Commentary

Men's Wearhouse Fires Its Founder And Persona

George Zimmer, the 64-year-old Men’s Wearhouse founder and spokesman who made a catchphrase out of an avuncular promise -- “You’re going to like the way you look. I guarantee it” –- was abruptly shown the front door of the company yesterday.

“Zimmer, at all times, was the poster boy for this company -- what Frank Perdue was to Perdue Chickens, what Tom Carvel was to the Carvel Ice Cream Company,” Jerome Reisman, a partner with Reisman Peirez Reisman & Capobianco, tells the New York Times’ Stephanie Clifford.

In a statement, the company announced that it “has terminated George Zimmer from his position as executive chairman. The board expects to discuss with Mr. Zimmer the extent, if any, and terms of his ongoing relationship with the company.” The Fremont, Calif., public company also postponed its annual meeting of shareholders, which was scheduled to be held yesterday.

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In his own statement to CNBC, Zimmer said, in part: “Over the past several months, I have expressed my concerns to the board about the direction the company is currently heading. Instead of fostering the kind of dialogue in the boardroom that has in part contributed to our success, the board has inappropriately chosen to silence my concerns through termination as an executive officer."

“Highlighting the suddenness of the firing: The company's website still prominently spotlighted Zimmer for much of Wednesday, calling him ‘The Man Behind The Brand’ and linking to YouTube videos of ‘the man in action,’” the Associated Press’ Anne D’Innocenzio, Candice Choi, Sudhin S. Thanawala observe. “The pages were still available by mid-afternoon, though a prominent link from the site's front page had been removed.”

A timeline of the company’s history -- starting with a store selling $25 polyester sport coats in Houston in 1973 that Zimmer opened with college roommates -- can be found here. There are now more than 1,100 stores across the U.S., as well as subsidiaries including Moores, Twin Hill and K&G. Zimmer reportedly still owns about 3.5% of the shares of the company, which went public in 1992.

Stifel Nicolaus analyst Richard Jaffe suggests that future advertising direction might have been the wedge between Zimmer and the board, according to the Times’ Clifford. Men’s Wearhouse has been pursuing Millennials and has been evaluating whether Zimmer resonates with younger shoppers, Jaffe points out.

“They continually rework it, adjusting how much presence do we have on George,” says Jaffe. “Does he stand? Does he sit? But it’s always all about George Zimmer -- his voice, his physical presence An old guy with a gray beard may not provide credibility to the product in the eyes of a 22 or 24 year old.”

Ellis Verdi, president and founder of Devito/Verdi, tells the AP that the Men’s Wearhouse advertising is in "one of the best retail campaigns in history."

“George Zimmer allowed the company to have a strong brand image," says Verdi, whose firm created ads for the company's K&G super stores. “You can't just snap your fingers and get another 20-year campaign.”

Business Insider’s Ashley Lutz postulates “3 Reasons Why Men's Wearhouse Firing Its Founder Is Completely Bizarre”:

  • “The terse press release.” Not even a tip of the cap to Zimmer.
  • Shares and profits were gaining. “The company just announced last week that profits were up a whopping 23%.” 
  • The canceling of the shareholder's meeting. 

An inside source tells Bloomberg’s Matt Townsend and Carol Hymowitz that “the termination followed repeated clashes over strategy” between Zimmer and Douglas Ewert, who he hand-picked to succeed him as CEO a couple of years ago. “The clashes centered in part on plans to sell K&G, a men’s, women’s and children’s apparel chain, and to buy back shares, said the person, who asked not to be named because the matter is private,” they write.

Gene Grabowski, a branding and crisis-management expert at Levick, tellsUSA Today’s Gary Strauss that the chain “is due for a new brand image.”

“Most companies go through a transition period and change the way they present themselves,” Grabowski says. “[Zimmer] and the slogan were getting a little aged. There is appeal to an older audience. They have to find a way to cater to a younger clientele. I could even see them using a woman to promote the brand."

Indeed, as much as I admire Zimmer’s business acumen and social largesse after reading about them this morning, did anyone else out there get the feeling that his hulking persona in the spots was somewhat funereal and a little bit tacky?

5 comments about "Men's Wearhouse Fires Its Founder And Persona".
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  1. Joanne Alter from JBA Media Group, June 20, 2013 at 10:59 a.m.

    No. If anything, I think George Zimmer had a great way of communicating to women, who make many of the decisions about men's clothing. I thought his ad, "While everyone's looking at her, she'll be looking at you" was great. All they needed was more clever dialogue--not to get rid of George Zimmerman.

  2. Alan Westendal from West End Communications/Consul, June 20, 2013 at 2:44 p.m.

    If you think about the ads and the image all day, every day for 20 years, sure it'll seem "old." But for consumers who catch an ad only once in a while, and who are usually not even in the market for the product -- so that they needn't really pay attention -- a decent ad crafter can keep the message fresh, credible and arresting.

    Making George walk the plank looks like an ego-driven stroke of dumbness.

  3. Chris Trum from Lion Technology Inc., June 21, 2013 at 9:38 a.m.

    I can tell you that as a 27 year-old man, the Zimmer ads were always what spoke to me best as a consumer. My problem with Men's Warehouse is actually that the image of Zimmer didn't match the experience in-store.

    In the commercials you always saw Zimmer sitting in an up-scale looking store (think Brooks Brothers) where I can have an expert tailor craft me the perfect suit. But every one of their locations I have visited felt like every other store out there...except they have teenagers, probably making minimum wage, taking my measurements.

    The problem lies with their in-store service, NOT with Zimmer. I feel better about shopping for a suit at J.C. Penney than I do at Men's Warehouse...and that should tell you something.

  4. Rahman Irvin from Cars.com, June 21, 2013 at 3 p.m.

    I think we forget that people do not have to be the same age as a spokesman to listen to him. I always thought the goal for those MW commercials was to think about achieving a look, and not to be the same dude in an ill-fitted suit when you leave MW. In my opinion, Zimmer was that image... and I first remember those commercials when I was a teenager. Well, maybe I am just an old guy now.

    BTW, will the update in how "they present themselves" include a man who is closer to 40 than 30 wearing disheveled hair speaking in a voice fit for a college freshman? If so, I think'll be a miss, and MW should retain Zimmer as a spokesman, even if his post as Chairman is gone.

  5. Stephen G. Barr from SGB Media Group, June 21, 2013 at 6:19 p.m.

    This is the dumbest thing I have seen in 35 years of marketing experience.

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