Just outside Louisville, former Men’s Wearhouse chief executive George Zimmer has packed a 250,000-square-foot distribution center with 30,000 tuxedos, which, if his new business venture goes well, will soon be shipping out to grooms and promgoers across the country.
After being fired in 2013 from the company he founded, Zimmer announced Monday that he is reentering the retail fray with an e-commerce site called Generation Tux, a suit and formal wear rental shop that aims to reimagine how guys get gussied up for special occasions.
Generation Tux is designed to be a more millennial- and Generation Z-friendly version of the old-school process of renting a tuxedo: The selection is done entirely online; there’s free shipping both ways; and tailoring is to be done at the customer’s home by zTailor, another Zimmer startup.
Generation Tux is also promising more stylish garments made of out of better fabrics than what one might get at a more traditional outpost. All tuxedos will rent for $95, and it can cost up to $150 for a full outfit that includes cuff links, shoes, bow ties and other pieces.
The move puts Zimmer in direct competition with the company he nurtured for 40 years, the company for which he promised in countless TV commercials: “You’re going to like the way you look. I guarantee it.”
But he said it doesn’t much bother him.
“They’re approaching this as though I’m public enemy number one,” Zimmer said in an interview. “I’m not really paying attention.”
Zimmer will have some advantages as he tries to build Generation Tux. He’s received financial backing from the likes of Salesforce, the technology giant. And he has deep experience in the men’s formal wear category, which comes through when he talks about his target customer: It’s really a bride that he must win over, Zimmer says, not a groom.
“It’s pretty clear that although the groom would like to be included and have the opportunity to express his opinion, the final decision is the bride’s,” Zimmer said.
And yet building Generation Tux into a major retailing force won’t be easy. For starters, there are some signs that demand for tuxedo rentals might be slowing down more broadly. Men’s Wearhouse’s current chief executive, Douglas Ewert, said on a recent conference call with investors that rental income was down 3.3 percent in the latest quarter. The company believes that’s because many men are choosing to buy formal wear these days instead of rent it. Indeed, upstarts such as Bonobos, Trunk Club, Black Lapel and Indochino are trying to carve out niches outfitting men for weddings.
Plus, think about all the Pinterest-inspired weddings you’ve been to lately, the ones that took place in a historic barn and were decorated with burlap table runners and tea lights in mason jars. Rustic, shabby-chic weddings are all the rage, and those don’t call for a tuxedo. Zimmer said he’s not worried about the shift to less dressy weddings since he also rents out suits. And, he contends, it’s not like we’re seeing men showing up on the altar in T-shirts.
Zimmer’s other challenge may be that he doesn’t have first-mover advantage: Another site, called The Black Tux, was founded two years ago with a very similar business model, and they just secured $25 million in fresh venture funding.
Zimmer is not expecting Generation Tux to be an instant smash. He says he expects to lose money for “several years.” In the first year in business, he hopes to make 100,000 rentals — a figure he believes represents only about 1 percent of the total number of tuxedo rentals made in the United States each year.
Generation Tux is a companion to another new venture that Zimmer launched earlier this year called zTailor. That business is something like Uber for tailors, meaning users of the site can summon a tailor to their home to do garment fittings.
Together, the efforts mark a fresh start in an industry for an executive who had a nasty break-up with the company that he built. In June 2013, Men’s Wearhouse released a brief statement saying that Zimmer had been terminated in his role as executive chairman. Though Zimmer had given up the chief executive’s reins two years earlier, the board of directors said they believed Zimmer was having trouble relinquishing control. Zimmer pushed back in a public letter that expressed concerns over the board of directors’ moves.