Back when they were high school students at Yeshivat Or Chaim in Toronto, Netaniel and Hillel Lichtenstein were already known for their entrepreneurial skills.
If you wanted to buy a baseball cap, a polo shirt, last year’s BlackBerry, or maybe get a cellphone unblocked, they were the guys to go to.
Things haven’t changed much. The 23-year-old fraternal twins – Netaniel is three minutes older – are still doing business, cutting deals, satisfying customers. This time, however, it’s not a sideline they run out of their lockers at recess. The two brothers are the principals behind Made2Measure, a full-service custom clothier they founded in 2007, which offers suits, shirts, slacks and jackets at competitive prices.
It’s a full-time occupation for the boys, to which they bring their formidable personal skills. Hillel is the tech-savvy guy, the one who runs the business’ back office operations, but who can still get out on the road and fit a client. Netaniel is the one with the gift of the gab, or, as his brother said, “he’s good with his mouth. He knows how to work a sale.”
They’ve divided up business operations, but some sibling rivalry may have crept into their business relations. “He’s older by three minutes,” quipped Hillel. “He’ll never let me live it down. When I get to his age, I’ll understand.”
But they each bring something important to the venture. Last week, Netaniel was in New York on business. When asked what was the most difficult obstacle in selling custom suits to potential clients, he said his clients simply can’t believe they can buy a high-quality suit made of fine wool from prestigious manufacturers, for the same price you’d pay for something off the rack.
“People say, ‘Why are your products so cheap when you say it’s so good?’” he recounted on the telephone from New York. “I have to convince them we’re giving them that product at a much better price point” than the competition.
Hillel said Made2Measure’s suits run between $500 and $600. An equivalent item from a prestigious clothier would cost from $1,500 to $2,000, he added.
So how do they do it?
Made2Measure outsources its suit production to a factory in China, in which the brothers own a minority stake. That way, they can ensure that quality remains high and the supply chain provides the goods on time and on budget, said Hillel, who put his bar mitzvah gift money into the venture, along with profits from his many teenage ventures.
Besides price, Made2Measure competes on service, Hillel continued. “We’re a service industry. Call us anytime… Let us come to you, anytime, anywhere.”
The brothers, along with their six salespeople, will come to your office, boardroom or home, at your convenience. They bring along their sample suitcase with 600 swatches of cloth, and they’ll measure 35 different points on the human body, to make sure the suit fits perfectly.
A lot of the guys who wear suits don’t have the time or the patience to visit retail outlets. What could be better than getting fitted in your office or boardroom, or better yet, in the comfort of your living room after a hard day’s work? he asked.
Although they maintain a website to publicize the enterprise, they get most of their business through word of mouth. They have 200 to 300 customers. Most come back for a second suit or another clothing item.
Since they started selling suits, the business has expanded tenfold. And Hillel believes the sky’s the limit.
It was a serendipitous turn of events that got Hillel into the fashion business.
Near the end of high school, he asked his father, Robert, if he could accompany him on a business trip to China.
Hillel tapped into his earnings for the $1,800 ticket. While in China, he accompanied his dad to a fitting for a custom dress shirt. While his father was getting fitted, he struck up a conversation with the Indian-born tailor, from a company called New Bolwin Tailors, who was planning to visit New York on business. One thing led to another, and he invited the tailor to tack on a trip to Toronto for a couple of days to fit possible clients for hand-made suits.
Hillel didn’t know if the man would follow through, but late one night he received a call from New York saying the tailor would be in Toronto soon.
Hillel quickly had 500 flyers printed, which he distributed to shuls and businesses along Bathurst Street. The flyers invited people to a fitting at a hotel north of Toronto.
A good number showed up, ready to plunk down the full cost of the suit, which would be manufactured in China and shipped back to Canada in a couple of months.
“We were skeptical if it would work out,” worried that the tailor would just take the money and run, he said.
To his delight, the 30 suits that had been ordered started arriving, and customers were satisfied. Hillel donated his share of the proceeds to a pair of Toronto charities.
A year studying in a Jerusalem yeshiva put an end to that venture, and when he returned to Toronto, he enrolled at York University, where he took a double major in business administration and IT.
He took a job with an aerospace company, and while working in his new career, he continued to receive calls from former customers, inquiring about the next suit fitting.
Eventually, he made the decision to get back into the suit business full time. “It’s now or never,” he said. “You can build your own dream or get hired to build someone else’s.
“I don’t want to wake up in 10 years, married with kids, with expenses and a standard salary that doesn’t cut it.
“I decided I wanted to take a risk. I’m still young, and together we can grow the businesses into a revolution in the way people shop,” he said.