Melissa Austria: Building The Retail Store of the Future

The feisty owner of Toronto menswear retailer Gotstyle is mixing and matching old-school service and digital technologies in a bid to survive — and thrive — in an increasingly tough industry.

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Melissa Austria – Founder – Gotstyle

Melissa Austria (MA): Women are really funny. When, when we go shopping we’re like, You know, don’t talk to me. Men wanna be talked to.

SOT: I mean, it looks good with everything, this color. It even looks good with what you’re wearing right now.

-Perfect yeah it looks
MA: Men come with a, a goal in mind. They need something, “I have an outfit, I have an event, I need this.” They want that more communication compared to women.
MA SOT: Oh, looks nice. Yeah, much better with the brown shoes.
-Yeah
-Yup
MA: If you take care of a guy, he will be your customer for life.

CARD: Melissa Austria – Founder, Gotstyle – Toronto, Canada

MA: Gotstyle is a lifestyle store for men. Guys want one place where they can buy / their weekend wear, their hangout clothes, their going out clothes, their suits, get their shoes, their accessories, and get their hair done.

SOT: You’re shaggy today
-Big time, big time

MA: Once you’re coming to Gotstyle you’re not going any place else.

CARD: Melissa loved fashion from an early age.

MA: I couldn’t really draw or sew but when I was growing up I would cut out Vogue magazines and put that all over my wall. And, in fact, when I was in high school I uh got voted “best dressed.”

CARD: After high school, Melissa began studying at the Academy of Merchandising and Design in Toronto.

MA: I was there for about a year and a half and then after being almost like, you know, $15,000 in debt I’m thinking, “I need to get a job.” So that’s when I started working on the uh retail side and I was lucky enough to quite early on start working at Harry Rosen.

CARD: Harry Rosen is Canada’s preeminent menswear store.

MA: Harry Rosen is really good in the sense that you can’t start selling the suits right away. They start giving you a very rigorous training to start selling tailored clothing ’cause they really wanna make sure that you know what you’re doing before you’re selling a $2,000 suit to somebody.

CARD: Melissa went on to become a brand manager for iconic designers like Calvin Klein, Valentino and Armani.

MA: When I was 32 I’ve, you know, been in the wholesale industry for a good, you know, ten, 12 years doing a lot of traveling. And it’s definitely glamorous but after a while it’s not. And especially after 9/11, um traveling wasn’t fun anymore.

CARD: In 2004 Melissa teamed up with a business partner, secured a bank loan and poured her savings into starting Gotstyle.

MA: We’re going after what I like to call the every day guy. So he’s the guy that you know, doesn’t care about the labels or the brands but still wants to dress, dress well.

CARD: Before the Gotstyle store even opened, Melissa had a huge stroke of marketing luck.

MA: Home and Garden TV started to do uh, a feature on us called Opening Soon By Design. They pretty much followed us for about six months prior to opening, so all the headaches, all the trials and tribulations.

SOT: Let’s just make a few calls

MA SOT: Yeah
- The stuff didn’t quite get delivered on time so you could say

MA: I think they probably played that almost every single week for probably six months to a year.

SOT: Unbelievable

MA SOT: I just dropped my glasses in my drink

MA: Having that visibility and that branding really, really helped get the store, you know, on the map.

CARD: While the store was doing well, Melissa and her business partner were not.

MA: We’re you know, yelling and screaming in the store, which is, you know, obviously not good for the staff and not good for the customers.

CARD: Eventually, Melissa hired a lawyer who helped her buy out her partner.

MA: Having that stress, and you internalize it and it comes out physically so, I had shingles on my face. My hair was coming out in like huge clumps. At the same time if I didn’t go through that heartache it wouldn’t make me who I am today. So now I find that nothing fazes me. Nothing’s an issue. Nothing’s a big deal.

CARD: In 2006 Melissa started the Gotstyle private label, all made in Canada.

MA: Even though there’s a lot of great product out there, we still find that we’re missing specific things for our guys. We have a lot of guys that are bigger with long arms and we couldn’t find a shirt that would fit them properly so we developed our own Gotstyle shirt. And same with a lot of our suits and our jackets. Again, we’re Canada. We got a lot of big boys.

CARD: GotStyle now has two shops, 20 employees and sales of $5.5 million Canadian.
CARD: Melissa is planning to expand beyond Toronto.
CARD: She is carefully integrating technology into her stores.

MA SOT: We have pretty much all the samples

MA: We do have the mobile app so it’s a mobile pay and loyalty points, and it also allows us when you come into the store you pop up on our iPad, “Now, hey, Steve’s in the store,” so we can greet them by name.

MA SOT: So just have like all the shirts here, pants, and then put all the sport coats

MA: As we’re getting more technology driven we’re getting more distant from each other. But we still want that recognition, we still wanna be made to feel special so it’s sorta about having the two of them together to offer something different and that’s the approach that we’re gonna use to, to grow going forward.

Posted: June 3, 2016

Nusha Balyan at The Story ExchangeMelissa Austria: Building The Retail Store of the Future