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Larry Rosen, chairman and CEO of menswear retailer Harry Rosen Inc., spoke with Kellogg students and faculty Oct. 28.

Canadian retailer Larry Rosen talks about differentiating his menswear company to gain a competitive advantage

Doubling down on relationship-based company culture

Canadian retailer Larry Rosen talks about differentiating his menswear company to gain a competitive advantage

By Theo Anderson

11/6/2015 - Since its founding in 1954, retailer Harry Rosen has claimed nearly 40 percent of the market for better-quality menswear in Canada, where it operates 16 stores in eight markets. Still, the company has faced increasing competition from U.S.-based retailers, which have established a growing presence in Canada over the past few years.

Harry Rosen’s response? Double down on its greatest strength: strong customer relationships rooted in superior knowledge of menswear.

“We know that we're better at relationship-based selling and earning customers’ trust, but we have to up our game,” said Larry Rosen, chairman and CEO of Harry Rosen Inc. “We have to do it 100 percent of the time. We have to be definitively better.”

Rosen spoke to faculty and students at the Kellogg School of Management on Oct. 28 about his company’s innovative efforts to adapt its corporate culture to the realm of online retail. His talk was part of the Executive in Residence program, a program that fosters interaction between C-suite leaders and Kellogg faculty and students.

Strengthening customer care through multi-channel retailing

In addition to the increasing competition from brick-and-mortar U.S. retailers such as Nordstrom and Saks, Harry Rosen faces the challenge of translating customer care to the online environment.

In response, the company is creating a platform that gives clothing advisors a personal webpage. Customers can submit questions to their clothing advisor anytime, and a button on the page signals when she or he is available to chat. The page also provides a space for clothing advisors to offer thoughts and insights on trends and specific products.

Harry Rosen initiated the service on a limited basis in late October and plans to gradually expand it.

“We see this as a real competitive advantage,” Rosen said. “This is very specifically designed to take existing relationships with great customers and give them the convenience to shop with their favorite clothing advisor — who they depend on and trust — on a regular basis. I think it's very groundbreaking, frankly. But customers are the ultimate judge, so we'll see.”

The Retail Council of Canada named Larry Rosen the Most Distinguished Retailer in 2014, commending his company for “constantly evolving to upgrade and expand the in-store experience and fuse their brick-and-mortar and online businesses.”

Customer access at the top

Harry Rosen is also experimenting with other ways to adapt its history and reputation for expertise in the field of high-quality menswear to the digital era.

In the early 1960s, the company’s founder began an “Ask Harry” ad campaign in which he responded to various questions about fashion and style in a weekly, full-page newspaper ad. “It really put us on the map in the 1960s,” Rosen said.

The company has revived that campaign with a series of “Ask Harry” videos, available through YouTube and on its website, that respond to a range of questions, including what “made-to-measure” means and how to fold a pocket square.

There is also a form on the website that allows customers to submit questions to Rosen, who responds personally to each one.

“We get all sorts of questions,” he said, “so it really is a cornerstone of our branding as experts.”

Read more about the Executive in Residence program: