When Brother Abdalla opened his clothing shop on Arnould Boulevard more than four decades ago, he was a 24-year-old newlywed following in what seemed like the natural footsteps of a family long attached to retail in Lafayette. Forty years later, that way of business is radically different in many ways. But he’s not slowing down. Or giving up in spite of the challenges. Instead, he has enlisted his daughter Alicia and his son Adam to join the fray and make another 40 years possible.
“You gotta change constantly,” Abdalla says in the midst of the holiday shopping season. “The thing in fashion is change. If you don’t change you’ll die.”
Change was something Abdalla expected when he and wife, Catherine, entered into the fashion business. They expected style to change and change again. What they could never have seen coming was the radically different way many people shop today.
“It’s less brick and mortar. The trend is going to online where you can shop from your couch or lounge chair,” he says. “Alicia started online, and now we’re employing five people to handle online [orders].”
When Abdalla describes the approach to meeting customer needs he points to two extremes — online shopping with little interaction and the one-on-one customized personal experience in the store. In fact, he often describes them as two stores, rather than one store with two sides.
“This is the toughest we’ve ever had it because of the oil downturn and the flood and the competition,” Abdalla says. “This is the most challenging time we’ve come across. Online helped us. I don’t know what people do who aren’t selling online. Online put us in the black [when] we were in the red. It’s the most challenging year we’ve ever had. But, now we’ve been busy.”
He continues, “If it wasn’t for Alicia I wouldn’t have embraced online. You can go to anyone’s website. But she did it in a way that it’s working and growing every year. I’m 64. If she wouldn’t have been here, it wouldn’t have happened … no way would I have taken that leap.”
Abdalla is thankful for the push and says the online efforts combined with customized service will cover the spectrum of shoppers. In the 1980s at the height of the mall experience, Brother’s had a store in Acadiana Mall. But today he says moving forward means less store and more customer focus.
“I’m glad there’s only one brick and mortar now. You gotta change, and who knows what’s around the next corner. If you don’t change and make all these little turns, you will fall by the wayside,” he says. “You have to have a passion for this. Catherine is the brains, and I thank God for her. She is smarter than me. Without her we couldn’t do it. It’s also been the most satisfying year.”
Son Adam helps with research that keeps the business on track, and the shop local mindset has also helped keep them moving forward.
“This is not just a job,” Catherine Abdalla says. “It’s about reaching our customer. We go to market and we network with other stores and see what’s working where. Everything changes. Once clothing was designed and then in New York six months later, and then in Louisiana two years later. Business changes rapidly.”
You can find Brother's on the Blvd. online at brothersontheblvd.com.