by Karen Alberg Grossman

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LANCE ITKOFF HAS quite the background in men’s clothing, including buying
and management positions at Brooks Brothers, Jos. A. Bank, BonTon, Value City and more. So when he says he’s never seen tailored clothing business as strong as it is now, that’s noteworthy. With more than six years at Tip Top Tailors, a 114-year-old, 79-store chain of men’s clothing stores in Canada, Itkoff is president and CEO. (Tip Top is part of Grafton Apparel, parent company of three separately run Canadian retail chains.) He lives in New Jersey, commutes weekly to Toronto and says he’s fallen in love with Canada, the people and the business practices.

“Doing business in Canada is totally different from in the States,” he explains. “The scale is much smaller so most global companies find it not worth their while, especially with a 9 percent nonresident import tax. We happily support mid-size domestic importers.” As for frequent comparisons with Men’s Wearhouse, Itkoff explains that while the category breakdown might be similar (50 percent suit separates, 30 percent furnishings/accessories, 20 percent sportswear), little else is the same. Tip Top stores are smaller and in malls, with a younger, more fashion-forward focus.

According to Itkoff, the pandemic years forced much soul-searching. “With offices closed and events canceled, no one needed suits, so we essentially had three options: 1) we could do nothing and wait it out; 2) we could cut back on suits and increase our sportswear penetration; or 3) we could double down on suits and own the clothing business in Canada. We chose option 3, increased our suit offerings and never looked back.”

Tip Top was already redesigning their stores (averaging 3,000 square feet) in 2019, with high-impact face-out displays arranged by style, not size. In addition to suit separates, formalwear accessories are key: ties, bowties, lapel pins, boutonnieres. The company’s website is filled with romantic wedding photography under the general headline “Perfect Moments, Perfectly Dressed.” The average retail on a core suit is $389, but “buy the jacket/get the pants” promotions bring the OTD retail down to $279.

“Since May 2020,” says Itkoff, “business has been all about events. Our biggest challenge has been how to get more inventory. What’s my best-selling white dress shirt? The one we have in stock. We’ve been cleaning out our domestic suppliers as soon as their containers arrive.”

Itkoff notes that 70 percent of units at Tip Top are store brand (G. Grafton), but they also do well with labels like Michael Kors and DKNY ($595 ticket price) and Daniel Hechter ($495), which they have exclusively. “With more variety in the market, men are embracing dress-up with a greater level of style and fashion-savvy. And we’re having fun here at Tip Top, which I believe shows up in our assortments.”