CEO's Desk: Dressed for Success
By Michelle Collins | August 31, 2003
The name Harry Rosen is synonymous with high-quality men's wear. However, this wasn't always the case. Rosen started off small, with a 500 sq. ft. store in Toronto's Cabbagetown and a passion for business. Today he runs 15 stores and commands 30 per cent of the Canadian market share in high-end men's clothing.
“The strength of the advertising program and the amount of people who had asked why we didn't have a store in Yorkdale or Ottawa suggested to me that we had propitiated the opportunities for expansion unwittingly. Between customers and the advertising I realized that there were opportunities that were much greater than our one store could accommodate so why not take advantage?” says Rosen.
Becoming a leader
Rosen realized early on, with the opening of his second location in Toronto's prominent Yorkdale Shopping Centre, that it was up to him to shape a vision of what Harry Rosen should be. To do this he developed a system with his key employees so that the customers would continue to get the same level of service at Harry Rosen no matter where they were.
“In making the transition, being an absentee manager, I had to sit down with the staff and develop a plan for sales and for their merchandise assortment and staffing. We did that quite successfully,” says Rosen. “We delegated responsibilities to the manager [who then] operated the store in the very same manner that we did in our original premises. People never advised me of there being a discrepancy in the service that they encountered in a suburban store vs. being downtown.”
It isn't enough for Harry Rosen's employees to sell a suit, they need to be adopt and follow the Harry Rosen Credo. This is a philosophy where quality apparel is sold in a knowledgeable and enlightened manner. The ultimate goal is to welcome a new customer, not make a sale.
Dedicated customer service is likely an important part of Rosen's success. When he first started the business he could recall everything about a customer from memory which allowed him to serve them with an added personal touch.
“There's no doubt that the selling part of proposition is extremely dependent on our human resources and our human capital. You've got to put a lot of training into your people and get them to dialogue and participate in your company's objectives.”
As Harry Rosen's customer base grew Rosen technology helped the company to maintain its system of high-level service.
“All in all our systems are designed to assist our staff with the tools to serve our customers better. We've never been in a better position than we are currently with the kind of information that we have available on our clients,” says Rosen. “Of course, in addition to that you can control your inventory better, and manage your dollars better and all of that is what makes up retail success.”
While the technological revolution has proven to be a benefit, if predictions of those initial days had come true it could very well have been a threat.
“For example, the promise of technology suggested that men were going to have very limited face-to-face encounters with people that they would interact with or do business with. That hasn't happened at all. Office towers were supposed to be obsolete and people were going to be working from home and wearing jeans and all kinds of comfortable clothes and rule out all of the formality of tailored clothing and business attire as we knew it. At most it had a ripple effect on fashion in that the whole casual revolution had occurred.”
Running Harry Rosen hasn't been without its share of challenges. Along with having to adjust to managing a growing number of employees Rosen learned that store design was a key issue when it came to retail success.
“You don't design a downtown store in the suburban shopping centre. I had to adapt to things in that respect. I might add that I made some mistakes in designing our store, it was reasonable, but we got better at it as we went along.”
Rosen learned from those initial struggles and now relies on his information sources to help him make informed decisions of how to best serve customers in a specific region. Along the way Rosen became the first Canadian retailer to build shop-in-shop environments for designer labels, as well as setting up play areas for children.