Retail 101: J. Benzal

Photography by Reagan Allen

From a food delivery service to the upcoming release of a new app in April, to his fashion label J. Benzal, Ben Diallo is the consummate businessman. After falling in love with fashion while living in New York City, Diallo decided to start his brand with the sole intent to provide every man with a great fitting suit. With two locations – one in Downtown Indianapolis and one in Caramel – Diallo has been providing the Indy area with great menswear for 10 years.

Name: Ben Diallo
Store name: J. Benzal Menswear
Store address: We have two locations: Downtown Indy: 22 E. Washington St. | Carmel: 31 W. City Center Drive
Store website: www.jbenzal.com
Store insta: @jbenzal
When did you open the store: We opened our first store in 2009 and our second location in 2013.
Number of full-time employees: 4

What do you sell in your store: J.Benzal is a full service menswear boutique, offering every item to complete a man’s wardrobe.  We specialize in Italian suiting — both custom and ready-to-wear.  We also carry more casual items like sport coats, slacks and jeans.  We launched our shoe line in 2016.

Previous jobs/ventures: I’m a serial entrepreneur, so I’ve launched several businesses. I have an international procurement company. I launched a food delivery business, which I sold a couple years ago.  But I fell in love with fashion when I lived in New York.  I was running a translation services company and my office was located in the garment district.  While there, I got deep into exploring fabrics and design.

Why did you decide to open your own storefront? I wasn’t finding what I wanted to wear when I shopped locally. I started designing and eventually created my own line. At J.Benzal we believe all men want to look good and feel good in the clothes they wear.  And you don’t always have to spend a fortune to look good. It’s about knowing how to dress well for your body. We take pride in helping our clients find their personal style.  The truth is — every man should own a well-tailored suit.  It’s a game changer. We make that our mission.

Do you have an online store as well? Yes

Which came first the online store or the bricks and mortar store? The physical store came first. We wanted an online option to serve clients who don’t live in Indianapolis or Carmel. We do a good number of weddings, where the groom may have groomsmen who come in from out of town. The guys often love the suits they wore for the wedding, so they continue to shop with us online.

List five skills/qualifications that you think are important to have before launching a storefront?

  1. Vision – a clear vision of what you want to create – your product, your brand and your impact on the market.  Everything you do will flow from your vision.
  2. Tenacity – launching a is business hard. You will work harder for yourself than you ever did for someone else.  So be prepared to put everything in to ensure success.
  3. Finance/Accounting – it’s a business. You have to be able to account for the money coming in and out.
  4. Customer Service – you have to love people and be committed to serving your customers well. We want our clients to have an experience when they shop at J.Benzal. We want them to love their purchases and enjoy the experience of shopping with us so they want to return and spread the word to their friends.
  5. Relationship Builder – Indy is a collaborative city. People like to partner and collaborate. Knowing how to cultivate relationships and partnerships with others is key to running a successful business.

What’s the most effective marketing tool that you’ve been using recently? Social media

What’s more important when opening a storefront: Location, having a nice cash cushion or having a lot of retail experience? Why? Location is key.  You need to match your audience with your product and/or services.  Cash flow and experience are important, but location is a bigger factor because your business has to be accessible.  We recently moved our flagship downtown store from Mass Ave. to E. Washington Street, in the heart of Mile Square.  We loved our time on Mass Ave. — we were there for 10 years — and we grew our business there, but there wasn’t a lot a retail business on Mass Ave.  We’ve seen a jump in new client sales since we moved to the E. Washington location, solely due to foot traffic.  The location also allows us to able to capture the convention/business customer.

How do you decide which vendors/products/brands you want to carry in your store? J.Benzal is a private label fashion line. From suits, shirts, ties, shoes and even cologne; we are the only brand we carry in our stores.

Do you work with vendors on a consignment basis? No

Do you carry any local vendors/brands? Why/Why not? J.Benzal is a local brand. We spend a lot of time on the craftsmanship and detail of our products. We don’t want to compromise any of that by bringing in other brands.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in running your business? Good help is hard to find.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of opening their own storefront? Passion for your product is essential. But make sure you also have a passion for the business side of the work.

What advice would you give to an up-and-coming brand looking to build a strong relationship with a retailer? There’s no substitute for strong knowledge of your product, materials and the unique features of your design. It’s also good to have clarity on the production costs and ways to increase margins.

Are there any online resources that you regularly visit to help you run your business better, or keep up with the latest industry trends? We always want to stay current on trends and what’s happening in the world of fashion. There’s not one site that comes to mind, but we do a fair amount of travel to maintain a pulse on global fashion, so we can bring those concepts to Indianapolis.

Shop J. Benzal in-store and online.
Follow J. Benzal on Instagram and Facebook.

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