The Oxford Shop stays true to roots after 55 years
A fashion movement is growing in Nashville as designers plant roots and new retail stores open, bringing influences from the coasts.
But one Green Hills retailer is celebrating decades of success by sticking to its core business model: high-end men’s clothing with a strong focus on customer service.
For 55 years, The Oxford Shop has been dressing customers ranging from high school students in need of a suit for homecoming to well-established business professionals.
“We feel like everyone wants to be here now because Nashville has become so popular in the last few years, but for us, it has always been the kind of ‘it city,’ ” said Eric Viars, who owns the store with David Garris.
Dress shirts, suits and ties help fill the 2,100-square-foot space at 3830 Bedford Ave. just west of The Mall at Green Hills. Viars and Garris purchased the commercial space in 2007, relocating the store from a busier shopping center near Trader Joe's in favor of easier customer access and ample parking.
The Oxford Shop went through several ownership transitions before Viars and Garris purchased it in 1993 from a Louisville, Ky.-based company.
“I decided at an early age this is what I wanted to do,” Viars said about his career in the retail industry.
Now, the duo are proud to call The Oxford Shop an independently owned store.
The store’s inventory reflects its Nashville roots. Despite the city’s evolving fashion scene, Viars said his customers are still interested in traditional and high-end men’s clothing.
The store has experimented with women’s clothing in the past, but Viars said the space is too limited and he would need a separate buyer to support that department. Viars said he keeps up with fashion trends on frequent buying trips to New York and by talking with other retailers around the country.
“(Nashville) has always been kind of a Southern town with very traditional looks. That has evolved somewhat, I think, with the influx of people to Nashville, so it has gotten edgier, but I think it’s still, for the most part, very true to its roots,” Viars said.
The Oxford Shop’s main focus is made-to-measure shirts, pants, jackets and suits, led by master tailor Leo Alvarez. The store is an exclusive retailer for high-end menswear brand Samuelsohn. Some sportswear also is mixed in the store, including Peter Millar and Barbour brands.
Viars said the higher price points appeal to customers looking to invest in quality pieces.
“We truly look at what we sell as an investment in who you are and what you do. We just don’t take something and put a high price tag on it; there’s a certain level of craftsmanship and quality that comes along with it,” Viars said.
Like many independent retailers, The Oxford Shop had to weather hard times, particularly during the economic downturn when customers were tightening their wallets and as more consumers turn to online shopping for convenience. One challenge as a small-business owner is not having the same pricing leverage as chains and department stores that buy in bulk.
Viars said it is The Oxford Shop’s commitment to customer service that helps build a loyal client base — starting with customers as young as high school students.
“It’s all relationship driven with us. We know almost everyone who walks in the door. We know who they are, what they do, where they like to go,” Viars said.
As The Oxford Shop celebrates its 55th anniversary this year, Viars said he’s looking to move the business’s back office operations to a separate space because the store is at maximum capacity. He’s also working with a Web developer on a new website with the potential for an e-commerce component.