Episode 5

Transforming a historic menswear brand through COVID-19

Ian Rosen
President & COO, Harry Rosen

Episode Summary

In March 2020, Harry Rosen closed their 17 stores in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Demand also dried up for their products as customers stopped buying luxury clothing and switched to athleisure as they worked from home. 

Harry Rosen President & COO Ian Rosen turned what would have been a major setback for the business into a golden opportunity. He accelerated his team’s digital transformation plans to deliver a best-in-class online experience unique to Harry Rosen on their website. He also pursued adjacent product category opportunities to expand the Harry Rosen brand and strengthen their relationship with their loyal customers. 

In this episode of Legends of Retail, Ian talks to Chris about how he led the company through this crucible moment for the business. Topics they cover include:

  • How they replatformed their online store
  • The features they prioritized during their replatform and why
  • How they launched a grooming product category with dropship
  • How Ian decides to promote internally vs. hire externally

If you’re interested in a retailer that’s at the forefront of luxury and apparel retail, this episode is for you!


Connect with Ian on Linkedin

Connect with Chris on Twitter and Linkedin

Check out Harry Rosen

Ian Rosen

About The Guest

Ian Rosen is the President & Chief Operating Officer at Harry Rosen, where he is responsible for driving profitable growth across each of the company’s three banners: Harry Rosen, FinalCut and The Outlet by Harry Rosen. In his role, Ian works with Executives across Sales Management, Merchandising, Marketing, Digital and IT functions to ensure operations are aligned towards delivering on the Harry Rosen brand promise to provide exceptional service to clients throughout every touchpoint. Since joining Harry Rosen in 2018, Ian has led the company’s transformation to extend relationships with customers onto digital channels and enhance the shopping experience with technology (both online and in-store). Ian marks the third generation of Rosen’s that have joined the company founded by his Grandfather. Prior to joining Harry Rosen, Ian was a Management Consultant at Bain & Company in Chicago where he focused on Strategy, Retail and Digital projects. Ian holds both an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management and an HBA from Ivey Business School.

Episode Transcript

Chris Grouchy (00:05):

Hey everyone. Welcome to season two of the Legends of Retail podcast. Brought to you by Convictional. We talk to leaders in retail and e-commerce so you can learn from them about retail strategy, leadership, and team management, and take their insights back to your company.


I'm your host, Chris Grouchy, co-founder and president of Convictional. What is Convictional? In short, retailers use Convictional to connect to vendors for dropship and curated marketplace. My guest today is a retail leader who is writing the next chapter of an iconic Canadian retail brand, Ian Rosen.


Ian Rosen is the president and chief operating officer of Harry Rosen. He's responsible for driving growth across the company's three banners, Harry Rosen, FinalCut, and The Outlet by Harry Rosen. Since joining Harry Rosen in 2018, Ian has led the company's transformation to extend relationships with customers onto digital channels, and enhance the shopping experience with technology, both online and in-store.


I know Ian personally, and I know especially well because Harry Rosen is a Convictional customer. In this conversation, Ian and I discuss Harry Rosen's journey to bringing their highly personalized clothing experience online, and how they test and launch new product categories using a virtual inventory and dropship strategy. We also discuss Ian's leadership principles in a crisis after Harry Rosen had to shut down their stores due to COVID-19 lockdowns. And how he approaches hiring leaders externally and promotes them from within. Here's my conversation with Ian Rosen, president and chief operating officer of Harry Rosen. Ian, welcome to Legends of Retail.

Ian Rosen (02:00):

Thanks so much for having me, Chris.

Chris Grouchy (02:01):

Awesome. Well, I wanted to actually begin with a recent post that you made on, I believe, LinkedIn and Instagram about a 91st birthday. Can you tell me more about that?

Ian Rosen (02:15):

Yeah. It's Harry himself on August 27th, turned 91, we celebrated. I had dinner at his house. He's still Harry, is the best way to sum it up, has a point of view on so much. And in honor of the birthday, I decided to post a very legendary photo of him in his birthday suit, where, unprompted, he decided to advertise the most essential accessory in a man's wardrobe, would be the tie. And he wore nothing but a tie.


And my bubbe, grandmother, still is not thrilled with the photo, so I showed her the post, and she was not too thrilled that I resuscitated that one. But that's kind of the marketing genius of Harry Rosen that I think there's not a person across Canada that didn't see that when it came out.

Chris Grouchy (03:15):

I think it's absolutely genius. And on the note of it tying into how playful and intelligent the Harry Rosen brand really is, we recently saw another campaign, a more recent Harry Rosen campaign, called Marry Rosen. Can you tell me what sparked that campaign? And who Justin and Randy are?

Ian Rosen (03:40):

Yeah, so Marry Rosen was a contest that we ran, and we have been helping men get ready for their weddings for years and years, whether it's black tie optional, black tie welcome, a beach wedding, et cetera, we're really that partner in style. We want to be part of helping a man feel the most confident on their wedding day. And one of the realizations we had just with the pandemic and lockdowns and the amount of pent up demand for celebrating that there had been, weddings have been a huge part of our return to normal business.


There's been such a rush on tuxedos, on wedding basics, on outfitting wedding parties. And when we started talking to our clients, we realized there are so many of them that are just hoping to be celebrating, or celebrating in the most peculiar of ways because they can't find a venue or a band or they're doing things on a Tuesday or a Thursday, you name it. People are getting very creative, and wedding venues are in quite short demand as well.


So we partnered with a whole bunch of wedding industry influencers, a wedding planner, Rebecca Chan, florists and bands, et cetera. And we said, "Hey, we have a great venue, the rooftop of our flagship store on Bloor Street." And Randy and Justin submitted their story, which was, they are a couple and really punting that wedding down the road, because financial burdens and not necessarily feeling safe bringing their family together. But during the pandemic they said, "We're ready to celebrate. We really want to have a wedding to remember." And we put on one of a kind contest that they were able to celebrate, I think, almost three weeks ago on a Thursday. And it turned out to be a pretty special event.

Chris Grouchy (05:32):

I mean it's, again, another example of using creativity and brand and taking a little bit of a risk to demonstrate what's possible with the types of products that you offer, and not being necessarily in the potential customer or client's face about it either. It's actually telling a story around Justin and Randy and how it's actually been challenging, as a result of all the pent up demand, to get married and have this once in a lifetime moment in one's life.


I want to rewind though the clock to March 2020 and at the time, I believe, you and the folks at Harry Rosen had to shut down all of your 17 stores because of COVID-19. I'm curious, if we put ourselves back to that March 2020 moment, what was the mood of the company at the time? And as the person, as the executive responsible for leading digital and corporate strategy, did you feel the pressure of having to accelerate the digital initiatives and your transformation plans?

Ian Rosen (06:37):

It's a very good question. And our pandemic experience, we were caught in, I don't know, if it's the eye of the storm, because that's where it's calmest, right? But we were caught right in the center of where you might not want to be. We had a lot of physical retail. We had a category which we dominated, which was tailor driven clothing, that demand dried up overnight for. The amount of people shopping for suiting or sports jackets or business and work related wear really disappeared on us.


And we, by nature, are optimistic, we're also very pragmatic, and we had to make a number of tough decisions and have a number of tough conversations with our partners about "Here is the situation and how do we work through it together?" But I think the biggest thing that was going through our mind is, "We have to look at this as a and opportunity and an opportunity to emphasize parts of our business that perhaps that there's tailwind or opportunity in front of us on. And if we come out of this experience a different animal..." March 2020, everybody had an opinion on how long this thing was going to stretch on for. But even the most optimistic said, "This is a several months endeavor. It's not like this is going to be two weeks, and we're going to be back and doing it."


I think we understood that this was probably a little bit more severe. And when it came to digital, we had a great plan in place and it became a real decision to allow the old solution that we've been running for years, to stop investing in it. We had to put a few people on hypercare because it was not equipped for the amount of demand that was coming our website's way, it was really all of them were holding strings just to keep it together.


And we diverted all of our resources to building something new. Getting us on a much more stable platform that we'd architected in late 2019 and we felt like we had a great roadmap. Then we had to be a little bit more pragmatic and say, "Hey, what can we afford to go live without as a feature?" And we really slimmed it down to the bare bones saying, "We have to have the ability to add to a cart and pay. That's it." Any features above that, adding to a wishlist. We wanted find in store, like the ability to see store inventory, that was pretty important to us. Even though stores weren't necessarily open, we still felt that was core.


But we were making trade-offs around, as an example, we had a pretty robust pickup in-store business, which was, curbside and pick in-store thrived during the pandemic. When we went live on our new platform, we actually lived for a month and a half without pickup in-store. Because it was more valuable for us to get live on the new thing, shed the skin, and move forward rather than having to hold that for a month and a half and continue to be on our older platform.


So in sum, we really said, "Okay, there's three areas that we want to build. And on the digital side we want to be a great in-store retailer and a great online retailer. And on the merchandise side we want to be known for our tailored clothing. But also we have a pretty exceptional casual wear selection. We have a robust outerwear business. We do sell in a number of other categories like personal care and grooming and others that we wanted to emphasize more of."


And then I think the third was we wanted to introduce ourselves to new clients and we wanted to make sure that we were continuing to meet the needs of existing clients. So I can speak to just how we did each one of those. And that was really the mentality going through the company was, "We're going to come out of this stronger."

Chris Grouchy (10:30):

I think it's a testament to what leadership actually is in times of crisis, which is, the ability to make difficult trade-offs from first principals thinking as opposed to strictly reacting to what everybody else is doing, takes courage, because nobody knew at the time how this was going to play out. And those trade-offs made could have a very long feedback loop, in which case, we would know in two years whether it was the right decision. Or it could be a very short feedback loop.


Let's go into each one of those sort of tenets that the team had constructed in terms of how they wanted to architect the strategy going forward. The first being, becoming a, I think, you used the term reputable, but I would say legendary in-store and online retailer. Maybe we can go into each of those three in more detail of how you pulled it off.

Ian Rosen (11:29):

Yeah, we can start on the digital side because obviously our digital transformation got a lot of coverage. And really all we were doing was, I call it, bringing the real Harry Rosen online. Shopify has done such an exceptional job making e-commerce easy for people. It's easy to take photos of things, put up some descriptions, and have them in a system that can add to cart and check out and somebody can figure out how to ship that to you. That's not hard.


Taking a really unique concept, like Harry Rosen, which why we feel we're special is we have great phenomenal merchandise that we should be romancing and helping you understand why you ought to own that specific item or invest in it. We're curators, so we need to make sure that we're giving the right people the right merchandise, and we need to make it easy to find.


We are service oriented, so we need to make sure that we're extremely clear on when you shop with us online, what does service look like? What does a good experience look like? Can I always get access to help? What if I don't know my size? So there's a lot of questions related to service that we need to make sure we were able to hit against. And then lastly, it had to be seamless. One of the things that we learned from running stores, which stores are hard to run in an efficient manner, and we've gotten quite good at it. But you can always act like a duck in a store. There could be a lot of stuff happening in the background, but to the client it seems like everything's calm, cool, and collected.


And on the online side you can't act like a duck. You actually have to have all your ducks in a row, and make sure that picking is lined up, that inventory is accurate, that emails are sending on time. So we needed to take a hard look on how ready we were to deliver against those service levels. And that was part of the core of how we wanted to transform our business was what that customer experience in mind.


I can talk a little bit about one of the examples about bringing ourselves online that was really important to our journey. We have a team of incredibly talented clothing advisors, that's our highly trained staff that works in our stores. They study product and they work almost to no end for their clients. They try and understand what they want, what kind of style objectives they have. When something new comes in, they always have a client in mind for it.


And when we said how do we take that staff who has been forced home in a lot of ways, how do we help them help their clients shop online? That was one of the big first frontiers that we had to conquer in our digital transformation. We built them a tool that allowed them to curate the website down to, I could build Chris a specific page, as an example. I might know Chris's specific sizes. So I'm going to say, "Hey, Chris, this great gray over shirt, you're going to be a size 50 in it. And I know you like a black crew neck. Here's some new arrivals from PATRICK ASSARAF, you're a medium by the way. Because that was your last purchase, I already looked it up on your file."


All you have to do once you receive this link, this personalized page is check out. And then you can imagine the difference that makes to the customer shopping. It's very easy. It's very service oriented. It's different than anything else happening out there. And that's an example of one of the things that we wanted to build for our clients. And then also empower our clothing advisors to embrace the new frontier of online, which wasn't necessarily new, we just haven't always given them the ability to engage with it in a pretty sophisticated way. So that was one of the key examples I can give for a way we brought ourselves online.

Chris Grouchy (15:18):

It sounds like knowing your strengths, and then being able to build digital experiences that bring those to life in an authentic and real way for clients is incredibly key. The second unlock was around merchandising, tailored and casual and outerwear clothing in addition to accessories and personal care products. Tell me about the decision to sort go adjacent into those other categories.


I mean COVID is one thing, but I think a lot of retail executives would look at in normal times some of these other categories and say, "Would it cannibalize my core offering if we extend the aisle, if we go into new categories?" How did you think about that?

Ian Rosen (16:02):

We've always had a pretty thriving casual wear business. It's just ironically not been something that we're necessarily known for and hasn't been our primary acquisition tool in the market. Suiting and building a work wardrobe and professionalizing yourself became kind of our key way of bringing clients in the door. And while they were there, we had a great selection of casual merchandise that they might get themselves introduced to, or, "Hey, I need a winter jacket." As an example, we've had, I think we were Canada Goose's first, one of their first wholesale partners in Canada, and we built that business into a remarkable partnership over the years.


So it's not like we haven't been selling. It's more just how we were going to market, finding clients and emphasizing what and who Harry Rosen is. So we took a step back from a marketing point of view and said, "Hey, we really need to emphasize that no matter what you're doing, Harry Rosen is helping you feel your best, so you go out and do your best." That doesn't necessarily need to be in the boardroom. It can be at home on a Zoom call, it can be on the weekend walking with your kid, going to the coffee shop. It can be, you name it. There's a whole bunch of places where we feel like we have the permission to be your partner, and we have the merchandise that really suits that specific gentleman.We have obviously personas that we work to.


But then it was also working with partners to make sure we were inventoried to the level that we aspired to sell it. Sneakers, as an example, is an area of our business that grew incredibly well during the pandemic. And outerwear. I mean how much stuff were people doing outside having the appropriate jackets, plural, to dine outside or to go on a walk with friends? That was kind of a thing that people were doing. So making sure that we were showing that we had the right merchandise for those situations. But also working with our vendors and curating within their selections to emphasize new pockets that perhaps we weren't always assorted towards, was pillar number two.


And then this kind of builds into where we started working together and our go-to-market plan between Harry Rosen and Convictional was Harry Rosen at its core, and what Harry himself was legendary at was curation. And my buying team, they travel the world, they work with the best brands, they evaluate the best brands, and they pick what they feel the best items are. And personal care and grooming was something that we've always had a point of view on. We've just never necessarily brought that to market and emphasized to a customer, "Hey, we are a destination when it comes to building that. You start your day, you should feel your best. And, hey, we're going to make it easy for you to buy and invest in personal care products."


But to emphasize the extent to which we test and learn on stuff, myself and four other people of the team used upwards of a 100 shampoos, face creams, beard oils, beard washes, you name it, to make sure it was up to standard. We interrogated the ingredients on things, we really wanted to understand what was unique about each thing. So weren't just expanding the aisle for the sake of it. We still said, "Okay, we have to be curators, and the story, because you were alone for the ride."


But I think we were able to accomplish the ability to move quick but also still maintain that Harry Rosen level of curation that I think customers trust. Because I never want a client to buy something on our site that they're like going back to the product page and saying, "This isn't what I ordered." We need to be able to put our stamp and stand behind each product that goes through our channels.

Chris Grouchy (19:53):

I think it requires knowing exactly who your customer personas are, predicting or anticipating what would delight them, and then basically using your e-commerce as an avenue to provide those types of recommendations to the target customer.


I want to talk about capability, and maybe we'll come back to dropship. But if we look at a talk you gave at the recent MACH ONE conference in London, Harry Rosen actually won the best retail project. Congratulations on that. That's a massive accomplishment, and a testament to I'm sure lots of stress and sleepless nights. The talk was titled Digitizing Luxury Experiences with MACH. And I'm curious if you can talk more about the specific capabilities that you invested in from an e-commerce perspective that allowed you to move quickly and swiftly through those difficult times.

Ian Rosen (20:56):

The opening to my talk there was, first and foremost, admitting I have no idea what any of the acronyms, I don't know what an API is, is kind of how I open my talk and I purposely don't know what it is. I have incredible partners on my tech team as well as my systems integrated partner, my planet, who help me understand the technology trade-offs in front of me. But this decision that a lot of people are making, "Hey, I got to re-platform to save my business." No, I need the capabilities to digitize what I feel is most important to my business.


So I already walked you through that example of the clothing advisor curating a personal page for a client. Being able to build out that journey and having the answer be, "Yes, I can do that," not, "No, our system can't do that," was exactly where we wanted to end up. And it just so happened that this microservices, API first, cloud native, headless framework was going to be the one that set us up to be in the world where we were saying yes more than no.


I'll give you another prime example. There's lots of shoppable image frameworks out there in e-commerce platforms, like everybody has one version of it, but we really wanted to manifest it in a specific way where we could own this concept across channels. We would call it get the look. So whenever you click this button it would be branded Harry Rosen, we would merchandise everything that's in that image down to the SKU. And then we said, "Okay, what kind of journeys might a client have after they say, 'Hey, I really love what that model is wearing'?" Well, they might not be able to afford this specific item. It's a great tan, cashmere overcoat, but maybe it's too luxury for them. Well, we should put a shop similar items button right there so it's not a dead end for that client. They like the look.


And then we need to partner with somebody who could do visual search similarity as good as it comes. So if you click the shop similar button on our site and you're hovering over a tan overcoat, I promise you, you're only going to see tan overcoats for the first 10, 15 selections. And that gives the person the ability to say, "Hey, I want to look this way. Harry Rosen's putting forward a style point of view and they're making it really easy for me to walk down this train of, okay, I can find the right one for me."


Being able to think that through is hard on a lot of technology platforms. And that's a pretty straightforward one, but even adding that last element ends up being restrictive or people say, "Hey, we don't have that capability," or, "You're going to customize way off the code base with that one." So I really love this idea that we own, what we call owning the glass, owning the front end experience.


And if I have a crazy dream or anyone on my team has a crazy dream about a way a client might want to engage with content or shop in a unique and novel way, we can build it, and then we can test it, and we can see if it's worth iterating on. That was really the thesis of my talk there was, "I'm a business person, at the end of the day, I'm not a technologist. And at the end of the day I need to be able to manage the costs of running the digital platform and building the digital platform. And I need it to be able to drive customer experience, not necessarily only sell things online. There's a lot more dimension to what an online platform is becoming."


I'm on a bit of a rant, but just to finish the thought, like the website these days is a lot like we talk internally about you just got off the plane at Frankfurt Airport and 10 of you just walk in front of the big board and each person's looking for a different thing. You're looking for your connecting gate. Somebody's looking for where the retail is. Somebody's looking for where the bathrooms are. Somebody's looking for where the lounge is. That's your website these days. You don't know what the client is going to be looking for. You need to be able to service all those nuanced journeys. And that's the type of thing that MACH allows you to do is think pretty elegantly through each one and how you want to service against it.

Chris Grouchy (25:16):

One of the things I've also appreciated about the capabilities you've unlocked is just how well you've nailed even the basics. If folks go to harryrosen.com, just watch how fast that site loads, just nailing that has got to be a maximizer of conversion. So I mean once you nail the basics with MACH, you can start to layer on all of these really intricate and nuanced types of customer experiences that are critically important in building a brand or a modern retailer.


So I mean you've just nailed it up and down the customer journey. If we think about nailing it from a vendor perspective, when we started working together in 2021, it was all focused on how do we launch this new product category that, you mentioned you've always had interest in grooming, highly complimentary to the core assortment. It fits into the perspective of advisors being able to recommend it to our clients. But why launch it through dropship?

Ian Rosen (26:23):

It's a great question. And dropship or marketplace is a topic is one that a lot of people will position as, it's always plus business. For us, because we're curators, we thought about the opportunity as we're always going to make sure we're standing behind the products that are there, but there's a world of scarcity out there. And during COVID you couldn't make a 100,000 bets at the same time. You had to be very diligent with your working capital and how you were investing in inventory.


And personal care was a frontier that we had a really strong fragrance business. But if you told my team, "Hey, you got to stock for face creams. And you need this many styles and SKUs," they'd be guessing. And we wanted to move quick, we wanted to have a meaningful assortment, and we didn't want to be restricted by, "Hey, we're only confident enough to bet behind these two SKUs."


Two face screens are not broad enough a selection for every specific persona and gentleman that's working onto our site to narrow down their selection. So we needed an expansive selection and dropship allowed us to attack that. It was just such a logical category where we could curate by brand, if we felt strong enough in the product across a whole wide range of samples, we'd be confident saying, "Okay, these people make quality products," and we could expand the range. And we could also move quick once we gave it the green light.


A lot of the vendor pool is on modern platforms and work through dropship already and have the capability. So it seemed like a logical place to start. And it's always safest to test somewhere that you feel like, I don't know what the philosophy is necessarily, but because it was plus business to us, we were able to watch it in a pretty discreet way and say, "Hey, are clients receiving their packages in a timely manner? Are they shopping for more? Let's reach out for feedback. Could you tell that this was dropshipped? Did you care? Do you care?" And at the end of the day, most of the feedback we were getting was, "Oh, yeah, I thought I bought a great product from Harry Rosen." I said, "Okay, we're doing our job here now we can expand this capability to attack different categories in a more unique way."

Chris Grouchy (28:50):

And a common trap we see retailers fall into when they adopt a curated marketplace or curated dropship strategy is they apply the same metrics that they use to evaluate and make decisions for their stock business for dropship. Do you have a point of view on that?

Ian Rosen (29:10):

Again, we have to stand behind every product that a client buys with us. So we need to feel confident in it. But, again, there's a much different trade-off between how much stock you can carry in a specific area versus what the ideal stock level is. And dropship and having partnerships, even we call them modern partnerships, where we have a wholesale account that also dropships, allows you to not miss any business that perhaps you didn't see coming, and prepare better for the season ahead.


So great example of that, and I know you guys have published on what we've accomplished with Psycho Bunny, we had a slim bet to make with them. We bet with them on their fashion products. We dropshipped their core product, their core product did better than their fashion in with certain clients. Now we're carrying a lot more of their core product and we're dropshipping a little bit more of the fashion. We learned what fashion worked, what fashion didn't, but one of the things about that brand, if you've seen it, is it needs to be loud and exciting.


And we felt like if we were going to just stock the safe stuff, we weren't going to really be giving off the essence of the brand in-store. And when you're online, you need that full picture of Psycho Bunny to really embrace what they can offer, which is tons of color. You might only buy the black and white polo, but you need to be able to see the whole thing or you're not really in the Psycho Bunny business. So we don't use the same metrics, but it's kind of become a way for us to broaden partnership. And we're finding a lot more vendors open to the conversation as well.

Chris Grouchy (30:52):

So interesting. I think one of the key metrics that we see people try to translate and then quickly realize it's not going to be a way to evaluate performance of a curated marketplace or dropship business is using margin percentages over margin dollars. And margin percentages, negotiating a keystone margin from a wholesale vendor makes total sense if you're taking on the risk to buy a bunch of inventory. But in a dropship model, what actually matters is margin dollar. So how much incremental margin dollar we can drive into the business, and can we report on that separately to assess performance over time? That tends to be one of the main ones that can be difficult to transition to as a retailer.


So you've had this experience of using dropship to test new categories, and so do you see it impacting overall revenue mix? I mean you mentioned Psycho Bunny there as it was successful in dropship initially, now you've been able to take on some stock position. Do you see this having a broader impact on the inventory mix?

Ian Rosen (32:00):

It's given us a number of things in terms of a our merchandise mix. Firstly, it's given us the confidence to expand where selection is definitely needed. And in a store you have space constraints, but online you don't. And one of the things we wanted to make sure of is there's certain categories that are fantastic, fantastic for the online business, personal care and grooming is one of those, one size accessories, leather goods, bags, carryalls. That's a great business that can be shopped really easily online. Yeah, we want to show a lot of highlights in our stores, but we want to back it up with a great selection. So there's certain categories that we're just looking at profoundly differently moving forward.


The second is testing new categories and entering into them with planting a flag, not necessarily showing one, two, three SKUs and saying, "Hey, did we try it? We have a pretty exciting project in the works on the lifestyle, and home/decor side of things. We feel like we can bring a real curated point of view to how a man ought to live and the products that they ought to equip themselves with as they're living at home, as they're on the go, as they're thinking about what they're hiring to do specific jobs for them in their house.


And we're partnering with somebody on that. We couldn't dare approach the project without being part of the equation, because we don't have the space to curate a full decor selection. We don't have the showroom ability. That's not how our retail is set up, but online is a great place for that to live. So that's another core way that it's pushing the way we're making inventory decisions.


And then I think the third is just we have great never out of stock programs with a lot of vendors, and that is all designed too. You sell seven this week, you get seven this week, you sell down to the seven next week, you get back the seven. Those work in certain categories, but not everybody's set up to do this incredible replenishment always on, never out of stock in the right things.


Using dropship is a sizing backup and a styling backup for styles that who knew this was going to move so fast we could sell another 50. And working with a vendor to make sure that there's a pool of inventory that our clients can access is the next frontier. And it is allowing us to almost capitalize but start to measure where we're perhaps under buying a little bit as well.

Chris Grouchy (34:43):

I'd like to pivot to building a team of high performers who are incredibly resilient. We've had the pleasure to work with many folks from the Harry Rosen team, including Shannon Stewart, your chief product officer, and Tovi, your director of digital product and experience. What's your approach to hiring leaders for Harry Rosen? And how do you decide between mentoring someone internally versus bringing someone in from the outside?

Ian Rosen (35:13):

It goes without saying, but a lot of the accomplishments I'm lucky enough to be able to talk about today are implemented, executed, and championed by a whole range of leaders and team members across our organization. So I've become so grateful for the team that we built over COVID. And I also am just floored by the resilience across the organization. I mean, I remember when the financial crisis happened and I had a bunch of friends who were in finance, they were in the eye of it. That's kind of one of those, you'll never forget where you were when Lehman Brothers crashed. And very similarly when things happened on 9/11, while I was much younger than, that's kind of one of those moments.


And kept emphasizing to my team, "You're in the perfect place for the best learning experience in the world. So if you take anything out of this experience, I can't tell you what the next two years or period of time is going to look like, but let's savor the moment. Let's say you were there, you were at retail when demand went to zero and we were able to build something back." So hopefully that was motivating to the team.


We love promoting from within, but we're not blind to where we need to invest in and acquire new skill sets. So you mentioned Tovi and Shannon and there's Steve Warriner, chief technology officer and Steve Jackson, our chief information officer, they've all been with us for some for 25 years, Tovi for closer to eight. They love the business we're in. They love the philosophy that Harry Rosen stands for. We're trying to make sure that we're a partner for the people who are shopping with us. They really love that we're trying to challenge what retail and shopping ought to look like. So they buy in to that, they can champion that vision and mission. So that's probably criteria number one.


Number two, can they work and lead and execute through a team? We don't want a team of Wayne Gretzky's. We really want to build a team, where everybody feels like they're contributing and growing and learning. And when it comes to bringing those skill sets in, I mean, I have countless examples, but whether it's a frontier like performance marketing, our senior manager performance marketing who joined us, taught me so much about this frontier of how to get in front of the right clients with the right messages, and tell a story through marketing. That wasn't just, "Hey, you need to budget a certain amount of dollars for performance marketing."


Logistics, we as a retailer, we've been around for close to 70 years. We're about to be 69 years old on February the fifth or fourth, I should know this off the top of my head. We're almost 70 years old, but we were never like logistics experts, we're not Amazon. And when it came to building a robust fulfillment network that operates to incredible service levels and standardizes the pick, pack, and ship process for e-commerce, we had to bring in an expert.


And our director of logistics is a phenomenal leader who has really helped inspire a team that has been there for a long time on what modern logistics looks like. So I think it's also, there's an element of building a great team that's knowing where you need to bring in some help and some perspective. But, again, I'm really lucky to have a great balance across both sides.

Chris Grouchy (38:40):

Well said. You've got this incredible team and this technological capability. What does the future of digital look like for Harry Rosen? Anything you can tease for what we can expect from the team in the future?

Ian Rosen (38:54):

We are making a bet that omnichannel truly being omnichannel, meaning investing in your store, connecting with your digital presence, and having all of your services available and offered through your digital platforms is where retail is heading. And there are companies out there that are further dividing their online and offline businesses, and all we're trying to do is bring them as close as possible together. In fact, we want them to serve different purposes, but we want the journey between each one to be so insanely seamless, that's like the vision that we're chasing after.


It's one of the reasons why the project that we started off together, it was maddening how long it was taking, because it's not that complicated a problem to solve. But we wanted to make sure we built and architected the solution that could scale, so that somebody could dropship something right out of the store out of their house. And that an advisor could do specific things and see certain inventories in a way that they're used to seeing it when it's in our warehouse, and how might that look to somebody checking somebody out?


So these are really elegant in the weeds decisions that are making an experience one, so that's how we're investing our dollars. If I had to cut it up, 80% of our dollars over the last number of years probably went to being better at selling things online, like e-commerce. 80% now are probably focused on omni services and enhancing the connection between store and online.

Chris Grouchy (40:33):

I think that's a great way to end the formal part of this chat. And I'd love to move into our rapid fire round, where we have basically three questions where I ask you a question and you just give me the answer off the top of your head. How does that sound?

Ian Rosen (40:47):

Sounds scary.

Chris Grouchy (40:50):

All right. Well, the most exciting opportunity in retail and e-commerce?

Ian Rosen (40:55):

Appointment building online to that stuff showing up and being in the store for you.

Chris Grouchy (41:02):

A brand you love and why?

Ian Rosen (41:05):

I am so in love with the authenticity behind Kith and the way that they take culture and infuse that into fashion. They are, I think they set the benchmark when it comes to really building product for and tugging on the heartstrings of the world is just incredible what they're able to accomplish. That's the brand. We don't carry it. I admire so many in our mix, of course.

Chris Grouchy (41:31):

Of course. Kindest thing someone has done for you?

Ian Rosen (41:35):

My wife has taken on a huge amount of responsibility at home with our two little ones and our other little one who is on the way in November. And all my accomplishments are her accomplishments and I owe her the world.

Chris Grouchy (41:52):

Wow. Beautiful place to end. Ian, thank you so much for joining us on Legends of Retail. This was a pleasure, and I'm glad we finally got to record one of our conversations.

Ian Rosen (42:00):

Awesome. Thanks Chris.

Chris Grouchy (42:02):

Thanks Ian.


Thanks again to Ian for coming on the show, and thank you for listening. To catch the latest episodes of Legends of Retail, please subscribe to the show on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcast. You can also stay updated by following Convictional on LinkedIn and Twitter. Finally, if you want to share feedback on the show, please DM me. I'm on Twitter @ChrisGrouchy, or you can email me to simply chris@convictional.com, that's chris@convictional.com. Thanks again for listening.

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