Don’t Go to Work Today.

In 1970, the New York City economy was not so hot and getting colder and the menswear industry was colder than that. Denim was hot, but tailored clothing was not, thanks to the upward spiraling influence of the freedom-loving Baby Boomers. To add to the industry’s problems, its half-hearted attempts to establish designer names as a means of upgrading the businessman’s average ticket for suits, sport jackets, pants and coats was on a path to no-wear.

That’s why, throughout the industry and even throughout the store, the $3 million expenditure to develop Barney’s International House, a 5-story addition to Barney’s, was being called, “Fred’s Folly”.

“Fred” was Fred Pressman; 47-year old son of Barney Pressman who was the founder of the store that bore his name and who, applying his earthy immigrant marketing genius, had nurtured it to become the largest men’s store in the world. But, at the time of this story, Barney had turned the reins over to his Rutgers-educated son. And, Fred’s dream was to turn the Barney’s high-volume, low-image Barney’s into a higher-volume, high-image Barney’s. The groundwork had begun 4 years before in a program created by Jack Byrne comprised of identifying Barney’s with every possible positive upscale New York image through the constant upscale radio “reporting” of Jay and Day and through New York Times ads that featured everybody from Andy Warhol to Mickey Mantle and Senator Jacob Javits. The advertising began three years before the image of Barney’s created by these messages would be a reality.

Barney’s International House was to be that dreamed of image come true.

As the new building construction moved slowly through the slowest-selling summer in Barney’s recent years, the words “Fred’s Folly” began to take on overtones that threatened the very future of the store.

Fred’s dream (and mine) was to combine the force of a never-before menswear store with a never-before advertising program that would shake up the menswear industry, awaken the dormant desire to look richer and more successful that was imbedded in all upwardly mobile New York men, while vaporizing the long-standing snicker when the Barney’s name arose among the good with plenty. It would have to cause the “designer suit” industry to say “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

The International House would be living proof of this life after death. It would be the world’s first showcase of the most significant names in men’s fashion. There was to be a Givenchy Den, in which $5,000 Givenchy fur coats would be the centerpiece. There were to be two dens for Pierre Cardin, one for furnishings, one for clothing. The bespoke firm of Kilgour, French & Stanbury of London was to have a Saville Row type shop entered through swinging wrought-iron gates. The Bill Blass Den would represent fashion’s top contribution from America. Women’s fashion designer, Philip Venet (Hubert deGivenchy’s roommate) would design his first menswear collection for his own private den in Barney’s International House as would Gilbert Feruch and Christian Dior. Bruno Piatelli and Brioni would lead the Italian collections.

Jack’s New York Times Ad Announcing Barney’s new International House featured Barney’s president, Fred Pressman, and Mayor John Lindsay.

The concept and its execution was the province of three people, Fred Pressman, George Nelson, the architect, and Jack Byrne and the advertising agency bearing his name. George and I believed in this radical and controversial project as much as Fred did.

When, the general manager, Ira Weiser, or some other top executive facing Barney’s steadily declining sales curve, would complain that we were “fiddling while Barney’s was burning”, Fred would call me and ask, “We’re doing the right thing, right, Jack?” I’d answer, “It’s the right thing, Fred!” He’d be a little convinced from that and so would I. George – was an architect, proof of his success would show the day the scintillating store opened to the press. My success, if any, would have to wait for the year-end figures. Fred’s success would have to wait even longer and would depend upon the increased sales proving sufficient enough to pay off the increased capital cost of the buildings.

In the first week of August, when sales hit what we hoped was rock bottom, I had an inspiration. It was the kind of idea that is born of desperation.

Barney’s warehouse was right across the street from Barney’s, on the West Side of Seventh Avenue. Barney’s executive offices were on the Sixth floor of the warehouse building. While waiting in the reception room outside Fred’s office, I was watching the construction crew swarm in and out and under and over the new International House. I was thinking the “impossible”, what if it flopped? We needed some action, not later, but now. We needed some extra advertising to promote it even before it opened. And, we sure needed some cash flow for the company.

Once thought of, the answer was simple.

We needed a pre-opening sale. But, not a sale in the store. The store was busy with carpenters, painters and electricians.

We needed a sale, I realized, in the warehouse. In its forty-seven year history, Barney’s had never had a warehouse sale. Now, we needed to have one. But, our needing it would not be enough. For a sale to succeed, the consumer prospects must would have to feel an urgency to be there and to not miss out. To have a warehouse sale at the end of the August, after two months of citywide summer clothing clearances, would not be likely to motivate multitudes. People had to have a reason.

But, Barney’s had a reason, I reasoned, a reason that every New Yorker who had ever had work done by a carpenter, plumber, electrician or painter would understand immediately.

Barney’s reason? The opening of Barney’s new International House was encountering construction delays. These delays were backlogging the thousands of new fashions pouring into Barney’s warehouse across the street. So, to make room for the fashions pouring in, Barney’s was going to have its first warehouse clearance in history.

Sometimes an idea feels so right that you can feel a shiver in your sphincter muscle. This was such a time. Usually, as an advertising man, I would put such a proposal in writing but I was already outside Fred’s office waiting for him to finish a company meeting. I decided to tell him my thoughts immediately. I was sure he would be as excited as I was about bringing some extra cash in before the store was launched.

Fred’s meeting ended. As Ira and others walked out of Fred’s office, I received neither a hello nor a smile, I was part of “Fred’s Folly”. Fred and his father, Barney, were in the office. Fred called me in. I asked him to let me talk before we began our routine ad meeting.

I tried to speak calmly with that certain detachment that an ad man should show when presenting an idea of his own which he believes will knock his client’s sock off.

I was finished in five minutes. Both socks were still in Fred’s shoes. He looked distressed as though the thought had given him a stomachache. But, he tried not to show his disappointment that I would betray his dream this way.

“I don’t know, Jack. Is this the image we want? Is this what we’ve been spending $3 million for? When was Bergdorf Goodman’s last warehouse sale? Where is Tiffany’s warehouse? Does Cartier have a program of twofers?” He was shaking his head from left to right. His seventy-five year old, 5-foot tall father was standing behind him. His head was shaking almost imperceptibly, up and down.

I saw Fred’s point. I knew his fear was that, at this delicate moment in transition of the company image, anything that looked like a return to the old Barney’s could whiplash not only through the upper class shoppers we were hoping to attract but could cause even more damage with the trade and especially with the top designers who we had convinced to accept Barney’s as a legitimate outlet for their goods.

I said, “Fred, the focus will be on the New International House and the New America House and will accent that the old must give way to the new merchandise pouring in. We would advertise merchandise by the number of pieces we have to remove of each item. We would accent the new merchandise waiting to come in.”

Fred said, “We’ve got plenty of room on the fourth and fifth floors here for the new merchandise.”

I said, “Please don’t confuse an ad man with facts.” He smiled just a bit. “Fred, our rationale is our positive message. First time in forty-seven years, for God’s sake. Construction delays. Who hasn’t gone through that? Making way for the new, what’s wrong with that? Half the people don’t even know we’ve been building a new store. This will be a way to tell them while making some money at the same time. When we need it.”

“I don’t know, Jack,” said Fred.

“What you d-d-don’t know c-c-can hurt you,” said his father, Barney.

“What’s that?” Fred asked. “What do you think, Pop?”

“I think this g-g-g-goyem is a smart Jew. He’s g-g-going to help you move shit while you’re still selling your Shinola”. Barney always stammered, always spoke in riddles, and always made sense.

“I still don’t like it,” Fred replied still shaking his head left to right.

“Then don’t g-g-go to it,” his father answered.

Barney’s personal marketing slogan was “You take the classes. I’ll take the masses. The classes are asses.”

This time Barney says, “Let me t-t-take this one with Jack. You build your store.”

And that’s what we did. Barney took back control of his store for this one event only, a “down and dirty” warehouse sale. He called management back to the executive floor and we all met in the trade showroom. Ira Weiser and staff whistled and applauded and attested they would work 100 hours a week to pull off the first warehouse sale in Barney’s history.

Our final strategy was to run a five-day sale from September 8th, the day after Labor Day, through Saturday, September 12th. We would promote specific quantities of specific branded items giving value price and sale price. The sale prices would be given to odd penny amounts such as $44.63 or $109.47, as against the traditional $.95 or $.99 endings on sale prices. This strategy would give the impression that we have brought prices down to the lowest possible penny.

Every message would contain the rationale that construction delays in our new International House and America House were causing back up in Barney’s warehouse which was too crowded to receive all the new higher fashion merchandise arriving daily. Thus, we had to get rid of the old no matter what it costs us.

The ad budget would be substantial with Jay and Day commercials on 11 radio stations getting sixty percent and newspapers forty percent including The New York Times and The New York Daily News (never used on Barney’s normal image-building advertising schedule).

For radio, Barney’s had a well-established format under our award-winning team of Jay and Day, the somewhat irreverent, somewhat witty, but fact-oriented spokesmen for Barney’s. I was Jack Jay. Roger Day was my broadcast partner, Roger Anderson. With three years in New York City of 1,000 spots on each of 11 stations behind us, our radio voices were instantly recognized as Barney’s own.

Our radio strategy was virtually unique at the time. We decided to prepare a “You are there” sense of immediacy, which meant commercials, would change by the day and often by the half-day or less. The campaign would start with preview commercials run on the three days of the Labor Day weekend and end with spots “called in to the station” from the sale on Saturday afternoon, a few hours before the sale would end. Every commercial would refer briefly to the New International House and its construction delays being the cause for this sale. In brief, the commercial outlines were as follows:

{{Insert scripts or reprints of them from Radio Daily}}

Labor Day Weekend Saturday and Sunday: Speaking to those on the beach, at picnics, on the road, and telling them this would be a Labor day Weekend like none other because this one would be followed by the First Warehouse Sale in Barney’s 47-year history. The reason why: construction delays at Barney’s new International House. Urge you to get ready, perhaps get home a little early to prepare for your attendance.
Labor Day: Until 3 PM, message would be directed to people enjoying the holiday. After 3 p.m., the message would be directed to people under the stress of returning home. Both with explanations as above, but also now containing a few examples of items available at certain prices.
Tuesday: First Day of Sale. Jay and Day talking from the sale site, voices a little harsh from “having been reporting” for the three days before. Roger ends with “So much to say, Jack, and so little time.” Jack responds by ending spot with “Oh, stop whining will you Roger”. Click to hear.
Wednesday: Two different commercials. The first to present a list of key savings remaining in stock by name, price and specific number of units left (for this and the same technique commercials on subsequent day, merchandise would be set aside and not put on the floor until the commercial went on the air). The second to present testimonials from people who were recorded at Tuesday’s sale.
Thursday: Two different commercials as above, the latter with people from Wednesday’s sale.
Friday: Two different commercials as above, plus one nighttime commercial about the last day Saturday.
Saturday: Six spots, for consecutive periods of time of sale remaining and read by the station’s DJ or announcer who would read scripts saying Jay and Day had called in and given them last minute information about Barney’s warehouse sale and would read off the appropriate great bargains still on hand (again not released for sale until the spots were airing)

As part of recording technique, each day, Jay and Day’s voices would grow huskier from the “strain and excitement of the sale”. Their fatigue would show not only in their speech but also in a growing tension between them. Few would be able to deny the immediacy of these messages or fail to appreciate the dedication of Jay and Day.

The nuance was that all but four commercials and scripts were pre-produced and at the stations prior to the commencement of the sale. Only the three spots, from Wednesday through Friday that included testimonials from the previous days were not complete. Roger and I had prerecorded our part of scripts. Then, at the sale early on Tuesday, Roger recorded interviews with the necessary number of shoppers, which he took back to his editing room in our office, edited and copied the spot and had a copy delivered to each of the 11 stations before the 4pm deadline for their next day’s airing.

On Tuesday, the launch day of the sale a full-page advertisement ran in The New York Times and The New York Daily News. . Its headline had instant impact.

Don’t Go to Work Today.
(You’ll make more money at Barney’s First Warehouse Sale)

Damaged copy of the New York Times ad announcing Barney’s First Warehouse Sale.

The ad presented the construction delay rationale and a small sketch of the new International House under construction. It also presented a detailed list of 44 examples of the great bargains available at the sale. Smaller ads on the ensuing day alternated between this headline and another:

Call in Sick.

The sale hours were 9:00 a.m. to 9:30p.m. At 8:30 on Tuesday morning, I arrived at the warehouse and noted that there were half-a-dozen customers waiting at the warehouse door. Inside, Ira Weiser and Barney’s sales manager were organizing the crew that would operate the sale. The 17,000 square foot first floor of the warehouse was to be devoted to it. As merchandise moved out, more would be brought down from the floors above. The sale was cash and carry, no alterations, no charges and no returns. These tough policies helped reinforce the concept that this was a serious, once-in-a-lifetime event. We hoped that they wouldn’t turn people away. After checking with Ira on the lists of specific goods to be held back for later days in the sale, I took the elevator up to the executive floor.

Since he was usually in his office by eight, I was surprised to find that Fred was not there. Barney was. “Fred read your ad. He didn’t c-c-come to work today.” Barney was a funnyman. Then, he said that, in truth, Fred just did not want to be near such a “schlock” sale.

I said, “I hope there are enough sales to change his mind.”

Barney’s answer was simple, “Have faith in the masses.”

“Do you think they’ll come?” I asked him.

“They’ll go to work. But, they’ll c-c-come here first.”

They did. When I went back down to the street fifteen minutes later, the line stretched from the entrance near 18th Street a full city block down Seventh Avenue to the corner of 17th where it turned and headed towards 8th Avenue. If I’d been a woman, I would have wet my pants. As a man, I simply said, “OH, Shit!” a couple of times. Then, I caught a cab and took it to my office on 56th and 3rd where I met Roger. I changed into a Jack Jay-looking Eisenhower jacket while Roger prepared his Uher tape recorder. Then, we both left and headed down to Barney’s to build up some information about the effect of our advertising and to get some testimonials.

Jack Jay interviews early bargain hunters on the first day of Barney’s 1st Warehouse Sale.

The first day was big. Sales were just over $100,000, an average of $10/sq ft. At that time, $200/sq ft per year was a good business. Wednesday doubled Tuesday at almost $200,000.

Fred came to the sale on Thursday and watched sales total close to $250,000. Friday matched Thursday. Saturday broke the bank at over to $300,000!

In five days, sales totaled $1,108,500. All cash. (In 2010 dollars that would be just shy of $6 million 0)

That was more than five percent of Barney’s annual sales at the time. In 5 DAYS. And, without using the store.

Five days earlier Barney’s warehouse had been stuffed with over 30,000 units of merchandise ranging in age from one year to ten years. Much of it had no place to go. Now, it was gone into the hands of some 20,000 buyers who were, for the most part, not the customers Barney’s was looking for to visit its new facilities under construction. And, Barney’s had over a million dollars to help reduce its growing debit account at the bank.

Roger Day interviews customers on the 2nd day of Barney’s First Warehouse Sale

But, there was one more thing. I had observed that this sale had an exhilaration all its own. People waited on line, shopped, and then went home to get more money to get on line again. Men talked in bars about having been to The Warehouse Sale. This was not just another warehouse sale it was Barney’s Warehouse Sale.

Fred was finally convinced that we had not damaged his future and that, if anything, Barney’s had received very positive public attention because the values were real and the customers were really satisfied.

Knowing he was now of that frame of mind, I said “This sale grew to have a life of its own, in a time of its own and space of its own. I think we should annualize it.”

Fred said, “But, we had a good reason now, Jack. We had the construction delays. What would we have for an excuse next year?”

“The rationale is the repeat of a successful experience. It needs no other excuse. Next year, we will have “Barney’s Second Annual Warehouse Sale” with perhaps some pictures and interviews of what happened at Barney’s First Warehouse Sale. And, I am sure it will do just as well or better.”

With the million extra in the bank, Fred saw the logic immediately. As an ultimate retailer, he added, “I’ll have Ira start buying into it, right away.” He meant that Barney’s would start a year-long program of shopping for distressed merchandise from manufacturers or from retailers going out of business. His cost of goods would be far below wholesale. He didn’t want to lose as much margin as he had the first time around.

Barney’s was opened in 1923 with $300 from the hocked engagement ring owned by Barney Pressman’s wife. Before the opening of the International House, it was producing $10 million a year. A year after the opening,  sales were on the way to $20 million and the men’s designer fashion industry was booming thanks to its influence.  In September 1993, at a construction cost of $250 million, Barneys opened its 240,000 square foot, high-fashion store on Madison Avenue. In early 2005, Jones Apparel bought Barneys for $400 million. In 2007, Jones Apparel sold Barneys to the investment arm of the Dubai government for $825 million.

The location had changed. The family was gone. The image had become that of one of the highest fashion emporiums in the world.

Everything has changed. Except one.

In 2012, Barneys held its 42nd annual warehouse sale.

Good concepts have a life of their own.

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4 Responses to “Don’t Go to Work Today.”

  1. Joan McArthur June 3, 2011 at 2:21 pm #

    Thanks for much for this piece of Barneys history. One of the best experiences of my life was working on the Barneys account at Scali McCabe Sloves in the mid-70s. One of my first ads was for the Warehouse Sale (‘Every year it’s on for just one week. This is the week.’) I’m so glad you’ve been writing about your experience in the advertising dodge…I’ve just begun writing some of mine in my new blog (which is how I ran across this). I’m looking forward to reading much more….

    • Jack Byrne June 3, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

      Joan,

      Please let me know when you launch new blog. I would love the Barney’s continuity. We can exchange some Barney’s
      anecdotes.
      Jack

  2. #1batman June 14, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

    Love this. Helped a lot in my report and aspirations in the apparel industry.

    • Jack Byrne June 17, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

      Good luck in your aspirations. Barney’s led the pack in imaginative mind-altering communications. It was a very
      stimulating period of time and probably should be most credited to Fred Pressman, Barney’s son, and president
      and secondly to my forward thinking agency.
      Jack

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