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Monday, June 1, 2015
George Zimmer Starts an ‘Uber for Tailors’ - NY Times DAVID GELLES · May 31, 2015
NY Times article by David Gelles
Though he was ousted from Men’s Wearhouse, George Zimmer still wants you to “like the way you look” — only this time with an app.
Once the gravelly voiced, graybeard face of the retail chain he founded, Mr. Zimmer has been refashioning himself as a technology entrepreneur. On Monday, he will unveil his new company, zTailors, a website and app that connects customers and their frumpy wardrobes with on-demand tailors who are ready to make house calls.
“It’s Uber for tailors,” Mr. Zimmer, 66, said in an interview.
Backing the nascent company with his own money, Mr. Zimmer says he believes that zTailors — yes, the “z” is for Zimmer — has the potential to transform millions of ill-fitting garments into like-new items.
Its app and website allow customers to schedule a tailor to come to their homes or offices, where they will measure and refit suits, shirts, jackets and dresses for a set price. The altered items are then returned in a few days.
The market, Mr. Zimmer says, is as wide open as a walk-in closet in a sprawling McMansion.
“In the closets of Americans, there is billions of dollars’ worth of apparel that has accumulated over the years,” he said. “It doesn’t all appear on the good side of the closet. It doesn’t all fit. That’s either because it has shrunk, or you have grown.”
No obvious rival is currently on the market. A company called Combat Gent introduced a similar concept called Haberdash last year. But Haberdash failed to gain traction and was shut down.
And Uber itself teamed up with a tailor in Singapore for a special offer, bringing a reputable tailor to customers’ homes.
Mr. Zimmer, whose net worth has been estimated to be $150 million to $800 million, is the chairman and the financial force behind zTailors. Other people and wealthy families have contributed money to the start-up, he says, but no venture capitalists are involved, despite the Oakland, Calif., company’s proximity to Silicon Valley.
In recent months, zTailors has been in stealth mode, operating in several major cities around the country, and it already has 600 tailors signed up. The plan is to be operating in all 50 states by the end of the year, with more than 1,000 tailors.
One test customer was Nathaniel Burns, from Walnut Creek, Calif., a style-conscious executive at a local credit union. Mr. Burns had recently lost 30 pounds after competing in obstacle course races like Tough Mudder, and no longer fit in his suits.
“I had $1,000 dollar suits that I no longer could wear,” he said. “I was curious to see if they could do anything with them.”
Using zTailors, he summoned a seamstress to his house after work one day; she measured him, and returned the suits a few weeks later — fitting Mr. Burns and with more modern detailing — for $450. Mr. Burns is now planning to use zTailors to refit several of his sports coats and some of his wife’s outfits.
Motivating Mr. Zimmer, in part, is a desire to help tailors. The average tailor makes about $38,000 a year, he said, adding that his company might be able to double that sum. At the same time, tailors are a highly fragmented work force, with no national chain offering a reliable and branded product.
“Tailors deserve this opportunity to take advantage of smartphones, to double their incomes and to enjoy the fruits of their labors,” he said.
Prices are $20 to taper a shirt and $16 to hem a pair of pants. But Mr. Zimmer says that once a tailor is in a client’s home, business will boom.
One tailor who came on board early was Mario Galvan from Temecula, Calif., a former Men’s Wearhouse employee. Mr. Galvan’s first job through zTailors was to a home along the Los Angeles coast, where one man wanted 30 shirts completely refit. The bill was $800.
“When someone is giving you basically everything in their wardrobe off the bat, it’s a huge deal,” he said. “To get that deal right off the bat was fantastic.”
Now Mr. Galvan said he believed he could make more than $100,000 a year.
“As long as you’re a go-getter and you like working, the sky’s the limit,” he said.
ZTailors takes a 35 percent fee from each purchase. Though that is steep, the company says that tailors will find it worthwhile given the higher volume of clothing they are altering.
Asked if he had come up with a slogan to rival the Men’s Wearhouse signature tagline, “You’re going to like the way you look — I guarantee it,” Mr. Zimmer demurred.
“We’re working on something, but it’s not ready for prime time yet,” he said. “It’s only four words.”