Scott Norris: The team manager

by Harry Sheff

Men’s Wearhouse EVP/GMM Scott Norris steps up to the plate.

Scott NorrisScott Norris, a native of Northern California, began his career at Macy’s West right out of college. “I didn’t necessarily know that I wanted to be in retail right away,” he recalls. “I was a baseball player in college and selling men’s clothing on commission part time.”

His manager suggested he look into the executive training program, and when he tried to talk to the Macy’s recruiters on campus, he was surprised to see they were mobbed with interested students. “I said, ‘’Wow, this is that good?’” he laughs. After the program, he worked his way up a bit. “We had a buyer at Macy’s leave to become a store manager at Men’s Wearhouse. I thought, why would you do that? And then Doug Ewert left Macy’s to go there. He kept telling me how great it was and after a year, a position opened up at Men’s Wearhouse. I loved Macy’s but by the time I left, I couldn’t wait to join the team.”

Norris, now EVP and GMM at Men’s Wearhouse, seems like an easygoing guy. He has two daughters, Danielle (15) and Gabrielle (10). The former college athlete has a small patch of facial hair below his bottom lip, a small mark that distinguishes him from his colleagues at Men’s Wearhouse. He doesn’t wear pocket squares or tie bars, and when MR’s fashion director William Buckley gives him one of each to wear for our photo session, he’s visibly uncomfortable. “Wait till the guys downstairs see this!” he chuckles. “Just watch, they’ll say something.” Sure enough, when we accompany him to meet some of his colleagues, they give him a hard time for being a dandy. But fashion is gradually infiltrating the Men’s Wearhouse assortments.

“We’re showing younger, hipper looks in our commercials,” Norris points out. “You’ll see denim, loose ties and vests in those commercials now. You’ll notice some of the guys may even have tattoos. It’s not your 50-year-old father’s store anymore. It’s definitely evolving.”

The tuxedo rental business is helping to get younger men in the door (it’s mostly a prom and wedding business). Vera Wang Black, a tuxedo line exclusive to Men’s Wearhouse, was added last year to give a higher price point option, just above their Calvin Klein tuxes.

If tuxedos get younger men in the door, the mix of sportswear, including denim, and clothing gets them to come back. Clothing (suits, sportcoats and trousers) makes up about 60 percent to total, with the balance in everything else: shoes, furnishings, sportswear, accessories. Sportswear has grown and will continue to grow.

“We want to drive clothing though, because it’s the most margin-rich business we have,” Norris explains. “But we think we have an opportunity to outfit the customer for both dress and casual. We did $22 million worth of denim last year and five years ago we weren’t even in the denim business. Lucky Brand is our biggest denim supplier; we also feature Buffalo, Silver and private brands. That helps us drive sportswear. Our denim prices are anywhere from $80 to $100 suggested retail.

Exclusive brands are a large and growing part of all categories: about half of total. Those brands include Pronto Uomo, Joseph & Feiss and Egara. “Our single largest brand is Pronto Uomo—it’s bigger than Calvin Klein or any other brand,” says Norris. “It’s in every category.”

When complimented on his shoes, the conversation turns to Joseph Abboud—the brand (Men’s Wearhouse has the license for Joseph Abboud shoes) and the designer (who was recently hired by the retailer). Might it be awkward to have Joseph Abboud-branded shoes and apparel licensed from JA Apparel while Joseph Abboud the designer, who sold his name and brand years ago, is working for Men’s Wearhouse?
According to Norris, it shouldn’t be a problem as long as the product sells. “I would think JA Apparel would love it because the more we sell, the more they make.”

Norris is excited about Joseph Abboud the designer joining the company. “He’s had an amazing career and has won many awards, but his ego is in check. He fits right in. He’s one of the guys who doesn’t put himself above anyone. He’s really going to help elevate our brand. Jaz will launch in spring 2014 at a higher price point. We’re hoping to transition some of the better traditional business. We’re positioning Jaz as ‘modern American.’”

Asked about the Men’s Wearhouse culture, Norris is effusive. “I can’t do it justice. Again this year we were one of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For. It’s warranted. Here’s an example. In the merchandising section of the office, we had some open space, so the team pooled our money and bought a pool table. At the time, Doug was a GMM and he was part of the purchase. At lunchtime we’d play pool and do some friendly wagering. We’d get loud and sometimes go a little longer than lunch, so some folks in the cubes did a bit of grumbling. About a year into it, someone approached George about removing it because we were becoming a distraction. And if you know George, you won’t be surprised to hear that he said, no, we will not take that pool table out! He really wants his employees to have fun. Now that pool table is in its own room with a poker table and flatscreen TV.”

Asked about Doug Ewert, Norris reflects. “One thing about Doug is if you disagree with him and voice your opinion, he never holds that against you. Plus, he’s the hardest working man in retail I’ve ever met. He’s unbelievably bright. I’ve learned from him how to look at things differently.” Other mentors in his career include Paul Fitzpatrick. “He didn’t dwell on the negative. He always wanted to know how you were going to have an impact on the future.

“The worst part of my job? I don’t sleep,” Norris confides. “I worry about everything. I wake up and think: I didn’t like the contrast stitching I saw on a sleeve. Or I’ll worry that we’re not in the game on something and I’ll need to find a way to change that—quickly. I worry about every competitor, not just one in particular.”