Salespeople at The Men's Wearhouse face a tough task every day: convincing customers to buy something they really don't want. As founder and Chief Executive Officer George Zimmer has put it, for many men, a trip to a store to buy a suit ranks right up there with a visit to the dentist. So the company trains its people to focus not on the merchandise they sell, but on building a relationship, which sometimes starts with a game of hoops or a hard-driving match of table tennis between buyer and seller.
It All Starts With the Right Energy That's right, many of The Men's Wearhouse 360 stores come equipped with ping pong tables and basketball nets. The goal is to create an upbeat environment where employees can enjoy themselves and joke around--and customers can become friends. The philosophy set forth by Zimmer is that instead of working to build a professional relationship with clients and employees, "You start with friendship and work to create that professional relationship."
Enter a Men's Wearhouse store and you'll sense what Charlie Bresler, executive vice president of stores and human development, refers to as "a human energy. Most companies believe the merchandise will sell itself and act accordingly. We believe you need to create the right energy to get the job done." Employees greet customers as they walk in and interview them about working and nonworking interests to match their lifestyles with the clothes they're buying.
It's standard procedure to make a follow-up call 15 days after the sale to make sure the customer is pleased with the purchase. As Bresler puts it, the "fit" of a suit has as much to do with how it matches the person as with how it covers the body.
Zimmer and Bresler go back a long way, having been childhood friends. Bresler, a clinical psychologist who used to run his own clinic, joined the company in 1992. His greatest strength has been his keen understanding of how to motivate people. "To be successful at what we do requires a belief that retail workers will respond positively to an up-front investment in them," he says.
Investing in Employees The company's commitment is evident in the type of training employees receive. Every new wardrobe consultant spends two days learning the company's selling philosophies, then attends a five-day training program called "Suits University" at the Fremont, Calif., headquarters. Not surprising, the training focuses more on people skills than sales techniques.
Zimmer has also invested much effort in building a culture of motivation and self-actualization. The corporate mission emphasizes such values as "creativity, growing together, admitting mistakes, promoting a happy and healthy lifestyle, enhancing a sense of community, and striving toward becoming self-actualized people." The company also contributes to more than a dozen national charities, from the Make-A-Wish Foundation to the United Negro College Fund, in addition to many local causes.
Finally, Zimmer goes out of his way to be visible. Each year around the holidays, he travels to anywhere from 26 to 36 stores to celebrate with employees. Every summer, he and other senior managers go on the road to personally conduct training sessions. He holds two meetings each year to update management on what is happening with the company. He also started a personal and professional development group at headquarters to keep the lines of communication open between employees.
His philosophies are clearly working: The Men's Wearhouse has grown from a single store in 1973 to the country's leading discount retailer of men's clothing, with 360 locations and 6,000 employees. Its 1997 sales topped $630 million, a 31 percent increase from the previous year.
According to Bresler, turnover in the top 100 positions within the corporation is virtually nonexistent. Not only because most see The Men's Wearhouse as a good place to work, but because, he says, "when people are hired from the outside, they are not strangers. Most are already well-known to us." As Zimmer would say, it helps to be friends first.