Whether it’s for the wedding chapel or the boardroom, the perfect suit is Harry Rosen’s specialty.
The 77-year-old Canadian icon has forged a name as one of Canada’s most respected and revered men’s fashion brands famous for tailored suits of exceptional quality, with 40 per cent of the market share in Toronto and more than 15 stores across Canada — including stores in Ottawa, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Montreal.
Born and raised in Toronto, Rosen always had a knack for engaging with people. He got a part-time job at a menswear store in 1952, and — unlike the other salespeople who tried to sell anything to anyone — Rosen made it his mission to have as many customers come back to shop with him personally. “I realized that building relationships was crucial in this business. Customers came back to me even though I was a part-timer,” Rosen said.
Rosen took his sales philosophy to the bank and opened his first shop on Feb. 5, 1954, on Toronto’s Bloor Street, where it remains his flagship store to this day. He says he never left the sales floor in those early years and his focus is still, as it was all those years ago, on developing a relationship of trust to garner return customers.
“People always say men hate shopping but once they find someone they trust, they’re one-stop shoppers,” Rosen said.
While keeping tabs on customers’ buying habits and preferences is considered mandatory business practice nowadays, back in the 1950s Rosen’s diligence in starting individual files for each customer and updating it regularly was innovative and ground-breaking. The importance of nurturing repeat buyers by providing them with unparalleled service is something Rosen encourages directly in his stores — in fact, he pays his staff on retention of customers, not on commission.
Rosen’s advice for budding entrepreneurs is simple: Start with something worth offering and work hard to make it the best thing around.
“You have to have a good idea, a vision that you can share with people. You’ve got to have a reason for existing, a reason to attract customers,” Rosen said.
Knowing your market is crucial too and nothing can be a substitute for experience. In Rosen’s case, keeping a high level of service and quality has allowed him to weather multiple recessions by focusing on what he calls “evolution, not revolution” in the menswear market.
“Men really haven’t changed all that much since 1952. I can predict how many blue suits I’ll be selling to within a couple of percentage point two years from now,” Rosen said.