BIRMINGHAM – The Alabama Retail Association, in cooperation with the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Business, today recognized 18 outstanding Alabama retailers representing 13 retail businesses with operations in 29 Alabama cities and 16 states as Retailers of the Year. The presentations were made at The Club in Birmingham during the 2012 Retail Day Luncheon. This marked the 13th presentation of the Retailer of the Year Awards since 1999.
Michael and John Gee, co-owners of the Pants Store, five casual clothing, shoes and accessory stores in the Birmingham area and Tuscaloosa, earned the Silver Retailer of the Year Award in the Annual Sales $5 Million to $20 Million category. The Gees, along with their late father, Mickey, also were the 2007 Silver Retailers of the Year in the Annual Sales $1 Million to $5 Million category.
The Pants Store, a third generation family business, has been around for 62 years and employs 66. Suzan Doidge, executive director of the Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce, nominated the Gees for the award.
The Retailer of the Year judges commended the brothers for expanding both the brick-and-mortar and online aspects of their business in the past year. The Pants Store opened its newest store in April in the former Kress department store building in Tuscaloosa. According to their entry form, sales at the Gees’ five stores have been good with business growing by about $1 million in just the past year. Their online sales are up 79 percent over the previous year. The flagship store is in Leeds with the other stores in Mountain Brook, Trussville and Birmingham.
“Michael and John are hands-on and know most of the customers by name, making the Pants Store feel like home to many,” Doidge said in her nomination. “Michael and John are smart as well as fun businessmen and are continuing in their father’s and grandfather’s footsteps.”
The brothers’ grandfather, Taylor Gee, opened the original Pants Store in 1950 as a pants wholesaler. Wholesale gave way to retail, and the store’s inventory grew to include all types of apparel for the entire family. Despite its diverse inventory, the Pants Store name stuck.
The brothers get their love for retailing from their father, who handed over the business to them years ago. Mickey Gee, who after retiring from the business used his retailing knowledge to teach the next generation of entrepreneurs at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Business, died suddenly earlier this year. “My brother and I were lucky to be around my dad and learn from my father how to be good retailers, good fathers and good men,” Michael Gee says in a video history of the Pants Store.
The Retailer of the Year judges also lauded the Gee brothers for establishing a Pants Store private label. Forty percent of all goods that leave the stores carry the Pants Store label, the Gees said.
The Gees also have increased their stores’ social presence in the past year, hiring a full-time social media marketer in April 2011.
“We believe that constantly connecting with our customers is vital to success,” the Gees said in their Retailer of the Year entry.
Like his father, Michael Gee has a marketing degree from The University of Alabama, while John Gee’s marketing degree is from The University of Mississippi.
Doidge said the brothers “give back in many ways.” Michael Gee, who served on the board of the Arthritis Foundation, started the Mudbugs & Music fundraiser in 2005, which since its inception has raised more than $300,000 for the foundation. Mudbugs & Music is six hours of live music with plenty of crawfish cooked on site for sustenance. The Birmingham event is held in May of each year.
Alabama Retail Association President Rick Brown said, “Michael and John Gee are retailers of the year EVERY year to their customers, employees and the communities where their stores are located.”
>> Full list of the 2012 Retailers of the Year