Prom tux renters are out in force this month and attendance at local bridal shows has rebounded from a long drought.
Good news for anyone in the battered formal wear rental business.
"Those leading indicators of our industry show people more willing to spend," said Ron Sacino, chief executive of Sacino's Formalwear, long a statewide force in tuxedo rentals.
It could not come at a better time for his third-generation family business that gets more than half its revenue from weddings. Not only did fewer couples choose formal ceremonies during the recession, many put off tying the knot in such unsettled times.
But deeper currents are at play: fewer marriages per capita, less formal dress and cheaper imports.
In fact, IBIS World, a consumer research firm, lists the formal wear rental industry among 10 dying industries nationally. Formal and costume rental revenues plunged 35 percent to $736 million since 2001 and the number of rental stores dropped 28 percent. IBIS sees the next five years as no better.
Sacino's, which emerged last fall from bankruptcy with four stores, down from 19, has been at the center of the maelstrom.
"It has been very painful," Sacino said. "But we used the bankruptcy to refocus on core competencies like customer service."
The chain's old footprint from Tallahassee to Miami was downsized to St. Petersburg, Sarasota and Tampa. It gave up regional malls for less pricey shopping centers, so they also can be flexible about hours. The payroll was slashed from 180 to 70 and a statewide network of independent men's stores and bridal shops was signed up to rent Sacino's tuxes. Sacino's peak inventory of 15,000 tuxedos in 2003 is now below 10,000.
To adjust to changing customer behavior, Sacino bolstered the tux-for-sale selection, priced at $180 to $1,000, and added suits, including linen, suitable for less formal weddings.
The rental industry's ills go beyond the economy. The market is flooded with inexpensive imports priced for sale at not much more than a rental. An outfit rents from $60 to $179. JCPenney last week, for instance, put its $190 Stafford Essentials tuxes on sale at $100 plus shoes, shirt and bow tie for $90 more. The Men's Wearhouse chain added tux rental to its stores, corralling 45 percent of the market.
Sacino, who at 65 years old recalls many small rivals vanishing in the past decade, hopes to grab market share in a shrunken field.
To adapt, Sacino, who co-owns the business with his brother Greg, 56, maximized unused capacity at their dry-cleaning plant in St. Petersburg. Their 10-county certified restoration service caters to insurers who restore rather than replace water- or fire-damaged clothing. Sacino added dry-cleaning windows at both St. Petersburg locations and a pickup/delivery route with service billed automatically to a credit card. An updated website helps customers order tuxes online.
Tux tastes are influenced by what's seen on TV awards shows. So black or white dominates the color palette, with classic styling coming back, Sacino says. The bow tie is rising once again against a customer preference for long ties.
Long gone are lime, banana or ruffled pastel tuxes from the disco era. Those insistent on self-expression don't have to settle for a flashy vest. For $59, Men's Wearhouse sells high-top Chuck Taylors in black patent leather. Sacino says some rent coat and tails, and he has cut tux trousers into walking shorts for beach weddings.
"We've survived and retooled," Sacino said. "We aim to be here for our 100th year in 2016."
Mark Albright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8252.