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By David Zivan | Photo: Nathanael Filbert | August 16, 2016
Led by second-generation CEO Sonny Balani, Balani Custom Clothiers is poised to become the national go-to brand for bespoke men’s garments.
Sonny Balani has expanded the eponymous company his father founded in Chicago in 1961 into a national brand, with operations in six markets. Now ready to grow even further, he shares his thoughts on the crowded custom clothing space, customer service and the relevance of a properly stocked bar.
Custom clothing is a pretty crowded space these days. How do you differentiate yourself?
We try to not just sell custom clothing; we really try and teach what goes into the garment, what goes into the fabric, why you’re paying X for this and what is the story. Because it’s just like buying a car or a fine bottle of wine: People don’t just want to say “oh, that tastes good” or “it drives fast”—they want to know what goes into it; how it was constructed.
You’ve said that you want yours to be the name that people think of when they hear “custom.” How will you do it?
There are some great custom clothing companies out there and some great salespeople. What they’re not able to do is replicate and grow and scale a business. Their skill set is basically the execution side of building a garment. We also have, in my opinion, the best in-class proprietary software that manages the entire order process, measurement entry and style entry.
Your own résumé is unusual in some respects.
I graduated in finance from Michigan State and then I worked at William Blair, one of the premier investment banks in Chicago. What that experience gave me was that I was basically my client for a long time. I started to think: What would I want if I was that guy?
So that helped you develop your approach to service.
When I started here in 2003, I asked myself: How would I want to shop? In 2005, I created a showroom, and we had a fabric bar where we served wine, beer, Champagne. I wanted to give the client the experience that I would want.
What’s next for you guys?
So, Dallas is next, and I’d like to do at least one East Coast city and probably one more Midwest market. Our goal is to be at $20 million by 2020, and obviously that’s not an easy feat.
Your dad started the company with the trunk-show, client-in-the-hotel-room model. What does he think about the current state of the company?
He is absolutely floored. He never even thought that I had any intention of joining the business—and now we’re close to 30 people, and we’re in six markets, and we’re going to close this year at $7 million-plus in sales. So, he’s over-the-moon thrilled.