By Mario Toneguzzi
The evolution of Tip Top, a menswear retailer, across Canada includes newly-designed prototype stores, updated merchandise and enhanced customer service.
The transformation of the business began a few years ago and is now in full swing with more to come.
“If you were to look at the history of Tip Top, it’s been around over 100 years. You know that our core competency has always been a career/special occasion/event retailer. Our biggest business is our suiting business,” Lance Itkoff, President and CEO of Grafton Apparel Ltd., which owns Tip Top, told Retail Insider.
“I joined the company three years ago and recognized that this was a wonderful asset that really just needed to be dusted off a bit and I thought it kind of had lost its way and was kind of stuck in time. It had not re-invented itself somewhere along the line. So it got a little stale.
“So we started the journey three years ago and the first thing we said was from the inside out we need to rebuild this thing. We need to build a first-class merchandise assortment that is anchored in career and special event tailored clothing. We started the journey to remake the assortment based on fit and individualized fit delivered through suit separates.”
Itkoff said the company has this internal mantra that talks about the fact that every man deserves to look great.
“We fit your body. We fit your budget. We fit your style. And we fit you with the confidence that you get when you look and feel great,” he said.
The company has 90 Tip Top stores across Canada in every province, except Quebec, and 50 Big and Tall stores which is a mix of the George Richards as well as Mr. Big and Tall brands.
“We worked with a Toronto-based branding and design firm called Shikatani Lacroix and they helped us on this journey to re-invent the store experience. To get away from some of the dated stale boxes that we have and create a three-dimensional shopping experience that allows us to drive an emotional connection to our brand, to our store, be a place where the customer really enjoys shopping,” said Itkoff.
Bramalea and Southcentre are the company’s first two renovated stores of many more to come.
“We have two more in the fall - CF Market Mall (in Calgary) and CF Polo Park (in Winnipeg),” he said. “We’re also doing some other relocations and new store rollouts that will have the appropriate version of that prototype. Those four stores - the two that we’ve opened and the two in the fall - will have the full complement. When you walk in there’s digital imagery on the left and the right of the store. There’s the fit room in the back where we really celebrate the whole idea of transforming into this guy that looks great in his suit. There’s a lounge area outside. That full experience is going to be in all four of those stores.
“But we also are opening up some stores in some power centres where we’re taking a versioned approach to that. We can’t talk about those yet because the leases haven’t been signed. But we have three additional stores slated for fall. New prototype stores, new locations. Some might be relocations.”
By spring of next year, said Itkoff, the company will have eight to 10 stores in the new prototype format either renovated or opened new.
“The most important thing to us now to understand is what is the net effect? How are those going to perform for us? And then what is the plan for the rest of the chain?” he said.
The newly-designed concept stores have a cleaner and brighter look with light wood accents and an overall airier feel. They feature two digital walls running content — showcasing lifestyle stories relevant to real guys, such as commuting to work or attending a social function. The traditional bulky sales counter has been replaced with a coordinating table with a point-of-sale system discreetly built in, says the company, adding that the new design features larger change rooms that open onto the tailor’s work space, so men can be fitted and watch alterations in progress.
It says the new stores offer a significantly improved and uncluttered experience with merchandise that is better curated and displayed.
“If what I think happens with the store format happens we’ll certainly be very eager to look at additional opportunities that we have in our radar - the Quebec marketplace for both of our businesses - but what I need to do is I need to get a read on these stores,” said Itkoff.
“If these stores start to perform in the way that I would hope and expect them to perform, we’re going to be looking for opportunities. For us to understand we really need to understand here was the baseline for these stores and how they performed in the old format and here’s the new format. That’s really what’s going to tell us the opportunity to go down through the chain or open new stores. How does it drive footsteps to the door? How does it drive sales performance? These are all the kinds of things we’re very eagerly awaiting to understand what is the change from the way the stores used to be.
“I’m almost more interested in the customer who has never even walked through our door and what kind of experience they’re going to have. Is this store a wow to them? Is it an unbelievable experience to them? Because that’s the most important thing to us - to be able to attract those customers that are walking the mall every day that maybe before didn’t think of us.”
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary has 37 years of experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, city and breaking news, and business. For 12 years as a business writer, his main beats were commercial and residential real estate, retail, small business and general economic news. He nows works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.