Sunday, June 24, 2007


Customer satisfaction (sort of)

It's a strange sort of customer satisfaction when you feel like the company rendered good service yet you end up without having purchased anything from them. But that's where I find myself.

It all began a couple of weeks ago in Washington, D.C. I had an afternoon to kill, and decided to shop for a new suit near my hotel, at Men's Wearhouse.

The last suit I bought was from Men's Wearhouse. I like that suit: it was reasonably priced and I've gotten a lot of use out of it despite a tailoring job that left something to be desired. True to the definition of insanity, I returned to Men's Wearhouse thinking that by doing the same thing again, I'd have a different outcome.

The people who work at Men's Wearhouse are good salesmen. They make you feel good about your suit, and you end up buying a bunch of ties to go with it. I came within inches of also signing up for their "frequent buyer" program which, in return for a 10% discount after every $500 of clothes buying (i.e., $50), I would sign up for a world of pain in terms of junkmail and email solicitations. But I was in the sort of zombie consumer zone you get into at the end of buying a car, when they try to sell you Scotch Guard for an extra thousand bucks. Men's Wearhouse salesmen could sell cars.

The problem with buying suits off the rack is that they are sized for fat guys. If you buy a size 44 jacket, the pants that come with it will have a 38-inch waist. This is called a "spread" of 6 (44 minus 38 = 6) and it assumes a middling sized beer belly. I'm no male model or anything, but I'm reasonably fit and require a "spread" of about 9, meaning that the pants I get off the rack are 3 inches too big. That's a lot.

To reduce pants by 3 inches at my size is not a simple matter of "taking in" at the waste. I'm not a tailor, but my understanding is that the pants really need to be reconstructed. A "take in at the waist" alteration of 3 inches -- basically, undoing the back seam, trimming some fabric there, and redoing it tighter -- screws up the pants badly. The waistband forms a nasty "V" in the back, the butt doesn't fit, the side pockets get pulled back toward the back of your thighs, and the pants creases wind up pointing outward at 10 and 2 o'clock rather than straight ahead. This is quick and dirty alteration. I know this because I've had it done.

Whoever altered my last Men's Wearhouse suit dealt with the problem by the simple expedient of not reducing the waist size enough. Instead of being 3 inches too big, the pants are 2 inches too big.

When I raised this issue with the tailor at the Washingotn, DC Men's Wearhouse (18th Street just above Farragut Square, for the record), he snapped: "I'm a tailor, not a seamstress." Okay -- no problem!

I wasn't going to be in Washington long enough to wait for the alterations, but they assured me it was no problem. They'd ship me the suit and I could take it to the local Men's Wearhouse in My Home Town to get free pressing and any tweaking of the alterations I needed.

That the suit arrived four days late after a series of phone inquiries -- they had obviously forgotten to ship it -- was annoying, but they were good about overnighting it once they realized their mistake. That the suit has half a dozen mysterious black sticky spots on jacket and pants was bothersome, but let's assume for the sake of argument those would have come out.

The big problem is what I would call "The Worst Tailoring Job I Have Ever Seen." Weirdly, the pants wound up both two inches too big at the waist, and yet excessively "taken in" at the back. The fit was so bad I'd think Men's Wearhouse should pay me not to wear it because of the negative advertizing. Let me show you one angle:


Basically, the tailor completely added this stylish butt crack that hadn't been there when I tried them on. This was only the most serious of several fit problems, both with the pants and jacket.

The purchase receipt for the pants states a "complete satisfaction money-back guarantee," and I decided that I would not go through the hassle of testing the ability of the local Men's Wearhouse tailor to fix the problems. As I drove to the store, I imagined various arguments I'd have, with the store manager demanding that I try the suit on to demo the flaws and then trying to sell me on letting them try to fix it.

But when I arrived, they gave me a full refund, no questions asked. I had worked myself up into enough of a pitch of anxiety, that this courteous honoring of the satisfaction guarantee gave me a feeling of great... well, satisfaction.

Let's add up the total experience. On the plus side, smooth salesmanship. On the minus side, bad follow-up service with dreadful tailoring. On the plus side, great customer relations in giving the refund.

I still could use a suit, and there's a couple of hours I'll never get back. But I'm not out any money, and when I got my refund, I felt great! So in a strange way, my Men's Wearhouse experience has made me happy.

The Brooks Brothers outlet not far from you, under an hour, is where I got all of my suits after being recommended by a friend. I'm sure a lot of your students are wearing them during OCI. They do good work at a decent price.

Those might be the most illfitting pants I've ever seen.

My fitting problem is when it comes to the jacket and is especially true when it comes to shirts. I have very long arms for my height and for my chest and waist, so I have to buy shirts that are bigger so that my sleeves don't look 3/4s. Billowy might be a good way to describe some of my shirts.
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