Cincinnati men aren't as unfashionable as you think, and that's big business for Montgomery shop • Cincinnati Business Courier

Nobody would look to Cincinnati as a fashion mecca – people downtown are as likely to wear sweats and a sports jersey as a suit. But that's changing, and that means big business for an entrepreneur who took a chance on a men's fashion shop in 2012.

Chuck Hellman was born and raised in Cincinnati before moving to New York in 1983. He got a degree in business management from the University of Cincinnati, but was more interested in fashion and dressing well.

"I didn't like looking sloppy. It was the old Billy Crystal quote, 'If you look good you feel good,'" Hellmann told me. "I couldn't really get a good job out of college because my grades weren't great. I went to New York to stay with my aunt, and I came out with three job offers. I ended up taking one with Macy's."

Hellman worked his way up to becoming CEO of luxury menswear brand Robert Graham from 2007 to 2012. It was around that time he became familiar with Blaine's Fine Men's Apparel at 9407 Montgomery Road. He became friendly with the owners, eventually becoming a partner himself in 2012. In 2014, he bought the store.

"I did it for pretty selfish reasons: my mom was here and I had lost my dad, so it was my kick in the ass to come visit my mom," he said. "The other thing is, I knew that this city could support what we were doing here and how I wanted men to think a little bit different about their wardrobe. So far it's working pretty well."

When Hellman first joined Blaine's in 2012, it was more of a traditional Brooks Brothers-type men's clothing store. The average shopper was age 50 to 75. But despite Cincinnati's conservative reputation, Hellman said he believed Blaine's could be something more akin to what people would find in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago.

"A lot of the guys that come in here nowadays, they travel. They go to Europe. They go to Asia. I think fit and fabric plays a very big role," Hellman said. "I think attitudes have changed and as people travel and evolve, their mindsets are different."

Men are doing a lot of their own shopping themselves, rather than their significant other purchasing for them. Traditional rules about seasons, colors and fabrics are being eschewed and Cincinnati men are getting bolder. Blaine's draws customers from the Tri-State region, as well as Louisville, Lexington, Dayton and Columbus.

"It is a little surprising," he said. "This is a store that doesn't get a lot of foot traffic, so people have to get in their cars and do something."

Hellman seems to have been right to bet that Cincinnati would embrace trendier fashions. He says he's been able to grow revenue to more than $1 million, but he thinks he can double that. The average range in customer age has skewed down too, attracting men in their 30s and late 20s. Hellman's also considering expanding, either opening a women's apparel shop or another Blaine's location downtown or in Over-the-Rhine.

"When I came in three years ago at Blaine's, it was very conservative fashion," he said. "Now, bringing in brands like Vince and Zanella and PT01, these are brands that really test the fashion of our guy, and these are some of our best-performing brands. That shows that our guy has embraced the fashion."


December 14, 2015