Despite the hype surrounding customer service provided by new-to-Canada retailers like Nordstrom, some of our homegrown retailers are able to hold their own and, in some cases, exceed that of the competition. One example is Harry Rosen, which continues to dominate Canadian market share for luxury menswear. We spoke with the company’s CEO, Larry Rosen, who provided insight on how the retailer provides exceptional customer service, as well as the retailer’s lofty growth plans which include new stores for Mississauga and Toronto.
Harry Rosen spends more than any Canadian retailer on its employee training. Staff are extensively trained on the nuances of designer fashion, including the art of ‘clothesmanship’ – that is, determining the right garment for a man’s body shape. As well, Harry Rosen staff are provided training on how to relate to people. Training includes how to manage client lists, how to assess a client’s needs, how men shop in general, and how to build and maintain long-term relationships with clients. The company recognizes that men change over time and as a result, their wardrobe may require new pieces – be it a new tuxedo for black tie events, or a trendy sneaker for more casual outings.
Although some employees are hired specifically to sell footwear, all Harry Rosen sales staff are trained in ‘shoemanship’ — how to properly fit a shoe, as well as how to pair it with a man’s wardrobe. Creating an entire look is key to Harry Rosen’s success, from ties to shoes to cufflinks and other accessories.
Hiring the ‘right’ employee can be a challenge, and turnover in retail jobs is notoriously high. Not so for Harry Rosen. The retailer looks to hire sales staff who are friendly, hard working and interested in fashion. Staff are encouraged to continue learning well after the initial training is complete and according to Mr. Rosen, the company maintains a ‘coaching culture’ where mentoring and self-improvement are encouraged. As a result, Harry Rosen boasts a substantial number of long-term employees.
Besides its exceptional staff, Harry Rosen provides a variety of tailored services to its customers — even home visits. For clients who exceed a spending threshold, a staffer may make a home visit to do a ‘closet cleaning’, to determine what new fashion pieces may be required in a man’s life, as well as what pieces may have become unnecessary. Over time, a man’s career and extra-curricular activities may change, resulting in new wardrobe requirements. As many of Harry Rosen’s best clients are also very busy, they’ve grown to appreciate the personalized services from the retailer’s well trained and thoughtful staff. Mr. Rosen says that if you “make it easy for them, men will be loyal”.
Made-to-measure clothing has also become popular at Harry Rosen, now accounting for about 20% of the company’s suit business. Besides ensuring that a suit fits a man ‘like a glove’, made-to-measure has the added bonus of making the suit customizable, including whatever lining the customer desires, for example.
Customer service was key to Harry Rosen’s success from the very start. When a young Harry Rosen and his brother Lou opened a 500 square foot men’s store in 1954, keeping information and contacting clients was key. Located on Parliament Street far removed from Toronto’s bustling shopping and business districts, Harry Rosen needed to find ways to get men to come back to his store. Keeping measurements and style preferences handy, and contacting customers when something of interest arrived, gained a fiercely loyal clientele for Harry Rosen. Exceptional product and customer service paid off — after several years, the store relocated to a substantially larger location in Toronto’s Financial District.
Exceptional customer service will continue to be vital, as competition heats up in Canadian luxury retailing. Homegrown Holt Renfrew is upping its menswear game, having recently opened a luxurious free-standing men’s store on Toronto’s Bloor Street (directly across the street from Rosen’s), as well as expanding its menswear offerings in many of its existing stores. Saks Fifth Avenue will open as many as seven Canadian stores, targeted to be more luxurious than its American locations. Hudson’s Bay is expanding its menswear offerings, bringing in new upscale lines such as Theory, Vince, Hugo Boss, Z-Zegna and Strellson to its flagship locations. La Maison Simons is on an aggressive Canadian store expansion, and the retailer carries some pricey, trendier designer lines. And Seattle-based Nordstrom, known for its customer service and extensive shoe selection, plans to open as many as 10 Canadian stores over the next several years.
Harry Rosen will compete with the best of them, we expect, given its efforts to satisfy the customer, as well as carry a breadth of luxury product available in few other Canadian stores. The company continues to maintain its core base of loyal shoppers despite the competition and, interestingly, business has been up at its Chinook Centre location since Nordstrom opened its first Canadian location in the Calgary mall a couple of months ago. Although an unprecedented number of luxury retailers are looking to attract Canada’s limited luxury dollars, Harry Rosen’s efforts will likely see it continue to thrive.
To maintain market dominance in the face of competition, Harry Rosen is spending well in excess of $100 million on store renovations and new locations. Its Vancouver flagship will be overhauled, and its Oakridge Centre location recently saw a substantial renovation. A replacement Ottawa store opened this month, and a new replacement store will open at Toronto’s Sherway Gardens in 2015. Its Les Cours Mont-Royal location in downtown Montreal will see a world-class renovation/expansion, growing by 50% to become the company’s second-largest store. Larry Rosen also let us in on a secret that the retailer hasn’t yet revealed to the public – that Harry Rosen will replace its 10,000 square foot unit at Mississauga’s Square One with a world-class 18,000 square foot flagship in 2016. The new store will be part of an innovative luxury next to the mall’s new flagship Holt Renfrew, and we’ll discuss details in a separate article in the coming weeks.