Visionaries: Harry Rosen

Harry Rosen: founder and executive chairman, Harry Rosen Inc.

Harry Rosen: founder and executive chairman, Harry Rosen Inc.

For over 50 years, the name Harry Rosen has meant upscale menswear. Great tailoring plus great marketing have created an iconic brand.

Rosen credits much of his early success to Reid Bell, the founder and president of RBA Advertising, who in the late 1950s conceived and executed Rosen’s advertising as a freelance project in exchange for ‘two suits and a hat.’

‘I knew nothing about the formalities of putting an ad together, or even [developing a] strategy for marketing but it was when [he]… came in as a customer that I got my baptism.’

Bell, who passed away several years ago, helped Rosen latch onto a simple idea that he was never to deviate from. ‘Our business was about service,’ recalls Rosen, ‘and all of the advertising that built our name into a brand seldom showed fashion, but instead appealed to men, [positioning the store] as the place where you could trust the advice you would get.’

Rosen who worked in clothing factories before starting the company when he was 21 – initially embarked on very prosaic yet effective DM initiatives: he pursued telephone referrals and would write personal letters inviting potential patrons to his store on Parliament Street.

Eventually he would move into more sophisticated campaigns (he placed his first ads in the Globe and Mail in 1961) which today include the well-known clothing-and-lifestyle Harry magazine.

The focus on personal service has stood the test of time. Today, with 15 stores across Canada and with a renewed interest in expanding into the U.S. – the company spent 15 years breaking into the market there, but withdrew a few years ago – Rosen remains safely at the top of the men’s clothing industry. ‘He is an eponym,’ observes Len Kubas of Kubas Consultants in Toronto. ‘When you get a suit and people ask you: ‘Where did you get the suit?’ and you say Harry Rosen, everyone nods knowingly.’ The mention of Rosen’s name is like a stamp of approval, he says.

John Torella, a senior partner at the JC Williams Group in Toronto, says that Rosen grasped that his stores needed a clear and simple identity in a crowded retail marketing landscape. ‘He really understood the store as a brand way before companies like the Gap…. He was one of the pioneers before retailers even knew how to spell the word brand.’