Men's Wearhouse Fires Iconic Spokesman, Founder

Retailer Will Have To Pay Up If It Wants To Continue Using George Zimmer In Ads

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The man behind Men's Wearhouse and its iconic tagline, "You're going to like the way you look. I guarantee it," has been fired.

Men's Wearhouse founder George Zimmer, who built the retailer into a chain with more than 1,000 stores and became its public face, said he was fired after raising concerns about the company's strategy.

George Zimmer
George Zimmer

The retailer announced his termination as executive chairman today in a three-paragraph statement that didn't include a reason for the dismissal.

"Over the past several months I have expressed my concerns to the board about the direction the company is currently heading," Mr. Zimmer said in a statement. "Instead of fostering the kind of dialogue in the boardroom that has, in part, contributed to our success, the board has inappropriately chosen to silence my concerns by terminating me as an executive officer."

The firing leaves Houston-based Men's Wearhouse without the man who founded the company in 1973 and stars in its commercials. According to company filings, the retailer had a license agreement with Mr. Zimmer that allowed it to use his likeness in connection with advertising and marketing, so long as he was an employee, for an annual fee of $10,000. Now that Mr. Zimmer is no longer an employee, Men's Wearhouse would have to pay up, to the tune of $250,000 per year, if it wants to continue using him in commercials.

The retailer spent $56 million on measured media in 2012, up 24% from 2011, according to Kantar Media.

"He's been a lynchpin for the brand for so many years," said Robin Lewis, a New York-based retail consultant. "That alone, from the marketing standpoint, might have negative effects."

Mr. Zimmer, 64, opened the first Men's Wearhouse in Houston with his college roommates, selling $10 pants and $25 polyester sport coats, according to the company's website. He began appearing in the company's commercials in 1986, extolling the company's low prices. The ubiquitous line delivered in Mr. Zimmer's baritone voice was created by ad agency Red Ball Tiger in 1997, Mr. Zimmer told Fortune magazine in a 2010 interview.

Men's Wearhouse now operates 1,143 stores selling suits, coats, clothing and accessories through its namesake, Moores, Tux and K&G chains.

In 2011, the company named Douglas Ewert, who had joined the company from Macy's 16 years earlier, to succeed Mr. Zimmer as CEO. In December, Joseph Abboud was tapped as the company's chief creative director.

Mr. Zimmer still owns about 3.5% of the company's shares, making him the seventh-largest shareholder, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Because of the firing, Men's Wearhouse postponed its annual shareholder meeting, which had been scheduled for today, so it could renominate its slate of directors without Mr. Zimmer. The new date, time and location of the annual meeting will be announced "shortly," the company said, without providing a date. The company also said the board expects to discuss with Mr. Zimmer the extent and terms of his future relationship with Men's Wearhouse.

--With Bloomberg News

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