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MarketInsight | Tommy Hilfiger and the Bell-Bottomed Blues


It was the summer of 1977. It is hard to even imagine that it was 40 years ago that I was headed off to college. I wanted to buy some new clothes to wear. As a father, it is interesting to me that I had my own money. I had a job as a busboy at a local restaurant called Pierce’s in Elmira, N.Y. Pierce’s is closed now, but back in 1977, it was the spot.

My first stop on my meager shopping spree was a downtown store called People’s Place owned by Tommy Hilfiger. Tommy was a few years older than me and his store was a popular hangout. There weren’t many stores in Elmira, or probably most places those days, owned by a kid who was barely old enough to vote. Locals, like me, took pride in his success.

Tommy and I knew each other, but he was a few years older and infinitely hipper. His dad and my dad were friends. I remember how sad Dad was when Tommy’s father passed. People’s Place sold “hippy” clothes and lots of blue jeans. Tommy had gotten a deal on a huge pile of blue jeans from some place in Asia. They were all bell-bottoms. I was headed off to Cornell and anxious to fit in with a bunch of kids from prep school. Fashion was changing. I wanted straight leg jeans and khaki pants and golf shirts with an alligator on them. Tommy was desperate to sell me cheap bell-bottoms. He knew that he had the wrong product for the times. I could see it in his eyes. I felt bad not buying something. Tommy was a local legend and hero to many of us. But, I had a limited budget (busboys don’t make that much money.)

That winter, People’s Place went out of business and I think Tommy ended up filing for bankruptcy. All of us local kids were sad. What is striking, in hindsight, is that failure was probably the best thing ever to happen to Tommy Hilfiger. It is also an object lesson. If you want to succeed, you need to be prepared to fail. Ray Kroc went bankrupt eight times before he bought the franchise rights to McDonalds. Lots of people expected that venture to be number nine. Tommy Hilfiger did what all successful people do. He got up, brushed himself off, and tried again. His next venture turned out to be wildly more successful than his first.

“The road to success is not easy to navigate,” he says, “but with hard work, drive and passion, it’s possible to achieve the American dream.”

Passion matters. Every successful business owner I have ever met had tremendous passion for what they were doing. It was rarely about the money. For many, that passion took on the form of an almost epic quest. I manage money because I am passionate about it. I write this newspaper column because I am passionate about it. If you want to succeed in any venture in life, pursue that venture with passionate intent and be prepared to fail. If you are not prepared for failure, you will never succeed.

Scott A. Grant is President of Standfast Asset Management in Ponte Vedra Beach. He welcomes your comments or questions at

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