxury leather goods opened its first standalone men's store in New York and plans two more—in Boston and Paramus, N.J.—next spring. New arrivals at Coach's online men's store include $198 messenger bags and $798 down puffer jackets with fur collars.
Saks, which generates about 14 percent of its annual sales from men, is, in the words of President Ronald L. Frasch, "prudently" boosting its inventory of men's apparel. The department store is putting a particular emphasis on exclusive merchandise, such as the Saks Fifth Avenue Men's Collection, which features $795 travel blazers and $135 dress shirts.
When the stock market crashed in 2008, many of his male customers "took a breather," says Bob Mitchell, co-president of Mitchells Family of Stores, which operates five upscale clothing emporiums in Westport and Greenwich, Conn., on Long Island, N.Y., and on the West Coast. Now they're coming back. "The first weekend of holiday shopping was very positive in men's sportswear and ties," Mitchell says.
Don Guffey, whose eponymous men's store in Atlanta caters to bankers, real estate brokers, and entrepreneurs, ascribes the best sales in two years to the change of political leadership in Georgia and in Washington. His customers "believe the direction of business is going to change," says Guffey, whose store stocks Oxxford Clothes and Ravazzolo suits starting at $2,500 apiece and $135 Robert Talbott neckties. "They believe the economy has bottomed out."
The bottom line: Retailers say they're seeing more men in their stores this year. And so far, those men are spending more than women.