gray polo shoes He’s Outfitting A Dream
As Leggett’s refines its corporate look to fit in urban shopping malls, such as Patrick Henry Mall in Newport News, Harris is expanding his family clothing store chain into Leggett’s old territory.
FOR THE RECORD Published correction ran Tuesday, November 7, 1989. Harris Co. clothing store on the lower Peninsula.
“My father wants to be the Leggett’s or Thalhimers of small towns,” says Harris’ daughter, Dawn Smith. Harris Co. opened its seventh clothing store Thursday in West Point.
In the paper mill town of about 3,200 people, the old multicolored Leggett’s has been transformed with Williamsburg blue paint, beige carpets and floral wallpaper trim. Harris stores and includes a new budget department.
By the time Harris is 50 he plans to have 20 stores and go public. When he retires, he hopes to have built up to 50 stores and trained his daughter to take over the business.
“He’s the dreamer,” says Harris’ wife, Patsy.
“It’ll happen,” he insists.
Harris seeks bigger stores, wider markets and new locations. With the next store opening, he says, he’ll have to leave his home territory and venture throughout the state.
Possible future sites include Orange, which is west of Fredericksburg; Brookneal, south of Lynchburg; and Chase City, near South Hill. These small rural towns fit into Harris’ target population of 2,500 to 5,000 people, not enough of a population base for the big stores.
While big chains look for stores that have sales of $10 million to $15 million a year, Harris will build on the smaller $1 million markets, such as the one he said Leggett’s left behind in West Point. Harris specializes in middle priced men’s and women’s clothing and accessories, with 70 percent of its sales in the women’s department. The company’s gross annual sales rose steadily from $260,000 in 1976 to $3 million in 1988. Harris projects more than $4 million in sales in 1990.
Leggett’s, with 54 stores in five mid Atlantic states, does not release its sales figures. Harris.
As Leggett’s grew, the chain acquired more large urban stores, and the smaller stores did not get the attention they needed, says Robert Leggett III, manager of store development. The family decided to phase these stores out, he says. That opened up the market in those small towns.
“There’s a need for some sort of conventional store in these small downtowns,” Leggett says. “Someone should be able to fill that need. Whether Harris can make it work or not, we’ll see.”
Sumpter T. Priddy Jr., president of the 8,000 member Virginia Retail Merchants Association, believes Harris will meet his ambitions. “He and his wife are outgoing young people who have projected their family name to build a successful business,” Priddy says.
The association named Harris Virginia Retailer of the Year in 1983 84. “He’s a very positive thinker and he tends to his business. He’s a stickler for detail. He dresses impeccably and he runs his business that way.”
Harris started in the retail clothing business in the junior executive program at Belk’s in North Carolina in the 1960s. He moved with his family to Warsaw in 1975 to manage Aycock’s, a local independent department store, with the agreement that he would buy it after a year.
“I wanted to realize the American dream and own my own business,” he says.
Harris opened a second Aycock’s in Tappahannock in August 1976 and another in Colonial Beach in 1981. Harris Co.
Four more stores followed: Gloucester and Kilmarnock in 1986, King George in 1988 and West Point this month. To meet his goal of 20 stores by 1995, Harris will have to schedule openings at a rate of more than two a year. Once he goes public, he hopes to use the influx of capital to open stores at a faster rate of three or four a year.
“You can’t get too big,” he says.
But Patsy Harris, who takes responsibility for store openings, overseeing hiring and decorating, is wary of her husband’s idea of growing big. “I’d miss the closeness and the smallness of the family of employees,” she says.
Robert Leggett III agrees with the importance of keeping a clothing retail chain in the family. The main reason Leggett’s has not gone public is to retain family control of the 62 year old business started in Lynchburg, he says.