As Chattanooga area businesses shift, pivot and change, trying to adapt to a new normal, many are tapping into the passion that led them to open their business in the first place. Over the course of the next number of weeks, the Chattanooga Chamber will profile some of these owners and share their inspirational stories on how they are doing it.
Like many small businesses during the height of COVID-19, Bruce Baird, owner of Bruce Baird and Company, a men’s clothier in the heart of downtown Chattanooga, ramped up his online store, offering curbside pick-up and personal delivery.
“Whatever we can do for our customers we will do,” Mr. Baird says. The longtime business owner, serving the Scenic City for over 32 years, still can’t believe he shut his doors for four weeks recently. But he was even more amazed by the support he got from the city he loves.
“So amazing were the calls that we got. People calling, two and three a day, ‘Hey Bruce, wanted to call and let you know I am thinking about you, when I need something I will come in, but how are you doing?'” Mr. Baird says. “We have such a wonderful customer base; they aren’t just my customers, they are my friends. I had one customer say, ‘Is there anything you need? Go ahead and get my husband a suit and sports coat.’ Stuff like that, it carried us through.”
Armed with a PPP loan and a full heart, Mr. Baird had no doubt he would pull through. Already, sales for June came close to his totals for the same time last year. And even though he has been outfitting generations of men for over three decades, for Mr. Baird, it still feels like he just started.
“I love it. I enjoy coming to work every day. I still see myself in my customers, coming in and saying, ‘Oh gosh, I would love to buy that.’”
It’s a phrase Mr. Baird remembers saying to himself as a young teen in the 60s. Like his father and mother, he had a flair for the finer things in clothing. And one day, he spotted the perfect big brand dress shirt, a Gant. He knew he had to have it.
“I paid $5 a week on it from mowing lawns,” Mr. Baird says. “I was so proud of that shirt. I can picture it now. It was yellow and plaid. I thought, ‘Oh, I have arrived, I got me a Gant shirt.’”
Fast forward a few years, and there was Mr. Baird working in a men’s clothing store in Chattanooga. First, it was with Ira Trivers. Later he helped open Jonathan’s and finally he opened his own store, Bruce Baird & Company. It was 1988 and he hasn’t looked back since.
“It’s one of those things, you just know it in your knower, you feel it,” he says. “I just love the business.”
Known for its ties, American-made men’s suits and lots of color, Bruce Baird is doing what he does best, taking care of customers and they are taking care of him.
“People need people and I have customers that came in right after we reopened, (saying) 'You know Bruce, I could have done this on the phone ... but I just had to get out. I had to come. It’s happy.’”