60 Years of Harry Rosen
A Canadian institution the likes of Harry Rosen is more than just a brick and mortar chain of specialty menswear stores spanning the national retail landscape. This homegrown men’s fashion icon is a Canadian tradition built on nurturing client relationships where the customer reigns as king. Save the minor details, the abridged version of this story began in 1954 when a fashion savvy 23 year-old named Harry Rosen and his brother Lou opened their first store on Parliament Street in Toronto’s Cabbagetown. With an “unyielding entrepreneurial spirit and a vision of what Canadian men’s fashion should be,” Harry introduced a Coppley replica of a New York City ‘natural shoulder’ looking suit to an eager Toronto retail market.
The rest is history. The suit quickly became the look that the young, smart business-man in Toronto aspired to, forging the Harry Rosen brand into a decades old Canadian cornerstone of men’s luxury retail fashion recognized worldwide.
Fast-forward 60 years. The company that still bears the Harry Rosen name is a thriving enterprise comprising 16 national retail stores in 8 major Canadian markets; nearly 1,000 employees; annual sales of $300 million; and an ambitious $100 million capital expansion plan to develop existing stores, open a few new ones, and grow it’s e-commerce sales to five times its current business. “These are exciting times for us,” said Larry Rosen, Harry’s eldest son and CEO of Harry Rosen Inc.
I recently caught up with Larry Rosen at his Bloor Street office, to explore the brands legacy and discuss how in the changing face of Canadian men’s retail fashion, the Rosen’s culture will keep them relevant for decades to come.
Congratulations on 60 years of Harry Rosen! Exceptional milestone. What is the Rosen secret to success?
The secret to our success is our people. The company is founded on a corporate culture of good people committed to the Rosen’s vision of customer satisfaction and client respect laid down by my father in the 50’s. We invest more than most retailers in training and educating our people to value the relationship not the sale. We are a team. Among our top 15 managers, the average tenure is 20 years. That speaks volumes.
How concerned are you by the influx of foreign merchants in Canadian men’s retail? What is the Rosen’s competitive edge?
No doubt that the invasion of foreign retailers will change the market, fortunately many wanted to locate near one of our stores. That’s no coincidence. Unlike the vendor owned single label retailers, we offer a breadth of menswear styles and designers. Our clients are our leaders, they don’t want the impersonal department store experience or a single brand offering, instead they value choice and customized service. It’s all about loyalty, expertise and trust. Our clients value the personalized experience that our associates provide.
How do you stay relevant?
One of my favourite slogans is the Steam Whistle Brewery motto, “Do one thing, really well.” We are a menswear specialist, and will continue to strive to be the best menswear specialist. There will always be competition. We have to anticipate that there will always be other operators therefore we have to remain loyal to our brand and philosophy in order to stay on top.
Define your demographics. How do you attract the next generation of Rosen’s shoppers?
We are proud to be relevant to multiple generations. The challenge is to renew, layout merchandise that spans a variety of demographics; from Canali to Etro and all points in between – test the waters. We are there for men at all stages of their lives: career, lifestyle, etc. We are confident that the younger generation who enjoyed the Rosen’s experience say through their parents or grandparents, will come back to the brand when they can afford to foot the bill.
What keeps a Rosen’s shopper loyal to the brand?
We keep our customers because we take care of them. If a customer is well advised, they tend to spend less on clothes without compromising quality – build a proper wardrobe and they respect that. Our associates take the time to get to know their clients, build a profile, anticipate their needs and advise them accordingly. We also offer a lifetime maintenance guarantee and recently introduced a loyalty program: the Sartoria Recognition Program designed to extend privileges based on loyalty recognition.
Let’s talk about on-line shopping.
For on-line retail to be effective, it must integrate virtual or on-line shopping with the brick and mortar side of the business. For example, not every one is comfortable buying on line, but virtual window-shopping can drive in store sales. “I saw this on your web-site” is pretty commonplace these days. Most men however, still like the hands-on experience of sizing up a garment in store before closing the deal.
The new Yorkdale store is spectacular. As a footprint to your expansion and renovation program, discuss the thought process behind the design.
Each store is designed to reflect the community that it’s located in. We’re not a cookie-cutter organization. Every part of the store is laid out to feel different – to offer a full range of lifestyle apparel and products. The designers we showcase have input into the design as well in order to create a uniform feel or brand recognition for their label.
What does the future hold for Harry Rosen’s?
For now, we are working through a 5-year expansion plan. However, we can’t keep growing sideways. Eventually we will have to explore alternate markets – grow and expand our horizons in order to keep our associates happy.