Harry Rosen’s story is truly an inspirational one. Not satisfied with simply providing quality men’s clothing, he wanted to give his customers an experience tailored to the individual. He started with a small store in Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighbourhood and now has 15 locations throughout Canada.

I had the chance to sit down with Harry just last week to talk about what he’s been up to in the three years since he gave his Lived it Lecture at MaRS. Keeping true to his core values, he still meets regularly with customers, some of whom date back to 1954. He’s also been very involved in several philanthropic projects with the Centre for Addiction and Mental HealthBridgepoint Health and the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine.

On the business side, Harry is constantly learning about the evolving consumer market. He’s been travelling around the world, observing the effects of lifestyle on consumer trends, studying changing demographics and learning to use social media to do what he does best: reaching out on a personal level.

I asked Harry what he thinks today’s entrepreneurs should keep in mind to ensure success. His answer? “It’s all about the customer.”

He believes you need to see your customers clearly and understand how they function; you need to keep them informed about your business and reach out across demographics. You should also know who is selling your products and teach them who to sell it to. It’s not about convincing consumers to buy just any product; it’s about finding the right products for them.

My talk with Harry solidified the lessons imparted in his 2009 lecture here at MaRS, “Creating customers for life.” Here’s what we can learn from it.

Harry Rosen LectureKnow your product
While working at Sam Lebow’s menswear store, a young Harry Rosen discovered his affinity for salesmanship. He sold products other salesmen couldn’t by creating a relationship between the customer and the product. Harry knew the details of each product well and was able to tell customers why a product was worth their money by focusing on what made it special.

Being an expert on your product is key, no matter the enterprise. Part of building customer trust is having a good product, but no one will see just how good it is if you don’t know how to tell them about it. Knowing your product isn’t just about hard facts, either; it’s about knowing how to communicate and knowing what your customers need to hear. So you should also…

Know your customers
Harry looked at his customers as both shoppers and individuals. He knew they wanted a one-stop shop where they wouldn’t have to spend hours. He also kept records of their personal preferences and relevant information. This way, he could anticipate their wants and needs. He knew each man’s taste and the required attire for his industry. He catered to both the demographic and the individual.

Businesses are built around the needs of consumers. You may have a specific demographic for your product or service, but you must also consider each customer as an individual. Knowing exactly who your customers are and what they need is the foundation for attracting and keeping them. Meeting their unique needs is a matter of engagement and customization.

Trust the experts

Harry met ad executive Stan Burkhoff in 1961. Stan offered him six full-page advertisements in the Globe and Mail at two suits per ad—if Harry didn’t change anything. Stan’s ads were innovative and arresting. The slogan “Ask Harry” became a nationwide phenomenon, as did the name Harry Rosen.

It’s hard to give up (even partial) control of your business, but letting go by outsourcing certain tasks can be rewarding. Recognize your weaknesses and pick people whose strengths make up for them.

Key lesson:

Sell yourself, not just the product
Harry’s ads, industry knowledge and relationships with customers and advertisers helped build his brand. Customers weren’t just getting clothes when they came to his store; they were also getting special attention that could only come from Harry Rosen. His rapport with clients and the store’s quirky ads made Harry relatable and likeable, earning him both loyalty and respect.

Even if your personal brand isn’t linked to your business’ overall image, it’s still important to market yourself. Potential investors, customers and vendors will be more responsive to someone  who they genuinely like.

At their core, all businesses are people-oriented. They serve people and are run by people. The lessons imparted by Harry are really about anticipating and fulfilling needs. We often forget how important human connection is, but that’s exactly what makes entrepreneurs like Harry thrive.

View Harry Rosen’s full-length lecture here.

For more resources and events from the Entrepreneurship 101 Series, go to:

Entrepreneurship 101 online course

Laura Scutaru

Laura recently graduated from the University of Toronto with a BA in English and Book & Media Studies. A former intern on the MaRS Business Services team, she enjoys reading, writing, and getting involved with arts and pop culture in her spare time. See more…