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In the early 2010s, John Ballay saw there was something missing in menswear.
At the time, he was working in finance in Dubai and had developed a passion for well-tailored suits. As the retail pivot to the direct-to-consumer model was picking up steam, he wanted to find a way to make bespoke clothing more accessible to the average man.
“There was such a pent-up demand in the United States,” said Ballay. “In 2011, when [co-founder] Matt [Mueller] and myself were looking at this as a business model, there was a fragmentation of old-world tailors throughout the United States, and that’s all you had.”
So Ballay and Mueller decided to create a brand that would bring made-to-order clothing to customers’ doorsteps.
On this week’s episode of The Glossy Podcast, Hilary Milnes sits down with Knot Standard co-founder and CEO John Ballay to discuss the evolution of menswear, the need for custom-made products for every consumer, and the trick to selling through retailers with zero inventory. Below are excerpts from the episode, edited for clarity.
Taking DTC to the next level
“In the 2018 direct-to-consumer brand tree, you’ve heard the same story quite a few times. People say, ‘I found a production facility, and I was able to work with them directly, package it up with beautiful packaging and sell it direct-to-consumer.’ That covers probably 99 percent of the direct-to-consumer movement. What we’ve done is very different than that, and it’s twofold: First, it’s that direct-to-consumer relationship that we’re all familiar with, in that we’re working directly with everyone, from fabric suppliers to manufacturers. But the difference is that what we’re doing now did not exist before we developed it, particularly with creating a unique product pattern for each individual that comes through the door.”
Why a digitally native brand is driving customers to showrooms
“One thesis we’re working with that we think makes us very different is our ability to work with a customer in person on his first order. That sets us apart from anyone else in the digitally native space, because what we’re essentially doing is saying, ‘We don’t have a pre-baked product for you to come in and grab off the shelf; what we have is a dynamic offering of Italian and English fabrics and expert stylists, and when sitting across from someone, you can build anything, from a custom tuxedo to flannel shirts.’ If their first touchpoint is in one of our nine showrooms, then the probability of being a happy, long-term customer is markedly different. We’re taking all of our digital efforts and driving customers into a physical location to get 30 to 60 minutes of their time, indoctrinate them into the business. Then, if they want to order remotely for the rest of their customer experience, that’s just fine with us.”
Creating the Knot Standard experience in stores of partner retailers
“Because everything is built for each customer, it’s hard, in the traditional retail sense, to put things behind a glass window and say, ‘Hey, Knot Standard is now available at Bloomingdale’s.’ So what we’ve done at Bloomingdale’s, in order to be successful, is put our own staff in there. We’ve been able to run our own build-out and our own operation, which has put us into an experience that feels like a little slice of one of our showrooms. In our own showrooms, those are completely run by us; we have complete autonomy over that. You give up a lot of autonomy going with a retailer, in exchange for more foot traffic and more exposure. You have to create a working relationship with the retailer, where they understand your goals and can let you sell the brand in the way that you know resonates the most with customers.”