Shopping Off Main Street

Courtesy SuitSupply

Given its rapid growth and recent successes in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and China, the Dutch clothier Suitsupply could have easily justified opening a store on Fifth Avenue. The brand could have invested in a big Christmas window display like Barney’s and Bergdorf’s and had one of its nattily attired sales associates hold the door for tourists and Midtown swells. They didn’t. Instead, Suitsupply opened a second-floor shop above a Camper store on East 59th Street – in earshot of, but by no means next to Apple’s New York flagship store, which is one of the globe’s most photographed landmarks.

“We didn’t want to be on the avenue because we know a suit is not an impulse buy,” explains Nish de Gruiter, the company’s amiable and dapper vice president. “We don’t pay ground floor, so I don’t have to take that money and put it into the price of the product.”

With suits selling for $800 a piece, de Gruiter is still working at a higher price point than Zara and H&M, the companies he says inspired Suitsupply to avoid paying street-level rents. Even if the new store is a bit grander than Suitsupply’s downtown outlet, which hides behind an unremarkable door on Broome Street, it isn’t designed to work double-time as a billboard for the brand. To that end, it is decidedly less fussy than the nearby Turnbull & Asser or Saks. Products are laid out where customers can see and assess them. A tailor works in the middle of the floor.

“We’re not trying to look like the tailor shop in someone’s imagination,” says de Gruiter. “We want this to be an exciting environment full of knowledgeable people.”

And a lot of the money Suitsupply doesn’t hand over to a landlord is spent making sure that everyone working the floor – an invariably handsome and tall crew of clean-cut twentysomethings – knows what he’s talking about. “Suit Schools” proctored by master tailors – including de Gruiter, who grew up in Milan – teach new salesmen the basics and a bit more. The issue that de Gruiter says he wants store employees to address is men’s stubbornness about suit sizing. Rather than believing customers who offer outdated or incorrect numbers, the associates measure their clients and converse with them about what they want. This strategy leads less to upselling than downsizing as men embrace a more tailored profile. As de Gruiter puts it: “You can buy a $2,000 suit from anyone, but if it doesn’t fit, it will look like crap.”

The whole model is purpose built for men for whom shopping is a goal-oriented endeavor rather than a pleasant activity. Suitsupply has become the go-to shop for men dressing for a big date, lunchtime buyers, and procrastinating grooms. The idea is to have your cake and eat it in a timely manner. For more serious clients, Suitsupply even provides a service where it prepares a roomful of properly sized clothes so a shopper can do damage quickly. The experience is both efficient and pleasant – something that can’t always be said for the more expensive shops a block and a half away.

“Guys who come here to buy a suit are going to be open to things,” say de Gruiter. “They just need a bit of guidance.”

More information: Suitsupply sells tailored suits as well as small collections of sweaters, ties, shirts, and shoes in stores that are a stone’s throw from major shopping streets the world over. The ultimate place to buy a suit, Amsterdam’s Schiphol International Airport, where sales associates and tailors watch the departures board.

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