On the 300 block of State Street, Jazzman has been a men’s clothing institution in Madison since its 1980 debut. And when it comes to the fashion found inside the brick and mortar walls, you’ll notice it is fun to be a little different. That’s the philosophy Jazzman owners Craig Butenhoff and Paul Strong run their store by, and that sartorial credo is apparent the minute you walk through the door.
More casual than dress, Jazzman offers pieces that have been kicked up a notch. From paisley and floral blazers and slim-cut denim to uniquely patterned socks and a decorative array of bowties and pocket squares, Jazzman offers classic basics with a contemporary twist. You’ll find amped-up pieces from brands like Ben Sherman, Scotch and Soda, Original Penguin, Michael Kors, and Joe’s Jeans, to name just a few. And while some brand names register immediately with customers, others, such as Scotch and Soda out of Amsterdam, bring a little bit of something new and unexpected to Madison.
Being in such a diverse city, the Jazzman customer ranges from 18 to 75 years old. The goal is then to offer timeless style and fashion that can carry a man from season to season with the occasional statement piece thrown in for good measure.
“As a major university town, we’re afforded a fresh audience of people every year,” says Paul. “You get the student, the brother, the father; you get visiting teams and their fans; and the musicians that play at the local venues. The common denominators between them are that they all partake in shopping, and they want to shop at a store they can’t back home.”
In order to keep that momentum going, the self-described small boutique keeps the in-stock quantities of each piece limited. Possessing a small inventory allows Paul and Craig to keep bringing fresh, timely options into the store. Unlike bigger department stores where stock is plentiful and turnover is slow, Jazzman provides new choices a couple times a month.
“Lines can change and go away quickly, and new trends can appear at any time,” notes Craig. “We have to be nimble to accommodate those fashion and business changes, and keeping smaller quantities allows us to react to the market and the feedback from our shoppers.”
Because of the regular stream of fresh merchandise, customers are prompted to stop in often. This allows Paul and Craig to get to know their customers, lending a personal feel to the shopping experience. It’s this element of being in the retail business they truly enjoy.
“Each customer is important, and we help him feel that way whether he buys one shirt or five,” says Paul. Adds Craig, “There’s no pressure to buy. The customer takes the lead and we assist when asked. We want them to leave happy and pleased with their purchase.”
In addition to enjoying the developing customer rapports, Craig and Paul extend the same care and concern towards their employees. Over the years they say they have been blessed to have employed individuals who have been equally as passionate about men’s fashion and the business. Not only does it make for a sense of stability within the store, but those individuals ultimately become part of the Jazzman family.
“We don’t have ‘employees,’” asserts Paul. “We have sons and daughters whom we get to know. As our extended family, we encourage them to prioritize family, school, extracurricular activities, and then work. The respect is such that even after their college days are behind them, they still keep in touch.”
If it seems like fostering relationships is a priority to Paul and Craig, you’re right. That’s because the two go way back and appreciate their longstanding friendship. While Jazzman has been around for 35 years in Madison, the store has technically been around for 40 years.
“I opened the ‘original’ Jazzman in Wausau with my then-business partner and friend Gary Straub,” says Craig. “We worked together at a store called the Golden Hanger for several years and then decided it was time to open our own store.”
Paul, who was in high school at that time, was a regular customer when Jazzman opened. It was during the Golden Hanger years that Paul initially met Craig and Gary, and that friendship flourished at Jazzman. Paul began to work at Jazzman during sidewalk sales and was eventually promoted to help run the shop when Craig and Gary went to buying shows. When Paul left Wausau to study fashion merchandising in college, he made sure to keep in touch.
After several years of success in Wausau, Craig and Gary were ready to expand the store, and they knew Madison would be a great fit with their vision and aesthetic due to the cosmopolitan nature of the city. While Jazzman Madison flourished, Jazzman Wausau was beginning to fade. Faced with a tough decision, Craig and Gary closed the Wausau store in 1981 and focused all their energy on their newest locale.
In 1988, Paul got a call from Craig saying that they needed some help in Madison. Paul left his job and began work at Jazzman full time. Several years later, Gary decided he wanted a new career. The three men met, and Paul was offered the opportunity to buy Gary’s half of the business. Craig and Paul officially became business partners in 1992 and have been dedicating their time to offering Madison timeless style ever since.
After 23 years as official business partners and many more as friends, when asked what makes them excited to come to work every day, they enthusiastically said each other. But all joking aside, it’s the laid back atmosphere, the clothing, and the people that keep the passion burning.
“Being on State Street, you never know who’s going to walk through the door, and that’s half the fun,” says Paul. The next time you’re downtown, stop in, shop, and make their day.
Lauren Smith is a freelance writer.