October 25, 2014

“Trendy” or Not, a Successful Men’s Store is Adding Class to Downtown Deep River

Front windows of Anchor & Compass, "A Store for Guys"

“I really don’t like to be classified as trendy,” says owner Sage Novak,  referring to her very successful men’s store, Anchor & Compass, located at 163 Main Street in heart of Deep River. “I feel I am anything but,” she says, terming the clothing theme in her store as “conservative and traditional New England.”

Also, she says, “A large portion of my guy customers are working class folk that come in for the Carhartt brand, T-shirts,” and “I work hard to convey an ‘every man’s’ image.”

To burnish this image she even holds “beer tastings” at the store. Also, the store’s slogan is, “A Store for Guys.”

Inside, it is easy to navigate Anchor & Compass. Each name-brand line of clothing has its own discreet sales area. Among the most popular, especially for the over 50-years-old set, is the “Old Guys Rule” line.

"Old Guys Rule" T-shirts are a best seller

These T-shirts carry sayings on their fronts that poke fun about getting old, and remembering the glory days of youth. Some customers have whole collections of the shirts, saying such things as, “The older I Get, The Better I Was.” “Old Guys Rule” shirts are $24 for a T-shirt, and $28 for long sleeves.

Another popular brand, which features shirts displaying fishing humor, comes from the “Fish On!” company, located in Chester, Connecticut. These shirts cost $24 for T-shirts and $29 for long sleeves.

Yet another popular men’s clothing line, carried by Anchor & Compass, is the Old Harbor Outfitters from Block Island, New York. Old Harbor makes outdoor apparel, as well as fishing gear. One specialty is a wide selection of fishing knifes. The knives sell for $10 to $24 a piece, and Novak says, “We sell tons of them. They make great gifts.”

“We also sell tons of flannels every Christmas season,” she says, “and flannels never go out of style.” Over the past Christmas season, Novak reports, the store sold close to 200 flannel shirts. Their price range is from $49 to $59.

Selling the “layered look” for Guys

Speaking of flannels the savvy shopkeeper suggests to her customers that they might like the “layered look.” This look consists of first putting on an ordinary shirt, then covering it with a flannel, and then over them both a shirt jacket.  There are other layered look combinations as well. Shirt jackets go for $79 at “A Store for Guys.”

Store owner Novak shows off some outer wear

At one point while touring the store, a fashionably dressed woman came in and asked, if she could make a few returns. It turned out that the woman did not have just a few returns, but seven of them. All of the items were still in their original boxes, and some had not even been unwrapped.

It turned out that the woman’s husband, before the big holiday, had explicitly told his wife, “Do not buy me any clothes for Christmas.” However, the wife, thinking she knew best, blithely ignored this instruction, and bought lots of them. Now she was forced to return them.

While this was going on, the woman tried to make conversation. “Maybe I should exchange my husband rather than the shirts,” she said, attempting humor.

With no sign of displeasure whatsoever, store owner Novak removed the seven items from their boxes, and went ahead and restored their full cost to the woman’s credit card.

After the woman left, Novak pointed out that many stores offer only “store credit” for returns. However, at Anchor & Compass the policy is to give a full refund, as long as the purchaser has a receipt.

“Most people exchange stuff,” Novak says, but getting full credit for an unwanted purchase is still an option at the store.

Among her favorite items in the store, Novak calls attention to the Leathermen Limited line. The company is based in Essex, Connecticut, and offers a variety of canvas belts, flip-flops and key chains. Featured in the store as well are rows of men’s pants, a wide variety of sweaters and lots of T-shirts.

Adding a good citizenship quality to the store, Anchor & Compass offers a 10% discount on all merchandize purchased by volunteer firefighters and emergency rescue volunteers, whether they come from Deep River or beyond.

All for men, a colorful collection of T-shirts, caps and mugs

Not only are sales on the increase generally at the store, Novak is particularly pleased that more and more men are purchasing clothing.  The present gender breakdown at the store is that about 60 percent of the buyers are women, buying clothes for men; and 40 percent are men, buying clothes for themselves or for their best buddies.

If this ratio could even out to 50-50, Novak would be a very happy. As an inducement to get more men into the store, she has built a large, man sized fitting room. Also, she may give men shoppers just a little extra attention in making their purchases. After all it is, “A Store for Guys.”

The overall growth in sales at Anchor & Compass is truly impressive. Sales in the month of January, to date, are running 56 percent higher than they were over the same period last year.

Big Selling Seasons, Christmas and Father’s Day

As a general rule the store has two big selling seasons each year. One is during the run up to Christmas, and the other are the shopping days before Father’s Day. Since Anchor & Compass focuses on men’s clothing, it has an especially big boost in sales before Father’s Day. It is so big that Novak calls Father’s Day “a second Christmas.”

As for staff at the store, Novak pretty much runs the place on her own, although she has two part time helpers, both from Deep River.

Novak feels anchored in Deep River, and she has, if you will, found her compass in the town. In starting up her venture a year and a half ago, she received encouragement from Deep River First Selectman Dick Smith, and both Smith and his son are customers. Also, in remodeling the store Novak is proud that she used exclusively local labor.

Owner Sage Novak in front of her Deep River store

Among the things that she likes about Deep River is that her kids can walk to school, and, “I love the quality of life in the town.” Beyond that, “I want people to enjoy the store. I love just love it, when people run into other people that they know, while they are shopping here.”

Novak is a native of Deep River, and sometimes refers to herself as “a river rat.” Not only did she grow up in town, her family used to own the Deep River Marina.

Not that Sage Novak has always had happy times in her life. In June of 2008 her husband, who was a college sweetheart, died in a car accident, leaving her with two daughters, aged four and one. “I took off a year to heal,” she says. “Still, I don’t believe in wallowing. You have to go on and enjoy life in the time that you have.”

Finally, the name of her store, Anchor & Compass, has a special meaning for Sage Novak as a person.  As you get to know her, she just might share it with you.