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Why Suitsupply’s CEO Says the ‘Game Has Changed’

Suitsupply is one of many formal men’s wear retailers that dealt with demand disruptions throughout the Covid-19 pandemic as shoppers largely worked from home and attended fewer social gatherings. But the company’s key value proposition has always remained the same—creating a personal touch for customers.

At the National Retail Federation (NRF) Big Show last week, Suitsupply founding CEO Fokke De Jong said this personal touch—via style advice available across all channels—outweighs product availability through all channels even in a time when everyone is making more purchases online.

“In retail, the old law still is valid in that every detail counts, but I think the game has changed,” De Jong said. “The avenues that our customers connect with—how we interact with them, inspire them and make sure that they have their product—have changed so exponentially that the amount of details that we now have to manage and control as retailers and brands have also expanded.”

With many men adopting an “elevated casual” look while working from home, consumers are in even greater need of personalized styling advice.

“Everything has a jacket on, but it could be a shirt, it could also be a popover, it could be a polo, and then the trousers you wear underneath, so there’s five or six different options,” De Jong said. “Suddenly, it’s not a blue suit anymore with a white shirt and tie. Amazon cannot do that, so we are putting the style advice, the comfort and the connection of our people and our style advisors ready and virtually so they can access it.”

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As more consumers come back to Suitsupply’s nearly 150 showrooms, the online personal styling feature enables the brand to fortify its physical presence by giving associates in each location the information ahead of time on the merchandise ordered.

In a video aired during the NRF was the session, De Jong described the “radically personal” style advisor interactions that consumers encounter when they enter a Suitsupply showroom. Shoppers can connect with their favorite style advisor directly via the website, email and social posts, he added.

Though Suitsupply had retained style advisors prior to the pandemic, “having that available is what people were actually craving during lockdown,” De Jong said. As part of its “multi-point plan” in May to reopen stores, the men’s brand implemented a booking tool so consumers can reserve prepared fitting rooms and private suites as well. It also introduced Safe Shopping Screens, free-standing partitions that allow for safe, up-close interaction without modifying the customer’s behavior during pinning sessions.

With a strong emphasis on advising the consumer on high-consideration suits that run between $600 to $1,000 price range), training these advisors to deliver the “radically personal” touch is a top priority.

“There’s a lot of stuff happening for you as a sales advisor and a style advisor. You can connect with consumers in five different ways and there’s a lot of moving parts,” De Jong said. “You’re talking about rebooting the company. We spent all our efforts on training our staff, but also training them to become trainers, so we have this ‘scale up’ model, where if we see more people come back, we’re ready. And we’re ready to hire more people, and we’re ready to train them and to be the best style advisors we can imagine.”

Despite the preparation and training, De Jong admitted that even he didn’t expect that consumers wanted to set up so many appointments once stores started reopening.

The retailer is now deepening investments in the store store experience, at least in the SoHo location, where a new rooftop bar offers shoppers refreshments during their appointment. Although social restrictions are in place, consumers maintain a pent-up desire for shopping and a return to normalcy, particularly as the vaccination rollout accelerates.

De Jong said customers in China and South Korea have provided many critical clues about retail’s recovery.

“It gave us a sense that, yes, some things are going to change but, as soon as people go out again, life will be more similar to what it was, at least for our business,” De Jong said.