Monday, March 14, 2016

You're not going to like the way this looks

(The following post is 100% free of political commentary. But it does mention a few blowhards.)

When's the last time you bought a well-made suit? Not the Haggar separates some retailers sell, but a good suit that would last a few years, until fashion dictums made it obsolete?

Probably not anytime recently. Casual Fridays at many businesses extended to Casual Everydays. Which, outside of Wall Street, law firms, and TV anchor desks, usually meant fewer suits and ties. My last suit was hand-tailored with Italian silk, and cost the equivalent of a mortgage payment. I don't need to buy another suit anytime soon.

This only partially explains why Tailored Brands, the parent company of Men's Wearhouse and Joseph A. Bank, announced last week that 250 of its 1,500 stores would close this year. Not good news for a brand that had some cachet with consumers.

By Ed!(talk)(Hall of Fame) [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons
Tailored Brands' CEO reported last week that year-over-year sales dropped by a third, in the wake of the company dropping promotions and sales that the Bank stores famously promoted. Offering three free suits if you bought one at full price sounded like a great idea. Except men wear fewer suits and sport jackets at work today, so four suits could last for years. Assuming leisure suits don't make a sudden comback.

Tailored Brands made a tough decision to scale back promotions, disregarding the painful lesson J.C. Penney learned in 2012-2013, when its CEO did away with the sales shoppers had grown to love. After the company cratered, Penney ditched its sale-free strategy and Ron Johnson, the CEO who forgot that consumers like a sale.

Even ex-Men's Wearhouse Chairman George Zimmer saw disaster lurking. He told Bloomberg Business that buying the Joe Bank stores was a bad decision: “They had a problem,” Zimmer said. “Joe Bank had really damaged their brand over a number of years by running incessant promotions so that nobody wanted to go there and pay regular price.”

Consumers want sales -- or, at minimum, the idea of getting a great deal. That's a hard habit to break. And Tailored Brands may have sold its investors on the wisdom of ditching the 3-for-1 deals, but it didn't talk or listen to consumers, whose interest in worsted wools had declined to the point where it required prodding in today's Casual Workplace world.

The rag business isn't easy. But, there's still a source of good-looking suits, offered by a would-be presidential candidate -- who, for better or worse, knows how to tell an audience what it wants to hear.