Alexandria tailor weaves custom solution for taking orders

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the value of The Tailored Man’s business. It is a $3 million business. This version has been corrected.


Jason Elias, left, of The Tailored Man updates information about customer Ryan Yost using the new software. (Astrid Riecken/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

It takes 25 measurements, including the circumference of a client’s ankles, for Sanjay Daswani to design a suit. By the time he is done, there are numbers upon numbers to calculate and crunch.

All those numbers add up to data, and Daswani, vice president of operations for The Tailored Man, has found a way to weave the information together, in hopes that it will help the Alexandria-based business become savvier about marketing and anticipating customers’ needs.

A few years ago, the custom-tailoring company hired a developer to create an Internet-based ordering system that would update the 43-year-old family business. Employees say the software, which they have unofficially dubbed ‘iTailor,’ has helped speed up the submission and processing of orders.

“If we can get our average client appointment to fall from one hour to 30 minutes, we’ve become that much more efficient,” creative director Jason Elias said. “It takes a lot of time off my hands.”

There have been other benefits, too. Fabric costs are down, since the software helps calculate exactly how much cloth a pattern-cutter in Hong Kong will need for a given suit. There are also fewer errors, because the system has been programmed to recognize implausible waist-to-shoulder ratios and hip measurements.

“I keep notes on every order — what a customer likes, what they’re looking for, the fabrics they pick,” said Daswani, 33. “At any given point, if someone ever comes in and asks what style of that suit he got 10 years ago, or what fabric he chose, we can tell him exactly what it was.”

The Tailored Man, founded in Alexandria in 1969 by Daswani’s uncle, has been a staple among executives and politicians, including the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii). Custom-made shirts start at $80, and suits range from $675 to $2,000. It typically takes four to six weeks for items to arrive from a factory in Hong Kong.

Building in stages

For many years, the company used a Microsoft Access database to keep track of orders, but employees say it was an inefficient and error-laden process. If two employees updated the database at the same time, there were overrides and deleted orders.

“If [another employee] took down an order, it would not update on my computer. We’d have to copy and paste, and that created a lot of issues,” said Daswani, who has a degree in information systems from James Madison University. “It got very frustrating.”

It made sense, he decided, to create custom software that could handle all parts of the company’s business. Development began in 2007, and Daswani said it took more than a year to transfer customer information — measurements, addresses, order histories — to the new system, which started operating in 2010.

Daswani would not say exactly how much the company paid for the customized software, but he said it was “in the low five digits.”

“We developed it in stages — we basically knew what we wanted to end up with,” Daswani said. “After that, it was just years of us being like, ‘You know what else we could use? We could use a past-styles button.’ Now we can say, ‘Five years ago you did this kind of jacket with this kind of lapel.’ ”

Today the system handles all aspects of the $3 million business, including appointments and finances. A Web portal allows the company’s 10,000 customers, 3,000 of which are in the Washington area, to access their order histories and preferences. The next step, Daswani said, is to mine the data for valuable marketing information.

“Now that we have our clients’ entire history, we can look up things like ‘When was he last here? What does he buy the most?’ and use that information for marketing purposes,” Daswani said, adding that the company was in the process of testing those capabilities. “For example, we can find all of the customers who haven’t come to us for two or three years and market specifically to them.”

Derrick Lawson, a senior sales consultant at Oracle, said the new computer system has made it much easier to order merchandise from The Tailored Man.

“It really makes it simple,” said Lawson, who estimates that he has bought 15 suits and 50 shirts in the past six years. “I usually spend about an hour looking at fabrics, but once I’m ready to place an order, it doesn’t even take two minutes. You just say ‘I want this, this and this,’ and you’re done. They have your measurements and your entire history.”

But, as with all technology, there can be downsides.

“The only drawback is that we need the Internet — sometimes we’ll have problems getting into the network,” Daswani said. “And in that case, we always fall back on the old method: pen and paper.”

Abha Bhattarai covers local banking, retail and hospitality for The Washington Post’s Capital Business section. She has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.
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