When a pie is shrinking—like the one for tailored menswear—you may not be able to grow the pie, but you can enlarge your portion of it. And Tailored Brands, which operates Men’s Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank, is taking a big bite out of the custom suit business with an accelerated supply chain and a multitiered pricing structure.
In 2017, the company reported its custom suit sales reached $100 million, more than double the previous year. In the first quarter of 2018, custom generated more than $3 million in sales on average, compared to $2 million weekly during the same period last year.
Tailored Brands is looking to custom to drive new traffic to its stores.
“Our research and experience show that men who buy custom suits from us are happier with their purchase, shop more frequently and have a higher annual spend than off-the-rack customers,” said CEO Doug Ewert during the company’s 2017 Q4 earnings call.
For that reason alone, Ewert and his team are looking to bring custom suit penetration up from an average of 15 percent of suit sales across the fleet to the 50 percent mark the group’s best stores are hitting.
To galvanize this effort, Tailored Brands is supporting the service with a marketing campaign and rolling out custom shops in 450 locations across Men’s Wearhouse, Jos. A. Bank and Moores stores this year. Ewert anticipates that the higher visibility will spur more interest in the concept.
Another incentive that the retailer’s already reaping benefits from is offering quicker turnaround times. “During 2017, we tested expedited custom delivery and validated our hypothesis that the faster we can deliver a custom suit, the more customers will give it a try,” Ewert said.
Adding to that, Ewert explained that the custom business is helping Tailored Brands solve its inventory overload, which reached a peak in 2017 after the company shuttered 100 Jos. A Bank stores. “The more of our business that translates into custom, [it] reduces the need to carry as much inventory in store,” he said.
Sourcing Journal recently spoke with Jamie Bragg, Tailored Brands’ EVP and chief supply chain officer, to learn more about what North America’s self-proclaimed biggest tailored menswear company is doing to grow its custom suit business.
Sourcing Journal: How did you add custom clothing to your repertoire?
Jamie Bragg: About five years ago we got interested in getting into the custom clothing business, and bought the Joseph Abboud Manufacturing Company factory in New Bedford, Massachusetts. This allowed us to reunite with Mr. Abboud, who is our creative director. It’s a higher-end product with Italian fabrics and a canvas chest piece. Not long after that, we bought Joseph A. Bank, and used the factory for Joseph A. Bank Reserve label.
SJ: Custom has the reputation for being pricey. How have you been able to create a product that speaks to a wider range of wallets?
JB: We’re the largest player in tailored clothing in North America, so we have all the relationships, a deep sourcing group and a talented design team. We have the right infrastructure and knowledge to be able to focus on continually improving the business.
[We started] at around $700, depending on fabric and details. We saw a lot of potential in this business, but we also saw the opportunity to not only play in the high-end arena, but do something more modestly priced. So we started working with a supplier in China to do additional labels for our brands, and this is more like a $400 opening price point. With Jos. A. Bank, the label is 1905, and at Men’s Wearhouse, it’s Joe. We saw our younger customers gravitate towards it for being more affordable and easier to sell.
SJ: How are you scaling the custom business and accelerating turnaround times for today’s see now, buy now customer?
We had those two businesses running, then saw the option to near-source some of the product and move it ourselves in a one-week frame. In our own factory, we were doing a custom product in about four to six weeks, and with our Chinese partner in six to eight weeks.
But one of the sticking points with the customer is having to wait for the garment, so we developed a program called Custom Express, which can deliver in a week with limited swatches and options. And our domestic program is now down to two to three weeks, for the higher end. What we’re aiming for is one-week, two-week, and four-week options. Nobody’s really doing it as quickly. We’re able to get you a custom suit in the same amount of time as other places take for alterations.
SJ: Let’s define what you mean by “custom.”
JB: Well, when you walk into one of our stores, you’ve got all the garments hanging. We’ve got a range of fits that we use as a block and that we can adjust to make a custom fit. Then they can pick the lining, functional buttonholes, button stance, vent, lapel, pick stitching, ticket pocket, trouser waistband. The block is just to see which fit is best. Then we can make it, for example, an inch smaller in the waist. So in the factory, it is indeed cut to these specifications. Cut to order, one at a time. We also do a lot of tuxedo rentals, and a lot of customers are interested in getting a custom garment for their special occasion. So we’re looking at how we can print and offer custom linings for specific customers.
SJ: How are the programs coming along, and how bullish are you on their future?
JB: We set a goal to double our business year-over-year, and we’ve done that since the onset. We don’t talk about current-year performance, but we’re very happy with our performance year-to-date and we’re setting some pretty aggressive goals for next year. It’s a big growth vehicle for us and we see it as our future as far as changing the way that we sell, and also our customers are leading us that way, too.
SJ: Do you think that soon there will be very little available off-the-rack, and men will come in, say what they want, get it in a week, and that will be the new paradigm?
JB: We’re looking at new categories like dress shirts to launch in the future. But I think there’s still going to be a need for people to come in and get something quickly. But the younger consumers, who are gaining more buying power all the time, are looking for more of an experiential environment, and custom is the ultimate experience in shopping. You may not have a lot of suits in your closet, but you want the two or three that you have to be special. We’re not going to need as much ready-to-wear inventory over time.
SJ: Is your goal to take market share from department stores or are you focus on gaining on the range of new men’s wear brands that have custom at the core of their model?
JB: What we’re looking at is how we want to evolve our business. I don’t look at it that we’re going after market share. A lot of these companies doing custom are really small. When you look at who your consumer is going to be, this is where the demand is coming from. So we’re getting ahead of the curve.
SJ: Finally, what about the casualization snowball? How does custom fit into that overall trend? Are you trying to get more out of something that’s shrinking?
JB: I think it’s cyclical. When unemployment is low, people tend to relax on the dress code, and when things happen with the economy, people dress up again. I’ve been in this business 27 years and have seen a number of cycles like that. Today, we’re a destination for tailored clothing, and we need to have all the options available. You might not have as many tailored pieces in your closet as your dad, but you’re still going to dress up for occasions, and we need to provide what you need when you want to look your best. Department stores are really not emphasizing that anymore: it’s a ready-to-wear separates department, not a tailored experience. The market may be shrinking for tailored clothing, but we see a lot of opportunity to grow our market share because of the level of service and variety we’re offering.
—Additional reporting by Caletha Crawford