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Old-School Craft, Modern Style: Behind the Business at The Coop

The Coop is a Toronto menswear institution. It’s the kind of place a man goes to update his wardrobe for the season, but it’s also where he can drop in and grab a new shirt for an occasion that evening. Although everyone is welcomed with open arms (and maybe a drink), The Coop is the sort of place that caters to successful, determined, ambitious guys.

That’s because it’s owned by someone just like that. John Corallo started in retail as a kid, and worked his way up through the ranks, paying dues and learning the ropes – all with an eye towards one day owning his own piece of the pie.

I suppose you could call The Coop a men’s club, catering to everyone interested in a premium shopping experience.

We interviewed John and spoke about how he fell into the men’s clothing business – but learned to love it – and what his unique vision is for menswear in Toronto.

l: John (second from right) and his team. r: John and his brother Mikey

l: John (second from right) and his team. r: John and his brother Mikey

So, tell us about the Coop. What is it, and who are your customers?

We are a contemporary menswear shop offering everything from socks and underwear to complete, bespoke tailored suits.

After renting a space for 28 years just down the street, we’ve built a new location in the same neighbourhood that we feel gives our clients what they deserve.

We’re a shop that caters to a client’s every need with some treats along the way: coffee bar, food, candies, toys for the kids. Our clients are business professionals, mostly from this neighbourhood, who enjoy social activities and events on their down time. Maybe they have small families and a busy career, either self employed or VP’s and presidents. Anyone who’s in a power position and enjoys fashion.

How did you decide to open a menswear shop?

It was a mistake really. I was studying to be an architect and my dad told me to get a job as I was off a tad for school but had worked from a young age doing odd gigs around the Lawrence park area, here where the store is. He got me an interview at Harry Rosen and the rest was history, really.

After becoming the youngest Sales Manager of a million dollar location, I had fallen in love with the customer interactions. One of the guys I worked with had joined The Coop and he eventually got me over there. It was a short time later that the opportunity came about to purchase the location, so I did, and here we are.

Customer service is everything today. So you have to do your best and be your best. Although we all can’t be perfect, we can sure try to be consistent.

image of the Sand Shop within the Coop

The Sand Shop at The Coop

They say that to be successful you have to be passionate, so share what drives you every day.

I love what I do because my clients appreciate it. I enjoy the smiles and good times we have during the client interactions. I enjoy giving that the right clothes for what they need. I enjoy the thanks I get for doing that for them and I enjoy the fashion and contact evolution of it. I have been doing this a while and I’m still learning and I’m still enjoying it.

Has it been smooth sailing or have you overcome adversity to get where you are?

No such thing as smooth sailing in this business. You get the odd year out of it that you talk about for the next 10. But it’s a game of chess, you have to make your moves not too early, not too late, and not too many at a time. So if you drop the ball on something, you need to recover it and it all depends on how fast you can do that. And I will tell you it isn’t easy!

image of a wall of denim at the coop

Some of the amazing denim available at The Coop

We all know that crazy happens. What’s the wildest thing that’s happened on the job?

I’d say the craziest thing that’s ever gone on at the job…will remain a secret.

What do you do with your time off? Are you familiar with that concept?

As of late I am. My brother Mike – the youngblood – has taken a solid role in running the shop.  That’s allowed me to spend more time with my kids as they grow to a point where they don’t know who I am any longer. Teenagers!

This is the age of the social network. How important is social media to your business and how do you make it work?

I’m doing the best I can to evolve with the times and get better at the modern day social media requirements. It’s funny – I’m not archaic by any means, but you put an iPhone in my kids’ hands and look out! It’s the future and we know the fashion side of it, so we’d better learn the social media side of it.

How are you involved in your community? What does supporting local mean to you?

We are a great supporter of all the local schools and groups raising funds for various charities. We try and give back to them all but it’s a large “all” – there’s always a charity or a group looking for support and we try our best to help them.

image of the storefront of the Coop with a party going on inside

The Coop hosting a party.

What does the future look like for you and your business?

The future is the untold crystal ball – who knows what’s around the next corner? We have all these mega stores coming in from the States and if the client decides to not shop Local…well, let’s face it, we could be done – it’s been 32 years now and life is good but without the client we don’t have a business. And that’s why we appreciate every one of them.

Do you have any advice for aspiring business owners just starting out?

Don’t head into a business thinking “if I build it they will come” because that doesn’t work any longer. You need to have a client base and you need to work hard. You need to not be afraid to make a move or take a chance or make a mistake. Because you will and that’s okay but you can’t make a ton of those, so do your research!