Two of the most respected names in luxury specialty store retailing in the U.S. are joining forces.
The Mitchell Family of Stores has created a venture with Marios of the Pacific Northwest — a partnership that will bring the Mitchells’ systems and e-commerce expertise to Mario Bisio’s stores in Portland, Ore., and Seattle while giving Mitchells a further foothold on the West Coast.
“This is different than any other deal we’ve done,” said Bob Mitchell, co-chief executive officer of Mitchells. “Mario and his executive team will continue to run the company.”
He declined to be more specific about the financial details of the deal, but said this is “not a short-term situation” and the Mitchells are prepared to “invest heavily to continue to grow” the combined company.
“This is not an exit strategy for me,” Bisio stressed. “In fact, it’s a long-term commitment to me, and combined, we’ll have more capital and power in the market. It allows our long-range plans to come to fruition on a faster timeline and protects our brand.”
The Westport, Conn.-based Mitchell family, whose specialty store business has estimated sales of around $140 million, has slowly been expanding its reach. The business was founded by Ed and Norma Mitchell in 1958 and it is now run by their sons and grandchildren. The retailer’s first acquisition came in 1995 when it bought Richards in nearby Greenwich, Conn. Ten years later, it bought Marshs in Huntington, N.Y. In 2009, the Mitchells made their first foray onto the West Coast when they inked an 11th-hour deal to acquire the assets of San Francisco-based Wilkes Bashford out of bankruptcy for $4.6 million in cash.
Since these acquisitions, Mitchells has continued to increase its volume and buying power within the upscale market. The company has also added women’s wear to those stores.
Marios’ story is very similar.
The business was founded in 1960 by Mario Bisio Sr., who opened a family clothing store in Portland. Mario Jr. started working at the store during high school and became a full business partner in 1973. He expanded to Seattle in 1982 and added women’s wear in 1994. In 2006, Marios 3.10 opened in Portland, catering to a more casual lifestyle. Industry sources estimate the volume at around $30 million.
The Mitchells and Bisios have been friends for decades. The two are part of the Forum Group, a group of non-competing specialty stores who exchange details about their businesses.
“This is about making Marios better,” Bisio said. “By working with long-term friends that I trust completely, I can share my dreams and concepts to push my retail concept to new levels.”
“It’s an opportunity to leverage each other’s strengths,” Mitchell added. “We’re growing, but we want to continue to grow as fast and prudently as possible.”
Allan Ellinger, senior managing partner of MMG Advisors, who worked with Bisio on creating the venture, said the deal “marries the two best fashion retailers in America. Culturally, they’re very similar and the way they think is in perfect alignment.”
He said the partnership gives Bisio “a real strategic opportunity to take advantage of the systems and financial strength of the Mitchells. And for the Mitchells, it’s a long-term opportunity to partner with one of the great retailers in the Pacific Northwest with a great following.”
Mitchell said his company will offer expertise in “e-commerce, systems and clientele” to Marios stores. And while Bisio would have eventually invested in these things himself, as a sole operator, it would have taken much longer.
The name on the stores will remain the same and the executive team will also remain intact. That includes Lynwood Holmberg, fashion director; Simon Chan, senior men’s buyer, and Patsy Carlson, chief operating officer, the retailers said.
Chris Mitchell, Bob’s cousin, who oversees Marshs, will spend one week a month at Marios as integration officer, “blending both worlds,” Bob Mitchell said.
Bisio said he has “long envied” the Mitchells systems and is eager to have it implemented at his stores as well. “And it gives us an immediate e-commerce solution. With e-commerce, scale is a very important piece.”
He said that by integrating into the Mitchells systems, the Marios customers will now have access to five times the inventory that is available. While there are differences, both businesses carry similar brands, including Brunello Cucinelli, Ermenegildo Zegna, Hugo Boss and Canali. Women’s wear represents 52 percent of the mix at Marios and 55 percent at Mitchells Family of Stores.
“The pillars of the business are very similar,” Bisio said. “And the crossover and synergies are overwhelming.”
Specifically, Mitchell said he sees further opportunity to expand Marios’ women’s jewelry business and its made-to-measure men’s business. “We will invest in those to increase the growth rate,” he said.
The partnership also gives Bisio the peace of mind that his business will be in good hands when and if he chooses to retire down the road. He has a daughter in the business who works for Brunello Cucinelli who he hopes will eventually join the business, but she’s not ready to join the fold now.
Does this deal mean the Mitchells are open to taking on bringing other luxury specialty stores into their fold? “We’ve never been ones to rush and we’re going to renovate our two Connecticut stores next year,” Mitchell said, so that project and the integration of Marios are currently enough.
The Mitchell family, owners of Mitchell Stores, based in Westport, CT has announced a strategic partnership with Mario’s luxury retail stores in Seattle, WA and Portland OR.
“Mario’s is a jewel in the Pacific Northwest and we are very excited to work with Mario and his team to continue to offer world class stores that are perfectly tailored to Seattle and Portland” said Russ Mitchell Co-CEO.
“This joint venture will open up an expanded universe of world-class product, inventory, technology and services to our customers,” Mario stated. “I am thrilled to partner with my longtime friends the Mitchells to launch an exciting new era for our stores and customers.”
The Mitchells have expanded through a commitment to developing the finest locally focused luxury clothing stores. Mitchell Stores includes a portfolio of five other luxury retail stores on both the East (Mitchells and Richards) and West coasts (Wilkes Bashford). The partnership will give Mario’s access to five times their current product selection through Mitchells fully integrated in-store and online inventory. As systems are merged later in the year, Mario’s customers will enjoy a new expanded e-commerce world, including not only e-shopping, but also an enhanced electronic relationship with their current Style Experts including an integrated virtual closet and reserve in store capabilities.
“The only thing we love more than fashion is the customers we are privileged to serve. Nothing will change regarding the extraordinary service for which we are known,” said Mario. “Our highly-regarded Style Experts will still be the heart and soul of our stores and our buying and management team will continue to keep Mario’s a locally targeted store. The only changes our customers will see are the ways in which we are able to serve them even better.”
“We look forward to working closely with Mario and getting to know his customers, designers, staff and friends in the Seattle and Oregon areas. Everything about how Mario runs his business, from the exquisite product selection to the impeccable service is completely in synch with our culture.” said Bob Mitchell Co-CEO. “We have no doubt this partnership will be seamless and synergistic, benefitting all parties, especially Mario’s customers.”
The fashion communities who have known both of us for decades are also thrilled with the new partnership.
“I have learnt with great pleasure the news about the new partnership between your esteemed families: Mitchell and Bisio. We have always shared the same view on life and business; you are successful entrepreneurs and really respectable people. I would like to congratulate you from the deep of my heart” – Brunello Cucinelli, CEO Brunello Cucinelli
“With Mario’s fashion sense and the Mitchells’ customer-focused retail expertise, I expect the combined strengths of these two iconic and family-owned specialty stores will create a potent force in luxury retailing. The Mitchell family and Mario Bisio are both longtime Zegna customers and trusted partners. I wish Bob and Mario the best of success – Ermenegildo Zegna, CEO Zegna Group
Mario’s and Mitchells have been working together since 2000 as members of the Forum Group, a collection of independent stores located in the US. “For fifteen years we have traded ideas and dreams, now we get to jointly execute them.” Mario stated.
Allan Ellinger, Senior Managing Partner of MMG Advisors represented Mario.
Mario Bisio Sr. opened the first Mario’s store in Portland’s Lloyd Center in 1960. In 1973, Mario Jr. became a full business partner with his father. A year after Mario Sr.’s passing in 1975, Mario transformed the store. He made his first buying trip to Europe becoming the first retailer to bring Canali to the US. Mario’s was also the first to offer Ermenegildo Zegna and pioneered Diesel Jeans to the Pacific Northwest.
Over the decades, Mario grew his legendary Seattle and Portland stores to include women’s apparel, jewelry and the only Brunello Cucinelli shops in the region. In 2006, Mario’s 3.10 opened in Tigard, catering to customers who favor a stylish, casual lifestyle. MR Magazine awarded Mario Bisio the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008. In 2014, MR Magazine recognized Mario’s as One of The 10 Most Influential Stores in North America. Visit www.marios.com
ABOUT MITCHELL FAMILY OF STORES
Mitchells Family of Stores was founded in 1958 by Ed and Norma Mitchell in Westport, CT with their original store, “Ed Mitchells.” A second generation, Bill Mitchell and Jack Mitchell, author of the retail classic “Hug Your Customer,” expanded the business and store, adding women’s and in 1995, a second store, Richards of Greenwich.
Today, Mitchells Family of Stores is run by third generation of Mitchells and includes three east coast stores: two Mitchells stores in Westport, CT and Huntington, NY and Richards in Greenwich, CT. In December of 2009, they acquired the Wilkes Bashford stores in San Francisco and Palo Alto. Wilkes Bashford, founded in 1966 by the retail icon of the same name, is one of the Bay Area’s most renowned luxury retailers.
In Fall 2014, Mitchells Family of Stores launched a long-awaited e-commerce site. Committed to delivering a unique retail experience, the site is a true extension of their stores, offering proprietary customer service features. Visit www.mitchells.com
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