The idea for Bell & Sward Gentlemen’s Clothier began with a white dress shirt.
"I was getting ready for a wedding, and I wanted to wear a nice, white shirt," said co-owner Erik Sward. "And I didn’t know where to find one in Conway."
Sward and his wife, Lindsey, had moved to Conway after living in Little Rock while she completed her residency. "I’d grown accustomed to the finer men’s stores there, such as Greenhaw’s, Baumans, Mr. Wicks and Dillard’s. The growing community and strong business environment in Conway was ripe for a men’s store."
Sward and his mother-in-law, co-owner Zanette Bell, had always bounced ideas for "crazy business ventures" off each other.
"This one actually stuck," he said.
Bell and Sward met with Conway Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Brad Lacy to get his opinion on how viable the business would be. "We talked to Brad to get the pulse on the community and its economic growth. I’m not sure there’s a better person in Conway to tell you what business is going to make it in Conway than Brad Lacy."
The owners ultimately chose downtown Conway to set up shop. "I think it’s really the best place for us to thrive," Sward said. "Downtown Conway is vibrant, and it advertises itself. It’s a destination, and we’ve benefited from the foot traffic."
Bell added that she loves the historic buildings downtown, and complementing the store’s design with the building’s architecture was the fun part. She recalled the renovation and decorating process they undertook to give the store a rugged, masculine feel.
"A layer of stucco covered the antique brick, so we had that removed and chipped off the remaining plaster. Two ceilings covered the original beadboard ceiling. When we removed those, we uncovered an old skylight alcove. The workers also uncovered an old train door in the back storeroom that we mounted on the wall. The back of it reads, ‘no vagrants.’"
Antler mounts and hunting-inspired pictures adorn the walls. Solid-wood fixtures furnish the interior, including a hall tree from Ed Camp’s Men’s Store. Conway resident Lori Quinn owned Ed Camp’s, which was located downtown on Oak Street. A fire destroyed it a decade ago.
"Lori has been a huge help," Bell said. "She has traveled with us to clothing markets to look at and purchase various brands."
Bell, Sward and their spouses also traveled to cities across the South to survey men’s clothing stores. "We researched men’s stores located in Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama and Texas," Sward said. "We visited cities that are similar to Conway’s size and scale and quickly noticed that college towns tend to have strong men’s stores."
Their benchmarking trips combined with the visits to the clothing markets led Bell and Sward to a number of brands that appeal to different ages and styles. Bell & Sward Gentlemen’s Clothier carries clothing and accessories from Ballin, Gitman Brothers, Martin Dingman, Bird Dog Bay, Peter Millar, Collared Greens, Tommy Bahama, Jack Victor Suits, Johnnie-O and Southern Proper.
"We try to emphasize styles that will appeal to older teenagers all the way up to a mature gentleman," Bell said. "Our inventory includes everything from sportswear to suits to shoes, leather goods and gift items. We also offer gift certificates."
Customers can expect a personalized shopping experience when they visit Bell & Sward. Sward praised his co-owner’s "eye" for fashion.
"She’s phenomenal at matching up combinations of suits, ties and shirts that look wonderful together."
Bell added that she wants the store to be known for its personal service. As a Conway native, she looks forward to reacquainting with old friends and meeting new customers.
"It’s important to us to be able to know our customers’ likes and dislikes and take care of them. I love seeing people come in here who I’ve known all my life and being able to visit with them. I also look forward to meeting new customers and their families."
Bell & Sward Gentlemen’s Clothier opened in early April. The store’s hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. For more information, visit BellandSward.com or follow it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.