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Revamping Traditional Retail

Grafton Apparel CEO Lance Itkoff Explains Tip Top's Recent Evolution

— February 24, 2020 — Business
Tip Top, a Canadian men’s clothing retailer that’s widely known for its selection of suits and formal apparel, has been transformed in the wake of a changing brick and mortar landscape that sees the value of simplicity, accessibility, and a more memorable experience.

Additionally, the retailer has seen a revived digital strategy that makes it easier than ever to browse and shop its offerings online, while speaking to the demographic of men that rely on it for their suiting needs.

To learn more about Tip Top’s transformation, we spoke with Lance Itkoff, CEO of Grafton Apparel, the parent company of Tip Top.

Can you tell us about yourself and your role at Grafton Apparel?

My name is Lance Itkoff and I’m the President and CEO at Grafton Apparel. We are the parent company of Tip Top, George Richards Big & Tall, and Mr. Big & Tall. I come from a men’s specialty background, having started my career at Brooks Brothers in NYC.

In my role, my focus is to set forward-looking strategies to drive profitable growth, lead a corporate culture where everyone’s contribution is of equal value to our success, give everyone the tools they need to succeed, and then get out of the way and let them do it!

Why are younger generations of men less drawn to traditional suit retailers like Tip Top than their older counterparts were in the past?

Actually, I think quite the opposite is true today. Remember, years ago suits were a workplace uniform. Men had to wear them, and in turn updated their suit wardrobes whether they liked it or not. The young guy who has always come to us, and who now makes up a very big piece of our customer base, comes to us because he wants to look and feel great for that special occasion. Whether it’s a party, prom, graduation, or a wedding, we like to say we outfit guys with confidence, which can come from looking and feeling great.

How has Tip Top updated its design and merchandising to make the shopping experience more appealing to Gen Z and Millennial consumers?

It all starts with the focus. Today’s guy is not buying a uniform – he’s looking for an expression of his individual style. Whether he wants to stand out or fit in, he wants it to be his own look. This is why we’ve converted 100% of our suits to suit separates. We offer over 35 different style/color/pattern/fit combinations, most of which have a third piece vest option available. From ultra-slim, to slim, to modern fit, we offer suits that fit perfectly based on your individual preference. Each piece is selected separately by size for a fit that rivals made-to-measure. Additionally, we have professional tailors on staff that individualize the exact fit to our customers’ tastes.

Next, our buyers work with our European brands and sourcing partners to bring together a style-right assortment based on what’s happening now, offering customers a style that will endure beyond the season. We merchandise in-store by style solutions, where we curate head-to-toe looks by style and fit, making it easy for our customer to get the look that’s right for his individual style.

We’re very excited that in the last year, we have rolled out 10 new prototype stores that completely change the customer experience in a unique way. You really have to get into one of the stores to see for yourself. We integrated digital imaging into a bright open layout that is anchored by the “Fit Room” in the back of the store. We have the tailor right there on the floor, a sitting area with comfy chairs, and extra-large fitting rooms that allows for a stress-free and fun experience.

How have performance fabrics impacted the industry and influenced modern suit designs?

Performance fabrics went from the “what’s new” stage, to the “what do we do with it” stage, to where it currently is – the “it’s a given” stage. Simply put, our customers want and expect performance. The need for stretch is the biggest, and can be found in fabrics, linings, waistbands, and collars. That, along with other performance benefits like crease recovery, stain release, non-iron, and washability, are all expectation today.

Stretch has allowed for design innovations based on fit. Years ago, with non-performance fabrics, ease of movement too often was achieved only through a looser, baggier fit. Stretch has allowed for fit to be engineered much closer to the body for a much cleaner look, and the comfort and wearability has increased as well. Suits move the way you move, feeling more like a cardigan than how your father’s old suit did.

What’s the importance of balancing style with comfort in today’s designs?

I don’t think it’s as much a balance as a given. Innovations have allowed us to integrate the performance features without any style limitations. Performance is at the root of our “Words to Live By” – the promise we hold ourselves to that influences every decision we make. We call it “Fitted Confidence.”

We believe every man deserves to look great. We fit your body, we fit your budget, we fit your style. We fit you with the confidence you get when you look and feel great.

What can you tell us about Tip Top’s new digital strategy and how it speaks to its target consumers?

Our marketing strategy has dramatically shifted to the new media space of digital marketing. From SEM/SEO to social media and email marketing, our aim is to be omnipresent – to be available when and where the consumer is looking for us.

We have invested millions of dollars in the last year to create a seamless experience where our customers will be able to leverage the endless aisle to get exactly what they want. We’re right at the finish line with rolling it out, and along with this will come some great new design and experience enhancements to our web store!
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