Sweat shirt city -
The 'B' in Bremerton is definitely Charly's
By Peter Dane - Sun Staff Writer
Jorcache, Gucci, Bill Blass, LaCoste, Pierre Cardin, Gloria Vanderbilt, Calvin Klein, Charly B.
You bet. When it comes to clothes identified by their source, Charly B sweat shirts probably are more recognizable in Kitsap County than any of the other designer labels above.
How that came to be in just a year and a half since the first introduction of the Charly B sweat shirt in Chuck Bair's two Charly B clothing stores in Bremerton is a story of both slick promotion and good luck.
Bair himself, who now has a third Charly B store in the South Kitsap Mall, wants to stress the good luck more than the slick promotion.
In any case the result is nothing short of a local phenomenon. Bair admits that too, and simple observation bears him out.
It's almost impossible to go out in public in Bremerton environs these days without eventually seeing somebody wearing a sweat shirt with "Charly B" on it, usually a child under 13 or a teen-age girl.
It's like dogs in pickup trucks out in the country - you can't pass many pickups without seeing dogs in the back of one.
Some of the stories Bair has about his Charly B sweat shirts illustrate just how much the sweat shirts have caught on.
A local elementary school had a Charly B Day and every student in the class without exception wore a Charly B sweat shirt that day, according to Bair. He said he has a picture of the assembled class from that day.
Asked if some kids who already have a Charly B sweat shirt are now coming back for one or more others in different colors, he said, "It happens every day."
"I've had mothers come in and say, 'Why did you ever do this?'" Bair noted with obvious pleasure.
During the past Christmas season, his stores in downtown Bremerton and Redwood Plaza together were selling over 100 Charly B sweat shirts a day, Bair said. "We're still selling a couple dozen a day, now," he added.
Bair said the volume of business he has done in the sweat shirts ahs enabled him to insist on a wider range of colors from the manufacturer. (He hasn't gotten a price break, though; he had to raise the price $1.00 to $13.95 per sweat shirt recently just to maintain a very small profit margin on them, he said.)
Because of the success of the sweat shirt with the script "Charly B," he has also stocked shimmels - T-shirts cut off at the midsection - and baseball jerseys with the same lettering. But the sweat shirts remain the big item.
He said the number of sweat shirts the store has gotten out now is close to 9,000. That number includes between 200 and 500 Bair estimates he's given away.
Some of those he's given away have been for raffles, PTA events and the like, he said. Representatives of such community support groups now come in and ask him for them specially, because they say the kids "actually line up to get a chance to win one," he reported.
He started with an ambitious order of 30 to 40 dozen when he introduced the Charly B sweatshirts in late winter or early spring in 1981.
The idea was to give his store name recognition.
And he went against the initial reaction of his wife, Patty, who works with him in management of the stores with a particular eye to merchandising. She said " 'I don't think that's a good idea, Chuck. Who would ever want to buy a sweat shirt with our store's name on it?' " Bair recounted.
His wife's reaction not withstanding, he took the idea and ran with it.
"I did a billboard on the Charly B sweat shirt; I did a newspaper ad on the Charly B sweat shirt," he said.
He thought it would be the price, just above his own cost for what he considers a quality sweat shirt, that would sell it, and he made sure the price was featured in early promotions. But then he dropped the price from the advertisements and the sweat shirt still sold, he said.
Among the first to get free Charly B sweat shirts were his clerks, who were encouraged to wear them in the store. There are Charly B days regularly now on which all employees wear Charly B sweat shirts.
The introduction of the sweat shirts "was definitely promotion oriented," he acknowledged.
He admits to doing a little manipulation to get the ball rolling, too.
The first couple of months he had the sweat shirts there were frequent requests for sweat shirts without the "Charly B" lettering, he said. He confesses he told those visitors to the store that people wanted the Charly B sweat shirts.
He intentionally did not stock plain versions of the sweat shirts, and if someone insisted on a plain sweat shirt he referred the person to another store, he explained.
With the small profit margin he maintains on the sweat shirts, and the number he has given away, Bair estimates he has about broken even and perhaps even lost a little money on them.
That doesn't bother him, though, because of the way he gained overall through the sweat shirt promotion.
In 1981, when the clothing retail business in general suffered because of the slump in the economy, his sales volume was up 32 percent, Bair said.
"And I believe the majority of that belongs to the Charly B sweat shirt, not just the volume but the creating of the identity."
Bair said the idea started with buying trips he made to other areas and two concepts they brought to his mind. One was the stability of the sweat shirt as a kind of staple of the wardrobe over the years, and the other was "logos or identity factors that were presented on garments" and were just starting to become popular in the West.
When he noticed a sweat shirt with something written on the left chest on a trip to Los Angeles, something "clicked," he said.
Having turned what clicked in his mind into something that has obviously clicked in the marketplace, the next option facing Bair is to go beyond the area with the Charly B label.
He has been approached by a Seattle retail marketing consultant with the idea of initiating a mail order business in sweat shirts with the Charly B label, he said.
He's not sure he will take that step, though.
Bair, who was raised in Bremerton and at one time left a job at Seattle-First National Bank because the bank wanted to move him out of the area, is a booster of the county.
He said he wants "to keep the integrity of the sweat shirt. And I'm kinda bullish on Kitsap County."
If people here believe in his store, he wants them to be the ones who have the privilege of displaying its logo, he asserted.
For the Seattle marketing representative to convince him to get into the mail order business with the Charly B label, "he's going to have to lay out a lot of pros and very few cons," Bair said.
Bair is a leader and avid supporter of the Bremerton Redevelopment Task Force who believes strongly in the proposed local improvement district for the downtown area and, further, the idea that the downtown commercial zone should be modified to mall-like structuring. He also believes in the task force's desire to bring improvements throughout the city.
"The city needs an identity, just like this," Bair said as he patted the script "Charly B" on the sweat shirt he was wearing, "has done it for me."
(The Bremerton Sun, September 1982)