HARRY ROSEN HAS A LOCK on the Cana­dian men’s wear mar­ket, but that hold hasn’t come with­out a lot of hard work. The com­pany was founded in 1954 by Harry and his brother Lou Rosen in a small store­front in Toronto to pro­vide made-tomea­sure suits for men. The firm has since grown into a 300 mil­lion Cana­dian dol­lar ($228.3 mil­lion), 18-store chain with lo­ca­tions in the seven largest cities around the coun­try and some 1,000 em­ploy­ees.

Although Harry stepped back from the day-to-day op­er­a­tion of the busi­ness in 2005, he still serves as an am­bas­sador, of­ten stop­ping by one of the stores to chat with cus­tomers. But he left the com­pany in good hands: as chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer since 2000, his son Larry Rosen has built on his fa­ther’s legacy. Wait­ing in the wings is Ian Rosen, Larry’s son, who is join­ing the fam­ily busi­ness this sum­mer to over­see its dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing ini­tia­tives, and at the same time, en­sure the even­tual tran­si­tion to the next gen­er­a­tion will be seam­less.

But Harry Rosen has also branched out be­yond its core busi­ness, team­ing up with Ermenegildo Zegna to open flag­ship stores for the lux­ury Ital­ian la­bel in Canada. In Au­gust, a 3,000-square-foot Zegna store will open on Bloor Street West, steps away from Harry Rosen’s flag­ship 55,000-square­foot store. The 4,500-square-foot shop in Van­cou­ver’s Pa­cific Cen­tre — which Rosen has qui­etly op­er­ated for Zegna for years — will be re­vi­tal­ized with a Peter Marino de­sign. And there are plans to open more.

At the same time, the com­pany has en­tered into a joint ven­ture with Davids Footwear, an­other fam­ily-owned busi­ness in Toronto that sells de­signer shoes and ac­ces­sories for women. The plan is to revamp and up­grade that brand to Harry Rosen lev­els and be­gin a na­tional roll­out in Canada.

Here, Larry Rosen talks about what makes Harry Rosen spe­cial, its his­tory, its fu­ture and the other re­tail­ers he ad­mires.

WWD: Can you run through the his­tory of the com­pany?

Larry Rosen: It’s a great story of en­trepreneuri­al­ism. Harry, my fa­ther, is al­most 87 and in fine shape and is still a men­tor for me, and one of the peo­ple I ad­mire most. He and his brother Lou started in 1954 and in 500 square feet, they built a made-tomea­sure busi­ness. They re­ally started by bring­ing a look to Canada that Canada didn’t have. In those days it was called the Brooks Brothers look: the Madi­son Av­enue, nat­u­ral-shoul­der look. He ac­tu­ally went down to New York, bought a suit, took it to a lo­cal maker named Cop­p­ley and they du­pli­cated it. And all the young ex­ec­u­tives in Toronto flocked over there. He was so suc­cess­ful that by 1961, he moved the busi­ness to a great lo­ca­tion in the heart of Bay Street, which is our Wall Street. He built a very large busi­ness and then ex­panded to a sec­ond store in York­dale in 1968; Bloor Street was the third in 1970. Then in the early Eight­ies, he started ex­pand­ing across the coun­try and now here we are in the seven ma­jor mar­kets in Canada with 15 main­line stores and a few out­lets and a strong, strong on­line busi­ness.

WWD: Why do you think the busi­ness has been so suc­cess­ful and when did you join?

L.R.: My fa­ther is a real en­tre­pre­neur. He’s a guy who wills busi­ness into ex­is­tence — he’s bril­liant. I did an un­der­grad­u­ate at the Univer­sity of Toronto in eco­nom­ics, I then went to the Univer­sity of Western On­tario and got a law de­gree and an MBA. I prac­ticed law in Toronto for a few years and in 1985, I was so proud of my fa­ther ex­pand­ing through­out the coun­try that I said I have to be part of this. So I joined. I started as a buyer, then I ran stores. By 1997, I be­came the pres­i­dent, and in 2000, after the tragic death of our for­mer ceo Bob Humphrey, I be­came the ceo. Harry stepped back from ac­tive in­volve­ment in the busi­ness around 2005. I have a tremen­dous team of ex­ec­u­tives around me; the most re­cent is my son, Ian. We’re all about tran­si­tion and suc­ces­sion.

WWD: You once had a store in the U.S. What hap­pened to that?

L.R.: We did have a store in Buf­falo in 1987 and it was suc­cess­ful, but in 1995 we started a whole ven­ture of bring­ing Hugo Boss stores to the United States. We had nine of them, but in 2001, I said it was too dif­fi­cult to run re­motely, so we sold it back to Hugo Boss. We had con­verted the Buf­falo store to Hugo Boss at that point. It was a great learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for me and I re­al­ized that if you spread your­self too thin, your busi­ness gets hurt.

WWD: So that’s why you never re­ally tried to move into the U.S.?

L.R.: Harry Rosen’s brand is so well es­tab­lished here — in Canada it’s the place to shop for men. To be honest, I think there’s room in the [Amer­i­can] mar­ket for us, but it’s not on our cur­rent hori­zon. Ex­pand­ing our reach in Canada is our fo­cus for the time be­ing, be­tween the Zegna ven­ture and Davids and other op­por­tu­ni­ties that will come along. We just brought in my son and set some pretty ag­gres­sive tar­gets for him to achieve. Our dig­i­tal busi­ness is the strong­est part of our busi­ness — it’s grown 40 per­cent over the past year — but we think that hav­ing him work with our head of e-com­merce, we can grow that very ag­gres­sively.

WWD: Are all your stores in big cities? L.R.: Yes. Harry Rosen stores have to have crit­i­cal mass. Our small­est store is about 8,000 square feet, but I wouldn’t open a store to­day un­der 12,000 square feet, and that would be a small satel­lite store. There are seven ma­jor mar­kets that can sup­port a Harry Rosen store in Canada. Greater Toronto is over 6 mil­lion peo­ple so we have seven stores in Toronto, two in Mon­treal, one in Ot­tawa, four in Van­cou­ver, two in Cal­gary, one in Ed­mon­ton and one in Win­nipeg. In ev­ery city, we’re the ma­jor qual­ity men’s store. With the con­ve­nience of on­line, un­less a store has a su­perb se­lec­tion and out­stand­ing ser­vice, there’s no ra­tio­nale for it in the mar­ket. You’ve got to go big or go home.

WWD: Have you ever en­ter­tained go­ing into women’s?

L.R.: With Davids, we’re now in the women’s shoe busi­ness, and we’re learn­ing. But I wouldn’t en­ter women’s un­der Harry Rosen. We did re­search and it has a very mas­cu­line per­sona as a brand, although women all the time tell me that they would also love to have the cus­tomer ser­vice and se­lec­tion and mer­chan­dis­ing — all the things that Harry Rosen stands for. At one point in the late Eight­ies, we ac­tu­ally did women’s, but we went into it for the wrong rea­sons. One of the things about us is that we’re a spe­cialty store and we’re ex­perts and I think if we wa­ter down our brand in any way, I think it takes away from the fo­cus. When we ac­quired our in­ter­est in Davids, peo­ple asked if we were go­ing to put Davids de­part­ments in Harry Rosen and we said no. To me, we want to make Davids into the great­est ex­pe­ri­ence in women’s footwear in this coun­try and we want to bring to­gether a cu­rated se­lec­tion of the great­est brands with a high level of ser­vice and a re­ally ex­cit­ing en­vi­ron­ment and be to that women’s cus­tomer what Harry Rosen is in men’s wear. We have no in­ter­est in chang­ing it into some­thing it isn’t or com­bin­ing the la­bels. We want to keep them sep­a­rate in terms of their brand­ing.

WWD: Whom do you con­sider the com­pe­ti­tion for Harry Rosen?

L.R.: Holt Ren­frew, Nord­strom at the lower end, Saks Fifth Av­enue, and a lot of sin­gle-ven­dor brand stores such as Hugo Boss, Burberry, Mon­cler. There are also some in­de­pen­dent stores so there’s lots of com­pe­ti­tion.

WWD: Amer­i­can re­tail­ers have not had an easy time break­ing into the Cana­dian mar­ket his­tor­i­cally. Why do you think that is?

L.R.: It’s dif­fi­cult be­cause while there are a lot of sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween Amer­i­cans and Cana­di­ans, there are also points of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion. We’ve had an on­slaught of Amer­i­can de­part­ment stores but they haven’t taken mar­ket from us. I think it’s mostly a women’s wear game, but with Saks for ex­am­ple, if some­one in New York City is de­cid­ing what some­one in Ed­mon­ton or ►

Ian, Harry and

Larry Rosen.

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