AMHERST - In 1924 when the late Mike Mansour founded a menswear store in Amherst built on the family name, the common method of doing business was in cash, in person, and during business hours.
Today, don’t be surprised to learn the downtown Amherst business sold a pair of pants in the middle of the night to an Australian without money ever passing hands directly.
No, these are not the clandestine acts of a business being muscled by online commerce. This is how a small community business is part of the changing times.
Mikhail Mansour is the newest generation of Mansours to carry on the family business and coming into the fold presented an opportunity for a young mind to pick up the reigns on an old project never developed into its full potential for the better part of a decade: update the store’s website.
“If you just make a site [and leave it] you are going to rank low in searches,” Mikhail said. “That is going to prevent people from going back. There is no new content. You’re almost better off not having a website at all.”
Leaving the old website dormant was a bit of blessing in disguise, though. Instead of finding themselves with gigs of data to transfer to a new host, Mikhail was able to build on online presence using today’s trends and technology without worrying about losing archived content. With a university background in commerce and accounting, Mikhail admits coding is not his forte, but it doesn’t need to be in this age.
“I use Shopify and if you know how to use a computer well you can pretty well build a website from on that,” Mikhail said. “It’s quite easy to use, really… I learned a lot. I’m a lot better with technology now than when I started.
Coming into the digital age is almost inevitable for many businesses but Mikhail says one of the keys to success – be it for marketing, promotion, presence or sales – is committing to the website. The days of set-it-and-forget-it are over and businesses who interact with their customer base quickly increase their potential.
“I think you need someone in-house. That is really crucial, from my point of view,” Mikhail said. “I spend a lot of time on it. I think a big part of our success is we are constantly updating. Every day we are making more content.”
One of the spinoffs of moving to a digital storefront also meant creating a unique inventory system for online sales, Mikhail said, so in person or over the Internet customers are receiving an almost-live action feed of what is available.
“It was more work to set it up with every item where before we would just get out the price gun out and things were don in seconds,” Mikhail’s father, Robert, said. “Now we enter in every product, a description, company name, all the different areas a person might be searching may find it [metadata] and then plus the sizes so if we sell one it doesn’t show we have something online that we don’t have.”
The trade-off for the extra work behind the scenes means the business is no longer limited to waiting for people to visit during store hours, nor are their online customers limited to a limited selection. If it’s in stock, it’s online.
“We’re really starting to sell stuff now. Over the weekend, Saturday, during dinner we got an order and yesterday we had a small order,” Mikhail said. “At first when we got online, we were paying for this and paying for that, but now we’re getting deposits almost every day.”
Customers from France, Australia, the United States and all over Canada are turning to the Mansour’s website to do business, but that’s not to say their in-person community are not using the website to bolster their shopping experience, too.
“I find one of the biggest things is people will check out a product and then come in. There is a lot of that,” Robert said. “At least half of our regular customers say ‘I know that,” or ‘I saw that.’”
The Mansours noted an increase in product awareness since updating their online experience and it’s not just the younger generation reviewing products before coming into the store.
“We had an older gentleman come in a say he wanted a certain pair of shoes he saw on the computer – and he’s 90-ish,” Robert said.
The Internet and e-commerce opened the door to discount shopping worldwide. Things can be bought for much less with a credit card if you don’t mind waiting. Where the Mansours diverge from the pack is they remain committed to their beginnings: focus on quality products and personalized customer experiences in a way businesses focused on bulk sales cannot.
“We had a Texas guy order two shirts and, by mistake, one of them was not here, so we took a picture of all the other ones he might be interested in and emailed them to him and he decided on one of them, so we still had the sale of two shirts,” Robert said. “If we think its quicker to let a company ship directly we’ll do that, too, to let for a quick turnaround.”
A website is just a website unless people know about it, however, and Mikhail has brought the business’ profile up with the times and trends. They not only maintain social media accounts with Facebook and Instagram but create user experiences by creating videos on products and fun.
It’s not something Robert expected to see in his career, but thanks to his son’s innovation, it’s made the store competitive in the 21st Century and added a something no one was expecting when they hired out to have their first website made in the late 1990s – a little bit of celebrity. The Mansours and staff are starting to be recognized on their travels from their video content.
“We visited on some friends of friends, and they were waiting just to meet me,” Robert said.
What the next frontier for Mansour’s Menswear looks like may be another generation away, but until then they are proving doing business in small-town Nova Scotia still looks good.