George Zimmer joked that he’s the most interesting man in the world.
“I’ve gotta be, right?” he quipped in his familiar gravelly voice. “I started a tech company while I’m on Medicare.”
But that’s not the only surprising thing about him, said Zimmer, the founder and longtime leader of Men’s Wearhouse known for declaring “I guarantee it” in the retailer’s TV commercials. He’s never used a laptop and doesn’t know how to use an iPad. He does, however, use a smartphone.
Zimmer made the confession in an odd venue: a retail conference hosted last week by SPS Commerce, the fast-growing Minneapolis company that helps retailers manage complicated inventory and delivery technology.
“I am not a fan of technology. I am like people in my generation,” said Zimmer, who is 67. “So you can say I’m faking.”
Since a very public firing from Men’s Wearhouse in 2013, Zimmer started two dot-com businesses — Generation Tux, an online tuxedo and suit rental business, and zTailors, which brings tailors to people’s homes in what he has described as the “Uber for tailors.” He surrounded himself with others to handle the technical aspects of the businesses.
While he’s not a tech wizard, Zimmer knows plenty about tuxedo rentals and the importance of having clothes fit right. (He referred to himself at one point in his speech as the “Godfather of tailoring.”) It’s something, he added, that has been the thorn in the side of a lot of other online retailers who face mountains of returns for ill-fitting clothes that eat into profits.
Zimmer made several appearances around the Twin Cities last week to get out the word about his new ventures. In addition to his keynote address at the conference at the Minneapolis Convention Center, he also spoke to the University of Minnesota’s Entrepreneurship Club and the White Bear Area Chamber of Commerce.
He spoke quite candidly about being fired from the company he started.
“It was somewhat startling but not entirely unexpected,” he said. “Although it was a little bit
unexpected when they informed me they had put my furniture and knickknacks in storage and then escorted me out of the building. It was a total corporate overreaction.”
As for what led to the dust-up, he acknowledged he had disagreements with the board, which balked when they found out he had been talking to banks about the possibility of taking the company private. Zimmer was executive chairman at the time, having stepped aside from the chief executive role a couple of years earlier.
At dinner the night he was fired, his family didn’t know what to say. “So I finally broke the silence and I said ‘Hey, everybody is going to get knocked down in life, even your dad,’ ” he recalled. “ ‘What matters is not how many times you get knocked down but whether you can get back up.’ I got up and began searching for my second act almost immediately.”
In an interview, Zimmer said his own hubris was probably another contributing factor to being let go.
“I just never dreamed they would fire me,” he said, noting that he had been friends with some of the board members for decades and often vacationed with them.
In a statement at the time, the Men’s Wearhouse board said that Zimmer “refused to support” the management team that replaced him unless they “acquiesced to his demands” and that he expected veto power over significant corporate decisions.
After Zimmer left, Men’s Wearhouse became embroiled in a long back-and-forth drama as it worked to acquire smaller rival Jos. A. Bank. The company, which changed its corporate name to Tailored Brands earlier this year, did not respond to a request for comment.
About six months after Men’s Wearhouse dumped him, Zimmer found himself on the beach in Hawaii talking to Marc Benioff, the founder of cloud computing company Salesforce, about his idea for an online tuxedo rental company supported by a network of tailors. Salesforce ended up investing in Generation Tux.
Tuxedo rental, Zimmer noted, was a very lucrative business for Men’s Wearhouse. Not only did it bring in new, younger customers, but by the time he left in 2013, the company was renting more than 3 million tuxedos a year, generating over $400 million in revenue with profit margins of 80 percent. He admitted he had considered launching online suit rentals at Men’s Wearhouse in 2010, but he was hesitant because he thought it would cannibalize store traffic.
Zimmer initially launched the ideas as one company, but has since spun them off as two separate entities. He thinks zTailors will be appealing as a service for many other online retailers as a way to help them cut down on costly returns. He’s already partnered with Macy’s.
“But the big dog is I want to go to Jeff Bezos and say if you like Amazon Prime, you’re going to love Amazon Tailor,” Zimmer said in an interview, adding that he’s already in discussions with Amazon.
One person in the audience at the SPS Commerce event asked Zimmer what Men’s Wearhouse thinks about his new ventures, which are now direct competitors with it.
“I’m reminded of what my attorney has said, which is that we do a million to $2 million and they do about $3.5 billion,” he said. “And so he said ‘Don’t poke the bear.’ It will probably get unfriendly but it’s been unfriendly since the day they fired me so I don’t think it will be any worse.”
Kavita Kumar • 612-673-4113