Harrison Limited isn’t like other stores. Actually, it is like other stores, just not ones that really exist anymore. To say it is from another generation is over simplifying things. The store is unique in the simplest and most powerful ways. Let me back up a second before I explain what I think makes it so special. And it is absolutely special.
To have a successful specialty store you need to do a lot of things well. You need to have the right product to sell to the right customers. You have to make sure that you get enough traffic to generate enough sales. You also need to know what to buy to make sure your store has the right point of view and enough merchandise to generate enough sales to pay the staff, buy inventory and ultimately make a profit. Having a point of view –knowing the coolest brands to stock– is important, but not anywhere near as crucial as being a good merchant, selling the right product at the right time and focusing on service. This is what so many store owners seem to miss. Being someone who likes to shop has very little to do with running a successful retail operation.
Retail is pretty much an insane business. It revolves around seasonal outlays of massive amounts of money (to buy new inventory), which then, if you’re lucky comes back in tiny pieces. You have to pay attention to all of the little details, make sure to have the right product for the customers and hope people are there to buy. If the rent is too high or you have the wrong assortment or people aren’t coming in to shop you’re going to be in trouble. I don’t think people realize how hard it is to have a successful and profitable specialty store in this day and age. It’s an underappreciated business. To me it’s an art form. That’s why if I see something I want to buy in a little specialty store, I make a point to purchase it there and not somewhere online. Convenience be damned; I value that retailer and that experience and want to help preserve it.
All of the challenging factors I mentioned above are exactly what makes Harrison Limited so special and so good at what they do. The shop has an excellent assortment, the staff is knowledgeable and the merchants know what they are doing. Most significantly, the service is beyond exceptional. That sounds like I am blowing smoke, but it’s true. I’ve spent a lot of time in retail stores and very rarely do I encounter the brilliance of a shop like Harrison Limited. I spent about five hours visiting and while I was there (potentially) covering the shop for ACL and I noticed that all of the Harrison guys working that day knew everything about everyone that set foot in the shop. It was incredible. I know Mountain Brook is a fairly small town, but what I was seeing was not just based on knowing the people in a little community. Harrison Limited made sure everyone that came in had a pleasant experience. It’s sort of sad to say, but I don’t think I have ever seen anything like it anywhere else. You know when big retailers want places to “feel like a club”, well what’s going on at Harrison Limited is what they are trying to create.
I’ve followed Harrison Limited online for a few years, even before it had a real online shop. At one point I called and placed an actual phone order. I loved the hat & chair logo, the brands it sells and the overall aesthetic. Things were admittedly become a bit strange; I was becoming obsessed with a store I had never visited. Time passed and eventually I saw my opportunity to see Harrison Limited first hand. I had a business trip to Atlanta scheduled and I figured this was the perfect time to make the drive over to Birmingham. I emailed Scott Pyburn – Harrison Limited’s owner– to make sure he was going to be in town. Previously, Scott and I had struck up a small conversation over email after a few small mentions of Harrison Limited on ACL. He was always extremely kind and gracious. I had followed this store for years and here was my chance to meet everyone and finally shop it in real life.
Situations like this are almost always when my expectations come up short. It’s like when people meet me in real life –expecting me to be some menswear caricature like those people on Instagram who have profiles that are 99% comprised of pictures of themselves– and are disappointed when I’m a normal person who happens to be interested in talking on the internet about watches and menswear. I had built up Harrison Limited in my head so much that I was actually a little bit afraid of going to see it in real life. If I didn’t ever visit, Harrison Limited would, in my mind, continue to be a truly incredible store. If I went and didn’t like it, it would be ruined. But they sell so much good stuff and the people there are so nice, how could it be bad? That’s what I said as I drove West on Interstate 20. How could it be bad?
After spending much of the day hanging out, chatting, browsing and getting to know everyone I realized Harrison Limited was as excellent as I hoped it would be. It’s nice when something exceeds your expectations like Harrison Limited did for me. Not only does the shop have a great selection of classic menswear (much of it made in the U.S.A.), Harrison Limited also has the service and personal touch that is basically non-existent in the world at this point. Like my beloved Cuffs in Chagrin Falls, Harrison Limited is a very special place that deserves all of the praise it gets. And when the guys at the shop Mountain Brook read this they’ll probably just shrug it off with humility and get back to helping their customers like they always do.