Owner, Astor and Black Custom Clothiers
By Travis HoewischerPublished January 1, 2012
Two rabbis walk into a clothier …
It’s not the beginning of a joke, but rather a typical moment in the hectic life of 27-year-old David Schottenstein.
The rabbis are no doubt there to chat with the always-philanthropic Orthodox Jew, who in six short years has turned his custom Astor and Black suits into some of the most in-demand clothing in the country. But, locking down the savvy businessman is going to be tough on this day; I wait patiently in the conference room for Schottenstein, who appears apologetically from a conference call that has spilled over into our interview time.
By the time we’re done speaking, it’s easy to figure out how the sand in the hourglass sifts much faster for Schottenstein. The Bexley business wunderkind was able to unfetter himself to sit down with (614) to reveal how he’s trained himself to sequester the iPhone in his wife’s purse after work hours are through, the massive roster of NFL clients his team serves every day, along with his plans to open an Astor and Black in Tel Aviv. Schottenstein has plenty of irons in the fire, but still enough flame to go around.
You’ve sold part of the business to partners and now have a co-CEO. That’s a big change from the early days when you were doing it all.
I think the greatest weakness that any businessperson may have, is not being able to recognize their own weaknesses. It’s very easy to get caught up in your success and think that everything you do is right, you know – better than everybody. To build a really great company, I think a person has to be really able to look in a mirror and say, ‘Okay, I’m not good at this, this is something I’m terrible at. Let me find someone who is awesome at it and bring them in and have them handle that piece of the business.’ You don’t want two David Schottensteins. You want one David Schottenstein and then someone to pick up the pieces.
**So, what are your faults? **
I’m not a great details person; when it comes to the nitty gritty of the systems and all that kind of stuff, I’m not great with that. I need help with that. Building a proper system by which our orders would be placed and processed and built, etc., was not a strong suit for me.
How does your age factor into your business dealings? You’re still on the younger side of your average CEO or average founder of a company.
Initially, when I first got into the business at age 21, people weren’t taking me so seriously. It was very difficult to get people to listen to what I was saying. But when you go in with a lot of confidence and you’re pretty forceful and passionate, people quickly can recognize, “OK, this guy is pretty talented … he’s obviously not your average 21 year old. Let’s give him a shot.”
What were you like as a kid?
I was rambunctious as hell, to say the least. I was very entrepreneurial from a young age. I started a business when I was eight, selling candy on the corner where the governor’s mansion is on Parkview and Clifton, stopping vehicles and not letting them go by until they bought candy (laughs). My parents were very patient with me.
Your father was a very big influence on you. What was the best lesson he passed on to you?
My father took a lot of time [for us], and that’s one of the things I try to do today. I have three kids. I’m always home for dinner, always home to put them to bed; I barely travel overnight on business – almost never. I’m always home. I never ever go on trips with my buddies to Vegas or anything like that. As the business has grown and as I’ve gotten older, something my father demonstrated by example was your family is always first. My dad was never one of those guys who wasn’t home, wasn’t around. He was as present as you could be. I try to take the same approach with my kids; I don’t ever want to be 50 years old and I turn around and my kids are already married, and say “Where did time go?”
Have you ever had difficulty with that balance?
In the first few years of the business when I was really getting it going, I had a very difficult time balancing family and kids and business. On vacation, I was on my phone the whole time. I was one of those guys you want to punch in the face when you see them, the guy at the restaurant with his wife and she’s sitting there quietly while he’s on the phone. Now I take my phone and I put it in my wife’s purse, I won’t touch it. If we’re out to dinner or at a movie, that’s where we’re at. Live in the moment.
What drew you to this industry? What excites you about being a clothier?
Well I went to school in Venice, Italy, and I happened to notice how incredibly well people were dressed over there, and how much time they put into it. Americans don’t put that same time into it, but our service allows them to dress like a million bucks without having to put that time into it, because we’re dressing them. I get a tremendous amount of pleasure from showing up at an event and looking around the room and seeing 50 Astor & Black suits, people looking like a million bucks, people who otherwise would have gone and picked a suit off the rack.
So, pretend I’m an NFL Draft prospect. Give me your pitch for Astor and Black.
Well, you can get cheaper suits elsewhere, there’s no question. But for what we sell, if you spend $500 with us, that $500 will get you more than it will get you anywhere else. Period. We don’t nickel and dime you, and all the garments are what’s called full canvas construction versus being glued. Big, big difference, huge difference in manufacturing, so we only put out quality garments and at the end of the day … we sell $4,000 suits. But what you buy for $4,000 from us, a competitor is going to be charging $12,000 for the same thing. You know, we sell $2,000 suits, but someone else is charging five for the same one. Our goal is to make sure that we can offer all sorts of levels to people, but whatever someone is spending with us, they can rest assured that they can go shop around elsewhere and they will never find the same kind of fabric or the same construction for the same price. That’s the spiel – long and short.
So does that mean that if I wore your suit, I would be more eligible to be in the NFL?
(laughs) Right, exactly. But, really, how do you think it makes a guy feel when he’s walking into the arena where he’s playing on an away game dressed to kill in a gorgeous three-piece suit, or when he walks in looking at the guys around him who are dressed well and he’s dressed like crap. I guarantee you that has an affect on their mindset and their psyche. I’ll give you an example of a good story someone just told me. A financial adviser here in town named John Young – he works over at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney – called me up the other day and he said, “I just want to thank you, you landed me a $6 million account,” and I said, “How?” He said, “I was at Subway getting a sandwich for lunch and a guy in front of me, some dude, turned around and said, ‘That’s a gorgeous suit, where did you get that?’ I said, ‘Astor & Black.’ We started talking, and he wanted to know how to get in touch with you, so I gave him my card and he saw that I was a financial adviser and he said they just fired their financial adviser and he’s got $6 million dollars he wants to use on somebody. A week later, we signed the deal, he’s my client.” And it all started because he was getting complimented on his suit. So you get stories, I hear stuff like that, you know, that’s the sh*t.
There’s something about a good suit that fits you personally, there’s just something special about that, yes?
Yeah, 100 percent. When you’re wearing a suit that was built for you, that fits you beautifully, you feel like you can kick everyone’s ass. There’s no question, it’s kind of like driving a Hummer.
Do you run into anybody with any sort of preconceived notions about you because of your family name? As in, ‘He’s just riding the Schottenstein coattails’?
Yeah, people sort of automatically assume that if you’re from a wealthy family you will not have the same drive to do something productive with your life. Most people, at least in my family, are all proactively doing something with their lives. My cousins are all working for the family businesses; some of them have started their own businesses. None of us are just sitting on our asses.
How about fashion icons. New, old ... from where do you take inspiration?
[Express CEO] Michael Weiss, who’s here in Columbus. I love him.
What else rings your bell besides fashion and family, business, faith? You probably don’t have room for a whole lot else.
No, I don’t. I like to travel. I’ll tell you what rings my bell: Israel. I’m a very, very, very big supporter, believer in the Jewish state. I guess you can call me a hardcore Zionist. My goal ultimately would be to one day live there. Listen, this is my country. I love America, but I have a tremendous passion for the state of Israel. Actually, I’m opening an Astor & Black in Israel, too. That’s coming shortly.
Yeah; only recently when I was there, two rabbis were saying to me, “Why don’t you open up an Astor & Black retail store over here, we could really use something in Tel Aviv like this.” The more I thought about it, the more I was like, why not? If I come here all the time for vacation anyways and I’d love to spend more time here, why not create another arm of our business here that could really dominate the men’s fashion market?
Were you the kid that always laid out his school clothes the night before?
Do you remember the first suit that you owned?
Black velvet suit, but instead of pants it was shorts. And I wore knee high socks, these really cool socks with them and these cool patent leather shoes.
How old were you?
Three. I remember I wore it to my cousin’s wedding in Florida, and I remember it was a little white shirt and a little black suit. It was velvet. I don’t know what the f*ck we were thinking going to Miami in velvet (laughs), but it was pretty cool.
What about the first Astor & Black suit?
There was a guy in New York, and it was a solid medium gray suit with a light pink shirt and I put on a nice pink striped tie with it and he loved it.
So you can remember that moment? That’s pretty impressive.
And I did a light pink lining on it.
You remember the first suit you wore, and the first suit that you designed.
There are certain things that are really important in life.