In 1950, Taylor Gee drove all over the Southeast selling pants to retailers out of the trunk of his Mercury. People digging through the bins for deals on pants at Taylor’s Leeds warehouse dubbed the business “The Pants Store.”
Wholesale quickly gave way to retail, and the store’s inventory grew to include all types of apparel for the entire family. Even with a diverse inventory, the Pants Store name stuck, and it will stay stuck, says its current president and third-generation co-owner, Michael Gee.
“Sometimes our name is a bit inhibitive because people don’t understand exactly who we are, but we have had that name for 74 years at this point. We’re proud of who we are. We’re definitely keeping the name,” Michael says. In 2025, the Pants Store will celebrate its 75th year of business.
Taylor’s son, Morris “Mickey” Gee, sharpened the focus beyond pants, grew the footprint, added TV advertising and carried forward the Pants Store’s reputation for crazy deals, but it was his sons, Michael and John, who’ve expanded the business to what it is today. The brothers joined the family business full time in 2001 and bought it from their father in 2008.
Beside its Leeds store, headquarters and warehouse, the Pants Store operates in Mountain Brook (since 2006), Tuscaloosa (2012), Huntsville (2015), Auburn (2022) and Hoover (2022).
The Pants Store name became a viral sensation in 2021. That is when the #bamarush shared by those participating in the University of Alabama’s sorority rush included many outfits from the Pants Store’s Tuscaloosa location, sending the chain’s online sales skyrocketing 600% over 2020 online sales.
“We consider pantsstore.com a seventh location, and it’s our third best location right now. In the next five years, it’ll be the No. 1 location,” said Michael. “It just keeps growing and growing.”
“My grandfather was a retail legend. My dad was a hard worker with a big heart. I love working with my brother. It’s nice to know somebody’s got your back all the time.”
Small = big with amplified voice
Michael, who has served on the Alabama Retail Association’s board of directors since 2015 and its executive committee since 2020, began his term Jan. 1 as the board’s chairman. “Being a small business owner is tough,” he said when asked about the value of belonging to a trade association. “We are the little guys. It’s great to belong to an organization that has a voice loud enough for policymakers to hear.”
Another benefit is getting “to meet other outstanding retailers and compare notes and become better at what we do. Sometimes you get so focused on what you do, it’s nice to see how others operate.”
For the same reason, the Pants Store belongs to six chambers of commerce and Michael serves on the board of Leeds Main Street.
Pants and more
Seventy percent of what the Pants Store sells is women’s apparel, but when the store began in 1950, its focus was “men’s dress pants, because everybody dressed up so much” for church and work, Michael said. The merchandise is much more casual now. “We don’t even carry suits anymore,” he added.
In the early days, the Pants Store also sold industrial clothing for governments and corporations as well as uniforms for schools and businesses. Even though the focus has been retail apparel for decades, “if a customer comes in and says, ‘I own so-and-so company and I need T-shirts and hats and quarter zips, can you put my logo on these?,’ We’re more than happy to do that,” said Michael.
“We do still sell a lot of pants. That’s for sure,” he said. In fact, each store has a wall of pants in addition to its stock of blouses, polos, sweatshirts, shorts, pullovers, shoes, boots, dresses, gameday attire, belts and pajamas. “We sell good quality merchandise at a good price” for women, men and children, Michael said.
Customer base gives each store subtle differences
“While there are some subtle differences, most of the stores are 95% the same,” said Michael. “The Tuscaloosa store only sells University of Alabama gear, the Auburn store, only Auburn gear. Sometimes in those college towns, we feel there’s a younger demographic, so we might cater a little bit to those needs, but we try and stay as uniform as possible. In Leeds, the customer is more of an everyday worker. We sell more Carhartt to guys actually on the roof wearing it because it’s durable on the roof, rather than wearing it because it looks cool.”
Online customers beyond and within the state of Alabama create a dynamic of their own.
“We ship all over the country. More than 50% of our business is out of state on pantsstore.com,” Michael said, adding that in-state customers also take advantage of the convenience of ordering online. “We definitely have customers too who live in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Huntsville or Auburn and we’re shipping them stuff from pantsstore.com. They try it on (and if it doesn’t fit), bring it back or swap it out in store.”
“We try and give each location its independence, while trying to keep a uniform landscape,” he added.
During an interview in the newest Pants Store location in the Stadium Trace Village development in Hoover, Michael said, “our target market is 16 and up to the hip mom.” A woman trying on shoes nearby raised her hand and said, “hip Mom here.”
Fourth generation impact already felt
Owners Michael and John both have teen-aged children. The fourth generation of Gees “have worked in the stores at one point or the other – over the holidays, gift wrapping, cleaning dressing rooms, cleaning the stores,” said Michael. “They all pitch in, and it’s good for them to get a feel for what it’s like and see if it’s something they want to consider in the future.”
It was Michael’s daughter who suggested the Pants Store have a presence on TikTok.
“We were already big on Instagram and Facebook, so we started a TikTok account to market and advertise. People were talking about Bama rush and the Pants Store on TikTok as we were starting, and then it just blew up. We had magazines and radio and TV stations calling from all over the country,” said Michael.
“Every year is different on how it blows up, but we see a huge influx from (TikTok during sorority rush) still. It’s something we plan on and start talking about in January” each year, he said.
The reputation the Pants Store gained on TikTok paid off when the Auburn store opened in 2022. “(Auburn University students) already knew who we were and what we did.” His daughter’s suggestion “really helped us.”
Number of Employees
My dad, Mickey Gee. He was always the smartest and most charismatic person in the room.
Hire and listen to people smarter than you
Starting to gain experience and not being afraid to take chances of failure
As my dad always told me, “Don’t not be afraid to start small.”
Originally posted Jan. 11, 2024
This article is the cover story
of the February 2024 Alabama Retailer.
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