by Karen Alberg Grossman

Tip Top Tailors, a division of Grafton Apparel with 79 men’s clothing stores throughout Canada, is re-entering the Quebec market after an absence of 20 years.

With two to four new stores planned for Quebec this year, and an ultimate goal of 20 (“but only if we find perfect locations”), CEO Lance Itkoff is confident that he and his team have created a winning formula. “Years ago, two of our top volume doors were in Quebec so we know the potential is there. But we first had to make sure we were in a position to bring a competitive advantage to the Quebec market. You only get one chance to go back…”

Itkoff explains their finely tuned strategy. “During Covid, we decided to focus on special events, to offer solutions that no one else was doing. So we changed everything about the merchandise, about the presentation, about the marketing. The new stores are smaller—2500 square feet vs. 3500—each anchored by a comprehensive special occasion shop featuring all categories of tailored clothing, furnishings and accessories. These shops are merchandised by color, not by size, and are located either right upfront or against a center back wall. They’re light, bright, airy and accessible. Our tagline: Perfect Moments, Perfectly Dressed.”

Most importantly, Itkoff reiterates the stores’ strong position in fashion. “We’re way above plan in bold colors, silver, pink, blue, sage; the numbers are more than double our previous record last year. Yes, black and navy are on top but it’s the fashion component that’s been transformative.”

All told, the product mix is 80 percent private label and exclusive licenses (e.g. Daniel Hechter Paris, a Tip Top exclusive for 15+ years), 20 percent designer brands (Michael Kors, DKNY). Tip Top’s pricing strategy also sets them apart. All clothing is sold as separates with ticket prices for a jacket/pants combination ranging from $389-$595. However, these are most often promoted as “buy the jacket, get the pants for free” so actual out-the-door suit retails range from $279-$420. Their e-commerce has also been revamped to include a Shopify platform and consumer access to inventory in all 79 stores.

With marketing mostly on social media, Tip Top has created some fabulous imagery showcasing young people dressed up and having fun. (A recent Prom ’23 promotion was photographed at a roller rink!) Interestingly, much of the imagery on social media is user generated.

Asked how Bill 96 (a newly passed law to strengthen and protect a French-First province) will impact their move back into Quebec, Itkoff is realistic. “Since we haven’t been there in 20 years, it’s not a change for us. We’ll just do what we have to do to make it successful.”

Although special event clothing is clearly the current focus, Tip Top also offers some great sportswear. So what’s Itkoff’s crystal ball? “Men’s wardrobes will no longer be anchored by suits; the days of guys coming in to buy three or four at a time are over. But the suits they do buy are so much more important to them. They’re not looking for basic body covering but rather for new ways to express themselves.  And that’s what we’ll continue to give them!”


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