Fashion forward: J. Longs remodels, expands showroom | Millennial

At the modern lifestyle shop that is J. Longs, team members have a singular goal: providing what it takes for their customers to look good and live well.

“Selling clothing may not seem like a life-changing job, but it’s a blessing to be able to help our customers and make their lives easier,” said Aaron Jones, one of four J. Longs partners (along with Matt Long, Jim Long and Judy Long).

“The fun part comes from all the wonderful people we serve – that’s what makes it worth it.”

With an optimal customer experience in mind, the J. Longs crew recently completed a remodeling project in their store at 1640 Madison Ave., Mankato, where they have been located since September 2017.

“Our fifth anniversary here is approaching, and it’s been an amazing location for us,” said Jones.

Due to their growing business, J. Longs opted to reconfigure multiple walls and repositioned the tailor shop to gain an extra 1,000 square feet of showroom area along with an expanded customer service counter.

In the process, they improved lighting throughout the space and created a “men’s zone” for suits, sport coats and accoutrements, with added dressing rooms to boot.

The latter were necessary because, since they began offering suit purchase packages 12 years ago (in lieu of renting tuxedos / suits), J. Longs now outfits about 250 wedding parties annually. That’s in addition to the continual traffic they see from business professionals and other men seeking suits for funerals, formal events, proms and similar occasions.

“There are not a lot of places in the area to find good suits, and we wanted to have a dedicated space for that,” said Jones.

“We house the largest selection of suits and sports coats south of the metro, and our service and selection are on par with a lot of the big players in the cities.”

Suits and professional menswear may be at the roots of J. Longs’ origin story, but in recent years the business has spread its wings.

Today, a wide range of women’s clothing — from athleisure to business wear — is also in stock, as are casual wardrobe items for men. A large selection of lifestyle shop products are part of the store’s current business model, too.

Looking back

In 1985, Jim and Judy Long moved to Mankato and opened a Knight’s Chamber store in the Madison East Mall.

When the River Hills Mall was built, the Longs traveled a couple miles east with their array of suits, sports coats, belts, shoes, ties, slacks and more.

By 2005, they decided to rebrand the business, choosing the name “J. Longs ”for obvious reasons.

When moving to a new, larger location within River Hills Mall a few years later, the Longs added women’s clothing to the men’s options — but that was 2009.

“It was definitely a great idea and a beautiful store, but it was too big for that difficult economic period,” said Jones. He and Matt Long bought into the business around that time.

J. Longs was one of the last family-owned and operated stores to depart River Hills Mall, with rising rents being a factor.

Instead, the J. Longs group signed a seven-year lease for a storefront with a slightly smaller footprint across Adams Street in the River Place Center and, for those years, eliminated their women’s stock.

Since purchasing the Madison Avenue building, the partners have created a pleasant industrial-modern retail store they’ve delighted in making their own.

“We’re really happy with it,” Jones said.

They’re not alone

Customers like Mankatoan Brent Busch, vice president of PrimeSource Funding, has been a J. Longs devotee since the shop’s River Hills Mall days – but he loves the new spot.

“The free-standing store is great,” said Busch. “It’s easy to get in and out of, and that makes it easier than ever to shop.”

Matt Long assures that J. Longs will continue to respond to market demands and evolving customer needs long after their recent building update is in the rear-view mirror.

“The renovation itself is done, but we’re not sitting back to rest on our laurels,” Long said.

Trial by COVID

Although their business has been, according to Long, growing “by leaps and bounds” in recent years, that’s not to say the pandemic left J. Longs unscathed.

With so many people working remotely – some dressed in pajamas or sweatpants – the demand for business wear and seasonally updated wardrobes temporarily went by the wayside.

And since J. Longs was declared a non-essential business, the shop has endured a shutdown period.

Luckily for J. Longs, the partners had begun a product pivot in late 2019, opting to add women’s clothing, shoes and general lifestyle products while amping up their offerings in men’s leisure wear.

“We made that pivot at just the right time,” Jones said.

Shortly before the pandemic, they were approved to carry several hot brands including Lululemon, Spanx, Vuori and Alo yoga wear.

“We’re the only local place you can find Lululemon products,” said Jones.

“And women love Vuori, Alo and Spanx, which has great work pants besides shape wear.”

Jones said their addition of athleisure plus lifestyle items was a “big blessing” they could never have anticipated.

“Even during the shutdown, Matt and I showed up every day,” Jones said. “We were making calls, delivering packages to doorsteps, because people were ordering joggers, leggings, hoodies, quarter-zips, soft t-shirts and some candles and gift items,” Jones said.

“We survived doing that.”

Jones points out that J. Longs is newly positioned to take customers through the workweek to the weekend to blacktie formal events, while simultaneously making it convenient to shop for birthdays, anniversaries, hostess gifts or gift baskets.

Premium products like coffee, Compartes chocolates (“They’re a famous California chocolatier with awesome treats that include specialty chunks of donuts and potato chips — super good,” Jones endorsed), Fulton + Roark solid colognes (“Those are great for guys who travel because they can take scents with them and not worry about TSA liquid ounce guidelines, ”Jones observed) and candles are all in the mix.

J. Longs proudly carries popular clothing brands such as the German BRAX, Greyson Clothiers and Mizzen + Main.

“Mizzen + Main is the number-one selling shirt line,” said Jones, mentioning that pro athletes like Phil Mickelson and Kyler Murray are M + M endorsers.

“They have short- and long-sleeve button-ups that are wrinkle resistant, and their four-way stretch dress shirts are almost like wearing Nike or Under Armor but in a dress shirt,” Jones said.

J. Longs’ women’s inventory, managed by Brianna Long, is fashion-forward both in professional looks and casual moments.

“We carry everything from casual to dressy for the ladies – blazers, slacks, dresses, denim, shoes and sandals,” listed Jones.

Added Long, who is the store’s main buyer, “We don’t want to be stale but we will be true to our core.”

Friends, partners, customers

The trust between Long and Jones dates to their days as misfit cross country runners at Mankato West High School.

As Jones recalls it, he was a ninth grader and Long was an up-and-coming eighth grader when the two first became friends.

“When we were younger, we always talked about opening a sports bar together,” said Long. “We thought that would be so cool – but this has actually worked out better.”

Both are frank that it took time, trial and error to figure out whose skills fit better in which roles.

“The key is communication,” said Long. “There’s nothing we’re not willing to talk about with each other, and sometimes that’s the tough stuff, but whatever the situation is, we can usually put aside the emotions and come to the best solution.”

Fortunately, they agree on the most important things: treating their 15 employees like the valued team members they are and excelling at customer service.

“The experience is huge for us,” said Jones. “When someone walks in the door, we want them to know they’re important to us, to be greeted and to have a genuine interest shown in them and their needs.”

“I really do believe that is our ‘secret sauce.'”

That’s an area in which Jim Long definitely led the way.

“The first thing my dad had me do was take out the trash because he said I had to know the store from the back to the front,” Long said.

“And he told me the biggest thing was to take care of the customer.”

J. Longs serves people from all over the Mankato area, but regular customers also hail from points up to 90 minutes away, coming from northern Iowa, the Twin Cities and deep southwestern Minnesota.

“And we have some who have moved to other parts of the country who trust us enough to keep shopping for them and sending them items,” said Long.

“They want what we provide and that makes our day, because making a connection with our customers is what we like doing.”

Local regular Busch affirms that the J. Longs staff aren’t pushy salespeople but are suggestive and helpful.

At this point, Busch estimates 95% of his wardrobe items come from J. Longs.

“I trust them,” said Busch. “They make sure I look good and that things fit well, and I know I can rely on them.

“I spend most days in my professional gear, but they have some pretty fantastic casual stuff too,” he continued.

“Basically, they push me outside my comfort zone but keep me inside my professional zone.”

Such comments are music to the ears of Long and Jones, who enjoy serving customers at whatever level they need.

“We treat everyone with respect, take them seriously and educate them about the options,” said Long.

“We’re here to suggest things and offer solutions – and when you walk out of our store, we want you to be happy.”

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