Mark and Jack Yonally
Mark (left) and Jack Yonally (right)
B. Lodge opened its doors in 1867. As Albany’s oldest operating retail store, what changes have you seen since you took over the business in 1995?
Mark: The store has experienced a lot of growth. Before COVID, we found that every year seemed to be better than the last. Our customers love the store, and they keep coming in. Every year it seems like we have more customers. We try to take care of people and offer good products at good prices, and they tell their friends. We are getting back to some sense of normalcy post-COVID.
Jack: We are a single-store operation. When a customer comes in and says, “I’m looking for …,” we can say we have it or we’ll order it for you. Because if one customer asks for something, the next customer might ask for the same thing. That’s one of the versatilities we have.
Mark: There are certain items we sell a ton of, and I make sure that we’re not out of any sizes and we’re constantly replenishing.
Tell us about your family members who work at B. Lodge or have worked there in the past. What makes family-run business special?
Mark: It’s really a team effort. Currently, I’m the owner. My parents help me to run it. My kids help in the store part-time. Prior to myself owning the store, my parents owned the store and I helped run it. Not a lot has changed. My sister worked here. My niece works here.
What types of products do you sell, and how do you determine what inventory to carry?
Mark: We carry a little bit of everything. If it’s clothing involved, we probably have most items in here. We focus on a lot of items that the big guys don’t worry about. Things that they can’t sell tons of, but things people really want.
Jack: Your basics. Socks, underwear, handkerchiefs, ladies’ pantyhose. Every Saturday we’re packed with ladies getting ready for church.
Mark: Big and tall men’s items … anything that the big stores don’t focus on. They may carry it, but they might be out of stock. I make sure that we don’t run out of those items, because those are what my best customers buy. They know they can come in here and they can get what they need. And they know it’s going to be at a good price.
Are you still seeing pandemic issues with supplies?
Mark: Definitely. Our relationships with our suppliers have really come into play post-pandemic. Companies are calling us and saying, “We know it’s the wrong season, but we have them now. You need to take them if you want them.” We’re taking in merchandise when our suppliers are telling us we need to, as opposed to when I actually need the items.
Jack: Mark has built a good rapport with these vendors. Some go back 20 or 30 years. They know we pay on time, which is a big thing.
Mark: Vendors know they don’t have to chase us for payment. Post-pandemic there’s just not enough merchandise. So, if vendors have to chase you for payment, you don’t get a phone call anymore. If you pay right on time, you might be on the top of the list.
Jack: We love it when we hear, “We gotta take care of Lodge’s.”
Mark: With our vendors, it’s the same as it is with our customers. You take care of people, and they take care of you.
You are a popular supplier of school uniforms. How many schools do you serve, and how did that part of your business come to be?
Jack: We have more than 30 schools, from Amsterdam and Glens Falls and all of the charter schools in downtown Albany, all of the Kipp schools.
Mark: We’re expanding that portion of our business. Some of our competition has lost some schools during the pandemic. We were very open and honest with our schools, and I think they respected that. If I couldn’t get a product from one company, I found somebody else that I could get it from. It wasn’t always exactly what the customer wanted, but I made an offer of, “I can’t get this, but I can get this.” Some of my competition just said, “We’re out,” and they didn’t offer an alternative. We picked up three schools and I’m talking to two others.
Jack: Some of our competition went to our vendors and asked if they’d sell to them, and our vendors said, “No, we sell to Lodge’s.” And that loyalty has been built up over the years. That means something.
Mark: They could’ve very easily said, “Sure, we’ll sell to you.” But they said, “We have one account in Albany, and we’re not looking for another one.”
How do you keep your prices competitive?
Mark: Our relationships go back a long time. They go back to when my dad owned the store and the owners before him.
Jack: I was a general manager here before I bought it. When I came in as general manager, everything was displayed by size, but there was no display work. That’s why the previous owner hired me, because I totally changed the inside of the store. And then Mark has his own ideas. He said, “Dad, the building next door is for sale. We could put out more merchandise.” So, we bought that building. It used to be a bakery, and then it was a deli. Above the building are apartments. We built the first apartments in downtown Albany.
We are totally vertical. We own the building. We have apartments. There’s a barber shop and a florist and Miranda’s Deli that pay rent. So, if one thing isn’t working, hopefully something else is.
Mark: Because of our relationships with vendors, we’re getting very good prices. We’re getting similar prices that Walmart is paying, but for a lot less merchandise. Our overhead isn’t the same, so we’re charging less.
We buy in bulk. We bought $100,000 in Champion sweats last year. That’s a lot of sweats.
Jack: We started selling scrubs 25 years ago. My daughter is a registered nurse. She called me up and said, “Dad, you gotta get into scrubs. They’re too expensive.”
Mark: We’ve seen big retailers increase their prices dramatically. People are coming in for T-shirts, and they see we have them for $7.99 and big retailers are selling them for $17.99.
We also see customers come in who have a hard time finding sizes elsewhere. They can get a small or a 3X, but they don’t have the other sizes people want. We have every size. Some of that is just staying on top of it and ordering more when we get low. We react quickly because people expect us to have it. With that relationship, we don’t have to let them down.
What are some of the quirky items you sell, or items shoppers are surprised to find?
Mark: We have a lot of items that people say, “I haven’t been able to find these in years!” Like sheer fun socks, which I added probably 20 years ago. Every summer I bring in a couple hundred of them, and by the end of the summer they’re gone. It’s just one of those things that people come in and laugh about, but then they buy some. We have a lot of items like that.
Jack: I’ve had customers come in from out of town and spend two hours here.
Mark: We have customers who have moved out of the area, and when they come back to visit, we’re part of their visit, every time. I have certain customers that I just know where they’re from … North Carolina, Alabama, here and there.
Jack: We hear people say, “I grew up in this store.” And that’s really nice to hear.
Mark: “My mom brought me here. My grandmother brought me here. They passed a long time ago, but this place is part of my childhood.” That’s pretty cool. That makes you feel good. It makes you feel like you’re part of their life and part of what they view as special to Albany.
What are your busiest times of year?
Mark: We probably do a third of our business during the back-to-school season, a third during the holidays and another third the rest of the nine months of the year. If you look at it in that perspective, that’s a lot of business pushed into a short amount of time. It makes it hard sometimes.
B. Lodge is known for its generous contributions to the Albany community. Can you give us some examples of your efforts in this area? What inspires you to give back?
Jack: If you’re a community store, then you give back to the community. We’re known for that. Any of the charitable organizations, first off they get a discount. If there’s an emergency and a school calls us, we say, “Send them down.” We’ll get them set up with a couple of outfits, no problem. And it comes back tenfold. Because all of these organizations come to us first.
We do a huge coat program. Last year we sold 92,000 coats. They go to inner-city kids.
Mark: There are a lot of needy kids who wouldn’t have a warm winter coat if not for these programs.
Jack: We do MVP’s Cash for Coats. We have the second and third floors literally packed with coats from the end of September on.
Mark: It’s not about the money. The stuff we do with charities and organizations is our involvement in our community that directly helps my kids’ friends who need help. It’s giving back to our community. The more we seem to do, the more it comes back to the store. We’re also thankful that the Albany community is very supportive of Lodge’s.
It’s our way of helping the Albany community. It’s what everybody should do, but we’re able to do it on a big scale. We work with tons of different churches, veteran’s organizations, you name it. I can’t give everything away, but I can make a little less to be able to help.
I have schools that buy for their needy kids. If I can give them a little bit of a better price, then the schools can buy them the clothes they need and then they can go buy toys also. To me it’s a win, because I want them to get the clothes they need, but I also want them to get that extra special thing they want.
Jack: They don’t want a heck of a lot. But it gives them a nice start.
What’s the most fun part about running B. Lodge? What’s the most challenging part?
Mark: The most fun is the customers. It’s the people that come in on a regular basis. We become part of their family. But it’s also the people that are visiting that I see once in a blue moon.
I’m also big on, “If I don’t have it, I know where you can get it.”
Jack: Yes, he’s big on that. Not every store does that.
Mark: My goal is: I’d love for you to find everything here. But I know you’re not going to find everything here, so if I can help prevent you from searching the entire Capital Region by recommending one store, why wouldn’t I? It’s about helping people out. And I do like that.
The most challenging part, post-COVID, is finding merchandise and staffing. We have a good crew, but adding to them is very hard. I could use more people and it’s a challenge. It existed before COVID, but COVID just made it a heck of a lot harder.
It’s definitely a challenging time to own your own business. Costs of everything have gone up.
As one of the only clothing stores in downtown Albany, where do most of your customers come from?
Mark: Our locals are very important to us. They are some of our best customers. We also have a ton of people who come from all over. It seems like it’s getting bigger and bigger. I had someone in this week from the Boston area who came in just for nursing scrubs.
Jack: There are a lot of people out there who are just barely getting by.
Mark: We are seeing it with customers who are coming in for just one item. They are here for one thing because it’s what they can afford, and we’ll see them again when they need something else.
I don’t care how much or how little people are spending in here, they all get treated the same. They all get the same service. You don’t know what people are going through. That’s come into play a lot since COVID. We’re definitely a little bit more sensitive to how people are acting or feeling.