October will mark a significant business milestone for Ray Murphy.
The owner of Tommy’s Men's Shop will celebrate 40 years of helping his customers look their best.
Throughout the years, men have been relying on the shop, on the bustling 22nd Street commercial corridor in North Philadelphia, for their apparel needs.
The men’s store stocks a large selection of hats, casual wear, shirts, slacks, suits, tuxedos and shoes in various brands ranging from Kangol to Stacy Adams.
Murphy will mark his business milestone by hosting an anniversary celebration on October 20 at the shop, located at 2917 North 22nd St. He is also running an anniversary sale from October 1 through the 20th.
To Murphy, his years in business seemed to speed by.
“It went by so fast that it feels like it wasn’t very long ago that I just got started,” says Murphy, who is 63.
When Irving Thompson, the son of original owner of Tommy’s Men Shop, put the store up for sale, Murphy decided to make a foray into the clothing retail business. At the time, he was operating a shoe concession known as Murphy’s Shoes, located across the street from the apparel store.
He opted not to change the name Tommy’s Men Shop because the store was already well established in the community. At that point, the shop had been located on 22nd Street for almost 50 years.
Murphy faced various challenges when he sought to purchase the business.
“The only thing that I had was the backing of my family, and the experiences that I had growing up,” says Murphy.
Like many entrepreneurs, he had a difficult time accessing bank financing. He was a young man in his early 20s who lacked business acumen and knowledge about how the loan process worked.
Despite being turned down multiple times, Murphy was determined to obtain the funding that he needed. When bank officials turned him down, he demanded to know why.
After approaching five different banks, he finally secured a $50,000 loan backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration in September 1972. He credits Sen. Philip Price, who was then the director of the Allegheny West Foundation and Don Redcross Sr., a certified public accountant, with helping him get the bank financing.
Next he faced the hurdle of obtaining lines of credit from clothing manufacturers so that he could stock the store. He ended up working with an outside entity named Men’s Retail of America to receive credit from major manufacturers. Credit lines are crucial to the success of clothing retailers, and Murphy entered the business at a time when manufacturers weren’t extending credit to African Americans.
“In this business you have to have credit. Ninety-eight percent of everything that comes into the store is on credit,” Murphy pointed out.
While growing up in North Philadelphia, Murphy worked at a grocery store while where he learned skills in customer service, merchandising, and supply and demand that he utilized in the clothing business.
“I always try to buy what my customers need. I always try to supply the needs — and that’s the basics,” said Murphy, a native of South Carolina.
There are fundamental tenets that have held Murphy in good stead throughout the years and allowed him to weather the rough times.
“Through years of going through the recession and the slow periods, I tried to use a formula that worked for me — and it’s very simple. You don’t buy steak when you can only afford chicken — and what that means is, me being the retailer, I know what is going to sell all the time. You don’t overbuy,” says Murphy, who is a board member of the North 22nd Street Merchants Association.
Murphy has leveraged proceeds from the store into other business ventures such as a hat shop in Center City and RM Estates, LP, a real estate development company.
Murphy has gone from being a fledging entrepreneur who struggled to get his first loan to becoming an established businessman who can get financial institutions to back his real estate development projects. Murphy has developed properties such as a wine and spirits store, a dollar store, a physical therapy practice and a supermarket in North Philadelphia.
As someone who was mentored by other African-American business owners when he first started out, Murphy believes in keeping the practice of helping others going.
“I believe that you have to bring somebody along,” he stressed.
To that end, he’s proud to have mentored African-American men who went on to launch retail shops and has provided summer employment opportunities for young men from the community. He’s employed at least 100 people in full and part time positions over the years.
Alvin Little, a former president of the North 22nd Street Merchants Association, says Murphy’s business has been a stabilizing force on the commercial corridor.
“You have to have key businesses that not only have attracted consumers as customers, but have developed a track record of loyalty because those kinds of businesses bring people back to the corridor. His business has kept a steady flow of customers who have helped to keep the life of the business corridor vibrant,” says Little, who owns a women’s and children’s apparel store.
Little noted that Murphy purchased the shop at a time when the demographics of the neighborhood changed and many of the businesses owned by older Italian and Jewish Americans left the corridor. He’s watched Murphy expand Tommy’s Men Shop over time.
“It’s a better place today than it’s ever been before,” he says of Murphy’s business.
“He had a dream as a young man and he saw that dream to its fulfillment. Being in a retail business — with the big box stores coming in in the early ’90s and the competition that’s around you and being African American — it’s a very challenging thing to do and yet with his determination, he did it. For him to grow it that way and to maintain it in this economy is a tribute to his business acumen and his determination to keep things moving forward. I tip my hat off to him and the things that he’s been able to do,” Little added.
While growing up in North Philadelphia, Murphy says his parents encouraged their children to go into business for themselves.
“What we got from my mother was that, ‘I’m raising business people. I’m not raising workers,’” says Murphy.