For entrepreneurs looking to launch a direct-to-consumer brand, pinpointing a white space and then being first-to-market with the idea is the holy grail. Aaron Sanandres and Chris Riccobono of Untuckit, the premier fashion brand focused on “shirts designed to be worn untucked,” did just that in the U.S. in 2011. Now they’re staking their claim on the style in international markets.
Today the brand announced the opening of its first of many planned international stores, in Toronto, Canada on September 12. It’s set to open five more Canadian stores next year, when it will also establish a physical or e-commerce presence in England. Other markets the brand is eying include Australia and Dubai.
According to Riccobono, the fact that 2 percent of the brand’s sales come from Canada (it reportedly does a total of $100 million in annual revenue, though declined to share sales figures), despite no local marketing and a lack of efficient shipping, made it a no-brainer first step in the brand’s international expansion.
Timed with the store opening, the brand is also launching an updated Canadian e-commerce experience, with a product assortment curated for the local market and products priced in Canadian dollars. Orders will ship from new partner fulfillment centers in Vancouver and Toronto.
Untuckit will rely on its usual marketing tactics to promote the new store, including radio, podcast and billboards ads — the latter of which will feature its newly established brand ambassador, hockey great Wayne Gretzky, who lives in Toronto. Riccobono said Gretzky is not active on social media, but remains a prominent local figure; he’s currently the eighth-highest-paid former professional athlete, thanks in large part to owning successful wine and whiskey brands. Riccobono reached out after Gretzky’s wife visited a store and bought him several styles. Gretzky sent his approval to the owners with a signed bottle of whisky, which the brand offers in-store shoppers. He has since invested in the brand.
Untuckit is in growth mode. It now has 39 stores: a mix of locations in top malls, including every Simon shopping center, and street-front stores in high-traffic areas “to remain cool,” Riccobono said. It’s also been expanding its product assortment far beyond its signature of a fitted button-down made to hit the wearer’s pants at the middle of the fly. It now has 13 categories, including henleys, T-shirts, sweaters and sports coats made in the same length as the shirts, as well and women’s and children’s styles. Pieces not in the button-down range now account for 30 percent of total sales, and that number’s growing.
The brand has remained direct-to-consumer outside of a small selection of styles being sold on Amazon to have a presence, though it’s considering partnering with Nordstrom or Bloomingdale’s in Canada to jump-start local sales. However, Riccobono said, he’d rather not deviate much from the brand’s proven playbook. “The way we got successful is marketing,” he said.
Riccobono, founder, and Sanandres, CEO, started the brand with $150,000 in loans from friends and family (they didn’t start fundraising until last year), using $21,000 allocated to advertising to run a radio commercial focused on the “shirts to be worn untucked” tagline for two weeks during a local sports show. The first day, they had 1,000 new visitors on their site. They soon expanded the marketing mix — which has remained pretty consistent — to include every airline magazine, popular podcasts like Adam Corolla, top radio shows including Howard Stern, newspapers such as the New York Times and USA Today, and TV commercials. Digital advertising didn’t come into play until a couple years in, starting with Facebook; it now accounts for just 30 percent of the brand’s marketing dollars. Riccobono said every time Untuckit’s latest commercial airs during a Sunday night football game, up to 16 million people hit the website within 30 seconds.
The latest ad campaign promotes the brand’s recent shirt size expansion, to 50 available sizes. It features a mix of “real people” and endorsers, the latter of which are all investors in the brand and wear it regularly — along with Gretzky, that includes New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, the face of the brand in the U.S., stock car racing driver Chase Elliott and actor Bruce Willis. In addition, the brand works with an agency to seed product to celebrities at the center of its target age demographic of 25 to 70. That recently resulted in Bryan Cranston, 62, wearing an Untuckit shirt.
“Over the last year-and-a-half, we’ve realized: To get to the next $100 million, we need to have great company,” said Riccobono. Along with beefing up its pool of partners, that’s included making several hires; it now has 300 employees company-wide, including a new team dedicated to creating Instagram content.
The brand has succeeded in starting the untucked shirt trend, among men as well as menswear retailers. Recently, J.Crew came out with a line of “shirts designed to be worn untucked,” promoting them and the familiar description in its store windows nationwide.
For Untuckit, despite J.Crew’s unstable state, the line should be cause for concern, said Syama Meagher, chief retail strategist at Scaling Retail. “J.Crew has a strong brand, Untuckit has a strong product,” she said. “What [Untuckit] has done is smart, but it’s just one piece of a whole pie. It’s scary to build a business model around one product — even the name of the business dumbs down what they’re doing. We don’t know much about them except the shirt, and today’s consumers want a brand.”
She said Untuckit would be smart to enter into some collaborations with high-end brands to share its point of view with more shoppers. It should also keep working to expand its social media presence — it currently has 33,000 Instagram followers.
Seemingly in response to J.Crew, Untuckit’s next campaign, set to be released this month, places emphasis on scooping the competition. It’s titled, “The original untucked shirt.”
“Everyone’s copying us,” said Riccobono. “The good thing is: It helps us. We’ve seen an uptick, because people are talking about the fact that [others] are copying us. Reporters are writing stories about it. If this had happened five years ago, I would have been scared to death. Now I’m just glad there’s more awareness of the ‘Untucked look.’ It’s becoming the norm.”