Hickey Freeman is not turning its back on New York State.
Despite rumors that the venerable men’s brand, which was founded 121 years ago in Rochester, N.Y., was planning to leave the upstate city, Stephen Granovsky, chairman and chief executive officer of Grano Retail Investments, which holds the long-term license for Hickey Freeman, said the factory will remain open and operational and its 300 or so employees retained. Grano, which also owns the Samuelsohn brand, is the owner of the Rochester factory.
But there will be changes.
Granovsky said over the past three to four years, he realized that there was “too much capacity between our two factories.” Samuelsohn operates a separate factory in Montreal. “So we’ve been searching for options to maintain both.” Nine months ago, he said an opportunity arose that will bring “significant business” to the Rochester facility. Although he cannot name the company at this point, he said the agreement was just signed and will bring the production of millions of garments to the factory over the next several years. An announcement of the deal is expected within 60 days.
As a result of this “manna from heaven,” he said, the full-canvas production of the Hickey Freeman garments will move to the Samuelsohn factory. The shift has already begun and is expected to be completed by the fall.
“The quality and construction in Rochester is more in line with the half-canvas production we do for our private-label clients and Hickey’s outlet stores,” Granovsky said. The Rochester factory produces garments for Polo and other brands.
“By moving the full-canvas production to Montreal, we’ll actually be able to grow our half-canvas business in Rochester,” he said. “The fastest-growing business in tailored clothing is the under-$1,000 suit and under-$700 jacket. Now we’ll be able to compete more effectively in that market.”
Moving the full-canvas production to Montreal will also mean that around 100 people will be added to that facility, he said, bringing the total number of employees in that facility to about 500.
Granovsky said moving the Hickey production to Montreal is a “very significant undertaking,” and it is paramount that the “uniqueness of the Hickey Freeman product is identical to that from Rochester.” But he’s confident that customers will not be able to tell the difference. “We just finished the January market and probably about one-third of the samples came from Montreal,” Granovsky said. “And no one could tell the difference.”
Hickey Freeman’s relationship with Rochester dates to 1899 when Jeremiah G. Hickey and Jacob L. Freeman, along with two other men, founded the company in that city.
Just one year ago, Granovsky appeared with New York State’s Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul at the plant to celebrate the addition of 80 jobs and the acquisition of a $4 million loan to upgrade the facility. At the end of 2018, U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer further assisted the company by ensuring that the bipartisan Farm Bill Conference Report included a fully funded extension of the Wool Trust Fund program through 2023. The program, which provides Hickey with up to $3 million a year in tariff relief, is crucial in keeping costs commensurate with overseas competitors.