Catching Up With Tom Ott On His Newest Venture - MR Magazine

Q: Describe Retail Czar, your new online platform, launching September 3rd?

A: Retail Czar is a better online specialty store all about New York City fashion; the focus is on style, quality, and value in men’s, women’s, beauty, and home.


Q: Where did the concept come from? Might it be too frivolous for such serious times?

A: The idea came to me in November. With the demise of Barneys, then Jeffrey, and Opening Ceremony, I thought there was an opportunity to launch a platform focused on opening-price luxury fashion. We’ll either be a big hit or a fiasco. We’re hopeful that the worst of times is the best time to launch something like this: while the big stores are dying, we can pick up that market share. What’s more, we have credit!


Q: Who is your target consumer?

A: Our customer is a sophisticated New Yorker who wants special brands that are well-curated and not widely available. Cool people.


Q: What types of marketing/promoting are you doing to capture this sophisticated luxury customer?

A: We’ll be involved heavily in social media through our various campaigns. Editorial content will be plentiful–this will be our strength. We believe it’s all about storytelling.


Q: What are your parameters for selecting brands?

A: My four merchants are all 25+ year veterans. They like it, we buy it. We all grew up together and we understand our taste level.


Q: Where are you finding these emerging brands?

A: 93 percent of the brands we’re buying are from friends in the industry or prior business partners. With 250 years of buying experience, you have been under a rock if you don’t recognize somebody on my team. We are currently 12 people (Alison Katz is SVP site operations) and we’re growing fast.


Q: Will the mix feature just emerging brands or will you include established ones?

 A: Some will be new, others artisan. We believe in being a true “partner” to help grow these brands. We care about nurturing them.


Q: What is your strategy for sale events/special promotions?

A: Our plan is to be all full price: our product is special so does not need price promotions. We’ll do only full-price campaigns. We’re new and never took the sale “drug” so we can be pure.


Q: What are your goals (financial and otherwise) for this new company?

A: Our goal is to be profitable from the start and be fair to our vendors. I want to be involved in the first years and then pass the business to the group. I see an opportunity for those affiliated to grow personally, professionally, and financially; that’s my primary mission.


Q: On another topic, what’s your prediction for Saks?

A: I wish them nothing but the best. I love them. I miss the store and the people immensely.


Q: What’s your prediction for retailing in general: who will be the survivors in this pandemic?

A: The survivors will be the ones that have differentiated assortments and special product. There are few merchants left and even fewer who know how to do online business. If you try to compete with Amazon, Walmart, etc. you’re dead. Special product not overly distributed is the future. Small is the new big.


Q: What are some key lessons you can share from your years in retail?

A: To be a true merchant takes time upfront. You need to learn about product, listen (to customers, vendors, other retailers), and survive the school of hard knocks. (Ivy league or state school doesn’t matter.) You need to be tireless to squeak out even small profits. This is all I know. Retail is a tough business; people who don’t get it might say it’s “cruel.” But if you do get it, retail is so rewarding: you get this amazing buzz when it clicks. And that’s why I started “Retail Czar.”


For more info, Tom Ott can be reached at In addition to Retail Czar, his Retail and Fashion Solutions business currently advises Icon Luxury Apparel, Recircled, Nicestuff Clothing, and Robert Talbott.

AUGUST 25, 2020