After Hours Formalwear Inc. History

ll12.5]4444 Shackelford Road
Norcross, Georgia 30093

Telephone: (770) 448-8381
Toll Free: 800-594-8897
Fax: (770) 449-6707

Founded: 1946
Employees: 1,000 (est.)
Sales: $110 million (2001 est.)
NAIC: 532220 Formal Wear and Costume Rental

Company Perspectives:

Depend on After Hours Formalwear for tuxedo rentals for your wedding, prom, college formals, and black tie affairs. Count on a wide variety of formal wear styles and convenience for the grooms, groomsmen, prom dates, and black tie invitees.

Key Dates:

The company is founded by D.Q. Mitchell and his wife in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The company's headquarters move to Atlanta, Georgia.
D.Q. Mitchell dies.
Management-led investors buy the family business.
Desai Capital Management Inc. acquires a controlling interest.
May Department Stores Company acquires the company.In 2000, May paid $436 million for David's Bridal, a 150-unit chain founded in 1950 with a single store in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. David's grew into a bridal salon chain that did business all along the East Coast. May's addition of After Hours to David's made sense on a number of levels. There was obvious potential for synergy between the operations: male members of a bridal party who were being outfitted by David's could be steered towards After Hours for their formalwear. Perhaps of more importance was the expectation that the combination of David's and After Hours gave May an opportunity to tap into a younger demographic, the growing number of the so-called "echo boomers" who were unaccustomed to shopping in department stores. In many cases, their first interaction with a department store were through bridal registries. After Hours, in effect, became a small part of a greater strategy to use the bridal experience to create new department store customers. May added the company to the mix in January 2002, at the same time fulfilling a goal to become the largest wedding store chain in America when it acquired Priscilla of Boston for an undisclosed amount of cash. Priscilla added a more upscale clientele to May's burgeoning bridal business.

May also took steps in 2003 to grow the After Hours business, opening two dozen new stores and making several acquisitions. In June 2003, May paid an undisclosed amount of cash for the 25-store Modern Tuxedo chain, a Chicago area operation that generated about $12 million in annual sales. Later in the year, After Hours added the seven stores of Tyndall's Formal Wear, operating in North Carolina's Triangle and Triad regions. Furthermore, After Hours picked up Tyndall's wholesale tuxedo business. In September 2003, May bought the 66 stores of Desmonds Formalwear, which generated annual sales in the $20 million range and operated in ten states, including Kansas City, Kansas, and Omaha, Nebraska, representing After Hours first move west of the Mississippi. Finally, in November 2002, After Hours paid $23 million to buy 125 stores from the Gingiss Group, its longtime competitor. Gingiss, a 236-store chain, filed for bankruptcy simultaneous to selling a bulk of its assets and the rights to the names "Gingiss Formalwear" and "Gary's Tux Shop" to After Hours. With no major rival on the horizon, and the backing of a heavyweight corporate parent, After Hours was well positioned to become a serious consolidator in the estimated $1 billion a year men's formalwear industry.

Company History:

A subsidiary of The May Department Stores Company, After Hours Formalwear Inc. is America's largest tuxedo rental and sales retailer, operating more than 330 stores in 27 states and Washington, D.C. After Hours stores are open seven days a week and evenings, providing formal wear for weddings, proms, and other social occasions. In addition to an After Hours private label formal wear line, the company offers exclusive tuxedo styles from such labels as FUBU, Tommy Hilfiger, Chaps Ralph Lauren, Claiborne, and Perry Ellis. Beyond tuxedos, After Hours carries other types of formal jackets, such as cutaway, tailcoat, waistcoat, stroller, and dinner jackets, plus such accessories as shirts (in a range of colors), bow ties, four-in-hand ties, cummerbunds, jewelry, shoes, and vests. Most of the stores are found in malls and average about 1,000 square feet in size, the boutique units carrying a limited supply of in-store items and making the balance of After Hours' inventory available through catalogs. The company maintains strategically located cleaning and distribution centers to supply the chain. Rental prices run the gamut, including a package as low as $49.95 for the budget conscious. Sizes range from small boys to Big & Tall.

1940s Origins

The origins of After Hours date back to 1946 to Charlotte, North Carolina, when D.Q. Mitchell and his wife Arzelle decided to complement their florist business by renting tuxedos. Rentals proved so successful that the couple ultimately left the flower business and devoted all of their attention to tuxedos. In the mid-1950s, they launched a small chain of stores in the South, and in 1970 the company moved its headquarters to Atlanta. At this stage, the chain comprised 17 stores. In 1974, D.Q. Mitchell died, and Robert Beaty, who started with the company in 1957 as a truck driver, took charge. The business remained family owned, with Arzelle Mitchell known to visit the outlets to keep tabs. Over the next 11 years, the Mitchell's chain grew steadily, so that by 1985 it totaled 92 stores located in 11 southeastern states, making it the largest company-owned chain in the industry. (Gingiss Formalwear, a Chicago-based chain, numbered more than 200 stores, but they were franchised operations.) To support the outlets, Mitchell's maintained eight service centers to sort, inspect, clean, and restock the chain's inventory of tuxedos. Of the 92 stores, 22 were located in Florida, compared to 12 in the company's home state of Georgia. In addition, Mitchell's owned and operated two stores aimed at women, Arzelle's Brides and Formal, named after D.Q. Mitchell's wife and co-founder.

The prospects for Mitchell's in the mid-1980s were bright, prompting management in install a new computer system. Much of that promise was due to a resurgence in the popularity of formal wear, which had fallen out of favor in the late 1960s and 1970s. Actors such as Robert Wagner, known for wearing tuxedos, licensed their names and faces to tuxedo labels. In addition, after Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, Washington, D.C., placed a greater emphasis on formal events, leading to a larger number of black-tie affairs around the country. The formalwear industry was highly fragmented, especially on the rental side. According to statistics provided by the American Formalwear Association, the industry was comprised of 1,200 companies and 7,000 individual formal wear shops. There was clearly an opening to build a national brand, but Beaty was hesitant to grow the Mitchell's chain beyond its southeastern base, opting instead to backfill stores in the company's current markets.

New Ownership in the 1990s

The Mitchell's chain stalled around the 100 store mark. In 1996, the Mitchell family decided to sell the business to a group of investors led by three members of management: Joe Doyle, who had been with the company for 22 years, along with Dick Weir and Wayne Griner. From the outset, the new owners were determined to grow Mitchell's into a national brand. They sold the bridal business and focused all of their resources on men's formalwear, launching a re-branding effort, changing the names of the stores to After Hours by Mitchell's, as well as making efforts to beef up the company's infrastructure and hire executive talent. In addition, in 1999 the chain added its own private label and became the first to offer the Tommy Hilfiger Formal Wear line of tuxedos and accessories. Mitchell's was able to enjoy double-digit growth in revenues, but to become a major consolidator in the industry it still required an experienced capital partner. In early 1999, with 115 stores located in 64 cities, Mitchell's hired Robinson-Humphrey Co., an Atlanta securities firm, to help it find a suitable backer. In September, Mitchell's settled on New York City-based Desai Capital Management Inc., a management buyout and leveraged acquisition firm which then acquired a 51 percent interest in a recapitalization of the company. Doyle and his team retained a significant stake and continued to run the business. Desai had been in operation since 1984 and managed institutionally funded investment partnerships, giving it access to the funds necessary to turn Mitchell's into the national player the chain's management envisioned. To ensure that Mitchell's had the necessary borrowing capacity to complete the acquisitions necessary to grow the business, Desai designed the transaction to be conservatively capitalized.

Desai also contributed operating partners to Mitchell's new board, people with experience in both retail and consolidation efforts. These board members were able to offer their expertise in helping management shape the company's strategy and help evaluate acquisitions. With Desai's involvement, Mitchell's completed a series of acquisitions, the opening stage of a five-year plan to grow the chain to around 500 units. In March 2000, it acquired Nationwide Formalwear Inc. of West Chester, Pennsylvania, operators of the 70-unit Small's chain. Small was spawned from a single store founded by Bill Glah in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, in the late 1940s. His son, Bill Glah, Jr., took over the business and concluded that in light of the consolidation trend taking place in the formal-wear industry, either the chain would have to expand to keep pace with the competition or merge with a larger player. He had talked to Mitchell's for four years before agreeing to the sale. The Small's chain was an ideal fit for Mitchell's. Only in one Virginia mall did both chains have competing stores. As a result, Mitchell's was able to expand into the mid-Atlantic and northeastern states and top the 200 level in total units. In addition, Mitchell's picked up the Nationwide wholesale division, which provided formalwear to some 600 businesses that in turn rented the apparel in smaller markets. Again, Nationwide served the Mid-Atlantic and northeastern regions, complementing Mitchell's wholesale business that catered to the southeastern United States. In early April 2000, Mitchell's made a more modest buy, adding the three-unit formalwear business of Master's Tuxedos, located in Mobile, Alabama. A third acquisition was announced in December, the purchase of Sempliner's/Tuxedo World, a Bay City, Michigan, chain of 34 stores located in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana. As with the Small's acquisition, this transaction added new markets to Mitchell's, helping the company gain an even greater national presence, although management was reluctant to move west of the Mississippi. Also of note in 2000, Mitchell's moved into a new headquarters in the Atlanta suburb of Norcross and began a store remodeling effort, embracing a masculine aesthetic featuring "warm wood" as the decor and men's fragrances in the air. Due to its rapid growth, the company, for the first time in its half-century of existence, hired a chief operating officer.

2000 and Beyond

Under Desai's ownership, Mitchell's posted strong increases in revenues, which grew from $48 million in 1998 to $56 million in 1999 and $99 million in 2000. In 2001, Mitchell's changed its name to After Hours Formalwear Inc., and Desai saw a chance to not only provide the formalwear chain with an opportunity for even greater growth but also to realize a healthy profit on its investment. In December 2001, the business was sold for approximately $100 million in cash to St. Louis-based The May Department Stores Company, one of the largest department store operators, which generated more than $13 billion each year in revenues. May folded After Hours into its new bridal division.

Not only did it have deep pockets, but May also boasted a rich history. The company was founded in 1877 by German immigrant David May, who opened a clothing store in the silver-mining boom town of Leadville, Colorado, after failing as a miner. Eleven years later, he expanded to Denver, and in 1892 he and his three brothers-in-law bought The Famous Clothing Store in St. Louis, followed by the 1898 purchase of a Cleveland department store which they renamed The May Company. Their headquarters was relocated to St. Louis, and the business was incorporated in 1910. It was taken public a year later and became listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Over the ensuing decades, May steadily added department stores around the country: Baltimore's Bernheim-Leader department store in 1927, Pittsburgh's Kaufmann's in 1946, Denver's The Daniels & Fisher Stores Company in 1957, and Hecht's, with locations in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, in 1959. Starting in the late 1980s, May became an aggressive player in the consolidation of the department store industry, acquiring the varied assets of Associated Dry Goods Corporation, ten Hess's stores in Pennsylvania and New York state, 14 Wanamaker stores and 13 Strawbridge & Clothier stores in the Philadelphia area, and a number of other purchases.

Further Reading:

  • DeGross, Renee, "Mitchell's Expects to Rent More Than a Million Tuxes," Atlanta Constitution, May 5, 2000, p. F1.
  • Kwok, Chern Yeh, "May Department Stores Plans to Buy Atlanta-Based After Hours Formalwear," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 20, 2001, p. 1.
  • Lawrence, Calvin, Jr., "Mitchell's Formal Wear Has Just About Outgrown Its Market Britches," Atlanta Constitution, September 19, 1985, p. C2.
  • Lloyd, Brenda, "Mitchell's Formalwear Set to Go National," Daily News Record, May 5, 2000, p. 10.
  • Weitzman, Jennifer, "May Co. Buys After Hours Formalwear," Daily News Record, December 24, 2001, p. 3.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol.60. St. James Press, 2004.