Sports shoes and beard oil: luxury retailer Harry Rosen’s tailor-made solution to the woes of the pandemic

At one point during the pandemic, men’s luxury clothing retailer Harry Rosen Inc. – supplier to some of the world’s biggest designer brands – couldn’t keep a tracksuit in stock.

The store known for dressing up Canada’s foremost elite in bespoke suits has seen that same clientele reach – or click – for their activewear and sneakers.

“Harry Rosen isn’t just about the costumes,” says Ian Rosen, executive vice president of digital and strategy and grandson of the retailer’s eponymous founder.

“It’s about helping men feel and perform their best, whether it’s in their personal or professional lives.”

This goal led the company to expand its collection of casual wear and enter a new category – grooming – while completely rebuilding its digital experience.

This has not been easy.

Harry Rosen was not immune to the pandemic restrictions that have curtailed office work and social events over the past year – measures that have sent iconic menswear retailers like Brooks Brothers and Tailored Brands , the parent company of Moores Clothing, in bankruptcy proceedings.

“It was a really tough time for our industry,” says Rosen. “There have been a lot of demand shocks and a lot of supply shocks that we’ve had to deal with as a business.”

But the retailer, which started out as a small bespoke men’s clothier in Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighborhood in 1954, hasn’t just survived the collapse of the garment industry.

He stepped on the gas pedal and accelerated the plans already in place.

“We had a strategy for 2020 and one of the first ideas we had once COVID hit was that nothing really changes, we just need to speed up a lot of our plans,” Rosen says.

It started with “totally destroying and rebuilding” the company’s website, improving the e-commerce experience, and partnering with FedEx to get packages to customers’ doors faster, he says.

Simple website upgrades like saving customer preferences, keeping credit card information on file, and tracking orders have made it easier for customers to become repeat buyers, Rosen says.

The retailer has also altered the existing physical relationships between its staff and customers online, allowing its wardrobe consultants to manage the website for customers based on specific size and color recommendations, it says.

The digital overhaul has paid off. The company tripled its e-commerce sales in 2020, hitting its 2023 target three years ahead of schedule.

Harry Rosen also quickly expanded his athletic offerings by adding more collections of casual wear and basics like cotton t-shirts, joggers and shorts.

“There are very few people who have asked for a costume, but a lot of people were at home re-evaluating their wardrobes.”

Now Harry Rosen is stepping outside its basic clothing category to take advantage of the growing demand for personal care and men’s grooming products.

Its foray into hair, face and body products uses a dropship model, meaning that Harry Rosen will sell the items through his website without keeping all of the products in stock.

Instead, the items are shipped directly to the consumer from a third-party vendor – what Harry Rosen calls his partners in the new category.

The approach allows the retailer to offer an organized selection of “heritage brands” as well as more modern brands, while maintaining “a seamless customer experience,” Rosen explains.

Expansion into new categories turns Harry Rosen into a lifestyle brand, says Anwar White of McGill University’s Bensadoun School of Retail Management.



“More and more people can turn to this brand and get all of their needs met and for men, especially during the pandemic, grooming was actually a source of well-being,” says White, professor and director of master’s program in retail management.

“Men are going beyond three-in-one shampoos and body washes. The men’s skincare category is valued at over $ 150 billion and it’s ripe for the taking. “

This is a category of products that Rosen is familiar with. In 2015, the retail clerk said his beard had reached his chest and he was “very interested in personal grooming.”

Speaking with customers after joining the family business in 2018, Rosen said he recognized there was a market for products that would be part of the daily routine.

Still, there wasn’t a single place customers could shop that brought together the best in personal care and grooming products under one roof, Rosen says.

“This is where we saw that we had a role to play here,” he says. “We don’t just expand our catalog and go wild, we really want to present a point of view. So we were very organized.

Meanwhile, the 17 Harry Rosen stores across Canada remain under capacity restrictions or closed to in-person purchases, making e-commerce its largest “storefront” – even surpassing its flagship locations in Toronto and Vancouver.

This continued online success despite pandemic shutdowns is in part due to its customer demographics, experts say.

Harry Rosen’s clientele tend to have higher discretionary income – a slice of society that has not been hit as hard by the economic downturn, they add.

“The truth is, the rich and the rich and up and up haven’t stopped shopping,” says Farla Efros, president of HRC Retail Advisory.

“The rich are still spending, even if now it’s on tracksuits instead of tailored suits. Harry Rosen has been nimble enough to adapt to this market change. “

Indeed, the retailer is now ready for the lifting of the locks.

“We definitely anticipate a rebound because there will be pent-up demand,” says Rosen. “But let’s not kid ourselves. It will not be the same request as before. “

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 23, 2021.

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