Since establishing in 1980, Boy Next Door Menswear has grown into one of the most notable clothing establishments in Atlanta. Providing a wide range of clothing from trendy designers and international brands alike, Boy Next Door is often Atlanta’s exclusive home for new men’s fashion.
The locally owned business is still in its original location on Piedmont Avenue over thirty years after opening, though it’s taken up more space in the area since its early days.
According to store manager Ray Dowis, “We’re one of the original gay establishments in Atlanta, just like Backstreet and some of the others that have long since closed, even though they were clubs. When it comes to original gay establishments from the very beginnings of gay culture in Atlanta, that’s where this store comes from. A lot of people, especially the younger generations, don’t know this.”
Maintaining a Unique Market Presence
Something else Atlantans might not know is how Boy Next Door selects their product line. Boy Next Door has a lengthy history of obtaining brands like Diesel before they’re widely known.
Dowis cites the long-term success of the store, as well as its higher-end clientele, as reasons for Boy Next Door’s success in getting exclusive deals with various vendors.
“When it comes to buying and competition, we work with the same people that Barneys New York and Neiman Marcus do. Because of long-term history and establishment in Atlanta, a key market for many retailers, they see the niche that we own with Boy Next Door, and they honor it. So when we go buying, or we approach vendors to purchase merchandise, they react to us and, when compared to a boutique that you would see in the Highlands, they treat us as if we have equal buying power with Neiman Marcus or someone like that. They give us exclusivity of products that they will not even sell to Neiman Marcus or to companies like that because they realize that the niche that we have here is good for their company, good for their market. So for them to make us the only company that has this particular color, style, or fit in product, it works for them.”
With exclusive products, though, comes a unique set of issues. Many of the store’s items have limited production runs that may be exclusive to Boy Next Door and a handful of other stores across the country.
“Customers will see that we have limited sizes. When we buy, we don’t buy items and products that are extremely readily available, even to places like Macy’s. We buy products [from vendors] that they will only give us exclusive rights for, whether it’s in the southeast or just for us, or we’ll buy ‘limited cuts.’ We’ll buy products that they don’t put in their normal collection. They’ve offered it as a design, and they’ll tell us, ‘We’ll make this product.’ So we’ll go in – say, us and a boutique in San Francisco or Boystown – we’ll all go in and order two or three sizes each of that particular product. They’ll make that item, and then they’ll never make it again. That’s why we can’t get more sizes of a medium or a large when people ask ‘Do you have more sizes in the back?’ We can’t just call them and say, ‘Hey, we want more mediums and smalls of this red,’ because it doesn’t exist. They won’t make it again. You can’t get it.”
Their exclusivity also factors into the prices customers will find at Boy Next Door, which Dowis believes still offer a great value to his clientele.
“The products we offer are very limited – you can’t go to Macy’s or Neiman and buy the product. You may be able to go online, but you’re going to spend more, even in that case. And it’s not going to be the same color, and that’s one of the major differences in the product and what we offer in our store.
“Because of those things, we actually pay more for the product. But when you work out the value equation of what you’re paying for exclusivity and the quality of the products we carry, you’re getting a much better deal here than you would get at a Macy’s or even a Neiman Marcus on some of the items.”
The exclusivity also contributes to an issue Boy Next Door wants to resolve, such as offering products to a wider variety of customers – in some cases, literally.
“We don’t have sizes to fit the bears. They might want to wear bigger sizes of clothing, and that’s one of the major reasons why, many of these vendors simply don’t make sizes. Even to get an extra-large is like pulling teeth. So we’ve really been reaching out to and challenging our vendors, to help us to accommodate this, so we can expand our sizes and produces sizes going all the way up to, say, 3XL. That’s also one of the things we’re working on as we go to market and challenging vendors to provide to us.
“It’s been a challenge to us, because we could go out there and buy a whole bunch of dress shirts and things in big sizes that would be just as boring and lacking in quality as you’d find in local big and tall shops, or we can take our time and find vendors that will provide those sizes, but in current styles and trends that will make members of the bear community want to wear them even more. It’s a process, and it’s actually been more of a challenge than we realized, but it is on our priority list.”
Keeping Involved in the Community
On top of being a highly successful business, Boy Next Door is also known for being a prominent member of the community. Boy Next Door invests heavily in the community through participation in events like Atlanta Pride, various sponsorships and charitable contributions. Among the newer charities receiving support from Boy Next Door is Lost-n-Found Youth, through a number of methods.
“Everything from the Big Gay Game Show to running sales in our store in which we donate to the charity,” says Dowis. “For instance, we’ll have a 30%-off sale in the store, and in order to get that 30% discount on products, you have to give a minimum $1 cash donation to the charity. And any time we get a donation like that, we have a donation box on the counters. We give that money – there’s no middleman. It goes directly to the charity that we support.”
Boy Next Door’s charitable reach extends beyond the gay community into the broader Atlanta community. One of the newest charities receiving support from the company focuses on Atlanta-area children. The organization – Christmas, Cops and Kids – is an effort from the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department and the Atlanta Police Department that collects money to purchase clothing and school supplies for local children living in shelters.
Even events produced by Boy Next Door, such as their fashion shows, have a charitable aim.
“We do fashion shows to try and add entertainment value to the community,” says Dowis. “A lot of these things that we do come out of the Boy Next Door’s pockets directly. We’re not getting any other support, and the boys who work here are often doing it on their own time. When we’re doing things like that, it’s all volunteer across the board, or it’s covered by the Boy Next Door itself.”
Planning for Expanding
Even with over thirty years of success, Boy Next Door has no intention of resting on its laurels. The store is looking to expand its business footprint through a few different methods.
The first priority is launching an all-new website, according to Dowis. “We’re very close to offering and flipping the switch on with a full-fledged e-commerce site, where customers will be able to ship anywhere in the United States. We’re trying to find a way to still keep our exclusivity in products and offer a great selection to the customers.”
Once the website launches, which Dowis expects could happen within a few weeks, the store will turn its focus onto expanding its physical presence. Dowis admits, though, that the process of opening additional physical locations has its own challenges.
“We’re looking at opening additional locations not only within our community, but we’re looking at communities surrounding us. We’ve actually been readily walking real estate, and we are looking for affordable real estate for growth. That’s one of the major issues the Boy Next Door has had; in spite of the empty real estate in many parts of many different communities, even though the pieces of real estate may have been sitting there empty for years, the amount that they want for these spaces for a community-oriented company like us to go in there and be successful is just absurd.”
Still, Dowis believes that the store’s current model is the way to go. “We could be stupid and go in there and blow all this money and get loans and be financially irresponsible, hoping that it’s going to be successful, or we could go the direction we’ve been going and give that money back to the community until we find the right fit.”