zTailors, the new company Zimmer launched Monday, aims to be something of an Uber for tailors, helping to link fragmented independent business owners with customers. The premise of zTailors is to provide a convenient in-home tailoring service, particularly as more people buy clothing online or look for ways to repurpose the pieces in their closets that no longer fit. “There are literally billions of dollars hanging in closets across America that are not being used or worn with any frequency,” Zimmer said in an interview.
Zimmer said his motivation for starting the company was to help bring more business to tailors, who, he says, have an average income of just $38,000 a year and are often immigrants.
Yet he also admits the idea is a way to channel his energy after being fired from the company he founded back in 1973. In 2013, Men's Wearhouse announced Zimmer had been terminated with no explanation. It then followed up with an unusually candid list of grievances, which alleged, among other things, that he had had trouble giving up the reins. Zimmer released his own public letter, pushing back on the board's allegations.
After that high-profile ouster, he considered teaching. He also toyed with the idea of writing a book or serving on boards or in advisory roles. But Zimmer found he missed leading a business.
“For several months I sat in my backyard and enjoyed the weather and tried to enjoy golf and tennis and my family," he said. "But I'm just not the kind of guy who can be retired. ... Sometimes you don’t realize things until they’re taken away."
Zimmer is following in the footsteps of a long line of founders who, after being pushed aside from the companies they started, strike out on their own again with new businesses for their second act. Steve Jobs famously started NeXT and created Pixar after being fired from Apple—and before returning to lead the computer giant to breathtaking success. JetBlue founder David Neeleman started an airline in Brazil after he gave up the CEO's title in the wake of a string of service mishaps.
And after GroupOn founder Andrew Mason was fired, sharing the news in a memorable send-off, he went on to found an audio walking tours app called Detour. (That, as well as record seven tracks of "motivational business music" he called “Hardly Workin’.")
Some, like Zimmer and Neeleman, follow their expertise and start new companies in the industries they know. And some even seem to launch businesses that directly target their former companies. After Richard Thalheimer, founder of The Sharper Image, was ousted in 2006, he started his own online store called richardsolo.com that sold the same sort of gadgets and gizmos that defined his former company.
Zimmer says he didn't create zTailors to compete with Men’s Wearhouse, even if he is testing partnerships with retail competitors like Macy’s to connect their buyers with local tailors. And even if, in fixing up old suits to fit better, consumers might buy fewer new ones at stores like Men's Wearhouse.
While it's possible there might be "some collateral damage," Zimmer said, that's not the aim. “Ninety-nine percent of the people working at my former company remain my friends and colleagues, so I have no ill will at all toward my former employer and the company I founded,” he said. “I’d like it to have a nice legacy.”
His new company will take a 35 percent cut of the purchases booked through the service. So far, he has more than 500 tailors already signed up to be part of the network, and he expects it to grow to 1,000 nationwide by September.
When asked if he thinks there's something in the entrepreneurial psyche that prompts founders who get pushed out to seek a second act, Zimmer says yes.
“When somebody is forced out sort of abruptly, it leaves you with a sense of incompleteness,” he said. “If there was a more normalized transition, I don’t know that you would still have that energy to start another business. But when all of a sudden, in one day, you’re thrown out and your furniture is put in storage, you have a lot of business energy that you’ve been working with. And what do you do with it?”
For Zimmer, the answer is a brand new business at 66, an age at which he never imagined he would start something new. But then again, he said, “I’d like to retire on my own terms. Not somebody else’s.”