Suit firm tailored after Dell model
(As seen in Wednesday, Oct. 13, 1999
edition of the Houston Chronicle featured in the Business
section) written by Greg Hassell.
As a COLLEGE student at the University of Texas,
Timothy Belton became fascinated by the innovative strategy
of Austin businessman Michael Deli.
While working on a senior term paper about Dell
Computer Corp, Belton realized the genius of making products
to order. Dell’s business model allows it to avoid the
pitfall of making a bunch of stuff no one wants to buy. By
mastering the art of customized production. Dell builds its
machines on demand and quickly ships them off to customers.
Because the production process is more efficient,
Dell was able to offer lower prices than many of the industry’s
big boys.“It made so much sense to me,” Belton
said. “You ought to be able to get what you want when
you want it.”
Belton decided his career path would somehow
follow the made-to-order footsteps of Michael Dell. After
graduating from UT, Belton went to work for Andersen Consulting,
working with companies that needed help with order fulfillments.
As a student tat Harvard Business School, he
developed what would ultimately become the business plan when
he set out on his own.
Apparel is made to order. At age 33, Belton has
finally formed his own business, a company called Express
Custom Tailors. His idea is to bring the made-to-order mentality
to men’s clothing. To help refine the business, Belton
hired consultant Robert Sakowitz, who was chairman and CEO
of the now-defunct Sakowitz clothing chain. Sakowitz was so
impressed with the concept that he has become a partner in
“We aren’t in this to sell
a few suits.We are trying to create a process to give people
exactly what they want,” Sakowitz said. “People
are unhappy with what they are buying now. Research has how
that 60 percent of men walk out of the store with the feeling
their suit doesn’t feel right.”
The system works like this: A customer visits
an Express Custom Tailors location and is measured for 30
separate fitting dimensions. The measurements are entered
into a computer, and a proprietary software system creates
a digital picture of the customer’s body. The measurements
are shipped via e-mail to a company owned plant in Cleveland,
Ohio, where workers begin making the suit within 24 hours.
A completed suit is shipped back within seven to 10 days.
is $495 to $795, a saving of about 33 to 50 percent off similar-quality
suits, Sakowitz said.
The savings are the result of a more efficient
system, he said. The company estimates one quarter of every
dollar of retail sales realized in the suit business is lost
because of the cost of mass-produced inventories and markdowns
of unsold clothing.Other companies make custom fitted suits
and clothing, he added, but none use high technology as a
unifying force to bring together all the pieces of the business
“Once you are in our system, you
can select another model suit and fabric and order with the
click of a button,” Sakowitz said.
Broadening of lines seen
The potential rewards cold be impressive if Express
Custom Tailors can snare even a small portion of the $170
billion apparel industry in the United States. If sales of
men’s clothing go well, the company plans to diversity
into women’s clothing and into sportswear. Right now,
the company has one store in downtown Houston, located at
711 Louisiana, and
another in Atlanta. The company has a cooperative venture
going with Rich’s department store. Express Custom
Tailors will operate a small department - just large enough
to display about 150 different fabrics and a small desk in
Rich’s men’s hop. The first opened in an Atlanta
Rich’s lastmonth. A second minidepartment will open
in another Rich’s in Atlanta net month.
The company has filled more than 400 orders,
Sakowitz said, and 80 percent of those orders fit perfectly
on the first fitting. It is typical for custom-made garments
to need a few last-minute alterations.
Houstonian Richard Pinger heard about Express
Custom Tailors from a friend and decided to go into the shop
for a look-see. He ended up buying a sports coat that cost
$420 and was completed within a week.
“Usually, a place will tell
you a custom made coat with take three or four weeks, and
then it really takes a few weeks longer then that,”
Pinger said. “This coat fits me perfectly. I was surprised
it fits as will as it does...I think this has a lot of potential,
and I’ve recommended the place to several of my friends.”
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