Men’s Wearhouse Could Learn Something From Best Buy…I Almost Guarantee It
Much of the fray surrounding the stunning ouster of George Zimmer from Men’s Wearhouse, the company he founded some thirty years ago, seems to have quieted down, at least for the time being. The aftermath of his ouster saw a widespread debate about the wisdom of dismissing the man who was not only the corporate founder but in many ways its spiritual leader and certainly the company’s iconic commercial voice.
For many consumers and investors, their introduction to Men’s Wearhouse was through Zimmer’s direct vocal style and his promise, “You’re going to like the way you look. I guarantee it”. In an age dominated by the sights of video, his distinct voice carried as effective a message on radio. He likely could have discussed another topic for his commercials, wrapped it with his infamous personal guarantee and still driven customers.
In fact he essentially did this with his charity driven spots. In a poll taken by the advertising industry after the first Men’s Wearhouse commercial to air after Zimmer’s departure, a spot that had aired a year earlier but now with an announcer’s voice replacing his, 82 percent of viewers indicated that they missed the original. In the days immediately after the dismissal there was more shock than answers as to what had brought on this stunning result. Then barbs began to fly back and forth.
Many took Zimmer’s side and likely personally missed him and what he had accomplished in creating a $2.5 billion company. Several professional observers backed the board’s decision to cut all ties with Zimmer. Their reasoning was that it had done all that was reasonable to maintain at least some connections with the founder but that sharp disagreements on policies to determine the future of the company had made the final cut necessary. This scenario and especially its most antagonistic he said/they said aftermath, were somewhat reminiscent of what was going on this time last year at Best Buy.
After axing its homegrown CEO for essentially an ethics issue, Best Buy followed up by forcing out its founder Dick Schulze on a charge of not divulging what he had known on the subject as the case was unfolding. Best Buy is a company which follows its detailed code of ethical guidelines very conscientiously. Regardless of its recent history of financial and merchandising challenges, the company has consistently led US companies when it comes to living up to the highest of ethical standards.
After his departure from the company he had founded in the late 60’s, based on an audio specialty shop which had been opened just two years earlier, Shulze began to summon his allies, both from within and outside the company, to reclaim the retailer, which was additionally troubled by a myriad of sales, merchandising and policy issues. Stories began to spread as to which people and which investment groups might be interested in backing his venture to take his then former company private.
Schulze surely had been the face of Best Buy from within, though never the icon to the general public that George Zimmer had been for Men’s Wearhouse. When Best Buy’s worldwide search for a new CEO was completed and a number of initiatives aimed at turning the company around started to gain traction, the new administration eagerly mended fences and proudly brought a believing Schulze back into the corporate fold.
Zimmer’s absence will be far more apparent to consumers than was Schulze’s. As new commercials are issued, there may seem to be a black hole emanating, marking Zimmer’s obvious absence. To those who also knew him as the corporate founder, who raised a vast retail chain from a single unit, Zimmer’s absence likely seems all the more tragic.
Reflecting on the current positive energies shared by Best Buy’s new CEO Hubert Joly (he is about to celebrate his first anniversary with the company as time flies on) and founder Schulze, it is far less likely that the Zimmer’s return to Men’s Wearhouse is possible. As with Shulze, stories have circulated that within the acrimony shared by Zimmer and his former board, were Zimmer’s plans to take the company private. Unfortunately, these barbs simply served to fuel the feud while at Best Buy such stories were treated with the understanding of the passion the company’s founder continued to bear as he hoped to see his baby on the road to industry dominance again.
As with Best Buy, the founder of Men’s Wearhouse leaves his baby at a time when its future is in question. As society continues to dress more casually and workplace dress codes continue to go from dress-up, to dress casual, to simply casual, to anything goes, there are strong questions as to where the Man’s Wearhouse future market will go. The public impression of the iconic founder’s dismissal only serves to further dampen an already murky picture.