“I fell in love with helping people,” said Scott Butler.
As the men’s manager at By George, Butler is a people person; he puts shoppers at ease without being overbearing. Then again, he also brings a wealth of experience to the table. He’s a self-confessed worker bee who started off bagging groceries and waiting tables as a teenager, cutting his teeth in the retail world at Banana Republic, GAP and Saks Fifth Avenue. He’s upfront about why he initially got into the business.
“I’d wait tables during the day and then go directly to Banana Republic, change, and work from 5 to 10. But I was also 21!” he said, laughing at the memory. “My drive was always that I wanted to make money and I kept working all through school.”
Butler met Matthew and Katy Culmo, owners of By George, through mutual friends, and they hired him in 2001, back when the store had just moved to 6th Street and North Lamar from its Guadalupe Street location. The store has been a mecca for fashion lovers since it opened in 1977. Although the Culmos had never had a men’s manager before hiring Butler, that didn’t deter him from creating a role for himself while simultaneously learning all the ins and outs of a local high-fashion retail shop.
“I really enjoyed working for a local business,” said Butler. he thinks of the 6,000-square-foot store as his baby, adding, “I started merchandising the store and I was given free reign to do that. I was able to paint my own path.”
When the men’s shop closed in late 2007, Butler stayed on and worked in women’s, helping open the women’s store on South congress. However, women’s retail wasn’t for him; he left on good terms and worked at the front desk of the Hotel St. Cecilia, nestled off South Congress, for six months when it first opened.
Butler’s family is originally from the Long Beach area of California, and they moved to Texas in the early 1970s. His parents, who have been together for 40 years, have always supported his decisions and who he is as a gay man. “I’ve been fortunate. I had a super positive experience coming out to my parents and my family,” Butler said. “I was going through my own thing, as far as getting right with it.”
Butler credited his father’s friendly, outgoing personality with informing his own sales skills. He also gave props to Banana Republic–where he worked in the late 1990s–with instilling the values of retail 101. “It’s about making the person feel at ease after recognizing them when they walk in. asking them how their day is going. You don’t want to ask “yes” or “no” questions because it puts someone on the defensive,” Butler said. “Then I might ask what brings them by. We tell the truth a hundred percent of the time. If they walk out in something that’s ill-fitting or a bad color for them, it reflects poorly on us.”
Since the men’s store has reopened, Butler said they’re adapting to a more competitive environment to woo back their clientele. Other purveyors of menswear, such as Service Menswear, Stag, Bows & Arrows and Barney’s co-op, have popped up. “The lucky thing is that they all came back,” Butler said. “Going forward for fall, it’s a better representation of us. A classic man with clean silhouettes. Great shirts and pants, but still casual for Austin.”
His typical day could entail anything from opening or closing the space, prepping and cleaning the store, updating clients’ information in the store’s database or opening and checking out shipments of new clothes. “I’ve never had a problem being me, period,” Butler said. “My personality anyways is pretty goofy. I wanna include a customer on it if they’re in the store.”
Given the depth of his knowledge, has he ever considered opening his own shop? “I’ve thought about opening a small shoe store, men’s and women’s,” he said, adding that it’s been great to work for people he has such deep respect for. “It crosses my mind.