Photographer: Craig Warga/Bloomberg

Jos. A. Bank's Makeover Will Dial Back Discounts, Update Clothes

  • Buy-one, get-three-free sales will end this fall, CEO says
  • Retailer is adding slimmer suits, accessories to its selection

Jos. A. Bank, the clothing chain whose aggressive discounts were mocked in a “Saturday Night Live” sketch, no longer expects customers to buy four suits at a time. But two might be nice.

Under new owner Men’s Wearhouse, the company is making its promotions less outlandish -- though not abandoning them altogether -- and modernizing a 110-year-old brand that hasn’t caught on with millennials. Men’s Wearhouse Chief Executive Officer Doug Ewert is expanding Jos. A. Bank’s big-and-tall options, slim-fit styles and the shoe collection, aiming to broaden the chain’s appeal. The strategy will be unveiled this fall when the retailer eliminates “unnatural” discounts in favor of more targeted sales, like offering one suit for $229 or two for $400, Ewert said.

“Jos. A. Bank is a brand that just needs some updating, and we’re updating that brand as aggressively as we can,” Ewert said in an interview. “There’s a lot to talk about besides just price.”

The company is mired in a slump and needs to adapt to longer-term trends. For one, fewer men have to wear a suit to work everyday. Jos. A. Bank’s comparable-store sales plunged 9.4 percent last quarter -- including e-commerce orders -- a far worse performance than the 3 percent decline analysts had estimated.

In the short term, the revamp could cause additional pain. The changes are likely to reduce the average number of products that customers purchase in a single transaction, Ewert told investors on a conference call this month. But the idea is to foster a healthier relationship with shoppers.

Paper-Towel Substitute

Since absorbing Jos. A. Bank into Men’s Wearhouse in June of last year, Ewert has been looking for new ways to connect with consumers and change its image. The chain’s promotions were extreme and had become its hallmark -- with the buy-one-suit, get-three-free being the most famous. The “Saturday Night Live” skit on the company showed customers using Jos. A. Bank suits instead of paper towels because they were so cheap. Aside from the ridicule, the promotions were ineffective, Ewert said. 

“There’s a fair amount of evidence out there that there aren’t enough customers who want to buy four suits at a time or want to buy that quantity to get a deal,” he said. “Taking away the unnatural quantity discounts will lead to more healthy transactions. Instead of a guy buying four suits and then we don’t hear from him for quite a while, we can sell him a suit and shirts and ties and maybe some shoes.”

Difficult Task

The sales force at Jos. A. Bank is “thrilled” about the change in discounting, Ewert said. It often was a challenge for staff to find four of a specific item in the store, making it hard to satisfy customers with the current promotions. Shoppers would have to complete the deal by finding the final items online, dragging out the transaction.

Jos. A. Bank’s team also will have new and updated items to show off, including shoes and more tailored fits -- rather than the looser, boxy styles of old. The move is already paying off. Footwear sales at Jos. A. Bank’s existing stores rose 17 percent last quarter, and slim-fit sales surged 41 percent.

Men’s Wearhouse also will finish rolling out its loyalty program to Jos. A. Bank locations in the next month, Ewert said. The system, which lets customers earn points toward store credit, is already a success at Men’s Wearhouse locations, he said. With only 4 percent overlap in shoppers between the two brands, Ewert sees room for growth at Jos. A. Bank.

“We see so much opportunity, and we’re anxious to start getting some customer feedback,” Ewert said.

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