With the retail landscape becoming more competitive, brands are being forced to stray from their DNA: Luxury brands are pulling out of wholesale channels, digitally native brands are launching brick and mortar, and DTC brands are linking up with retail partners.
One example is Richmond, Virginia-based luxury menswear brand Ledbury, which started selling in specialty stores two years ago. Launched in early 2010 as an e-commerce business, the company, which specializes in dress shirts and reportedly sells 100,000 units a year, now sells in 125 specialty retailers nationwide and counts wholesale as a key channel, along with e-commerce. It’s also selling in department stores including Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom, and even has Amazon on its current stockist. In addition, it has two owned stores, opened in 2016 in Richmond and Washington DC, but plans to take time growing that side of the business.
Founder and CEO Paul Trible said, to date, sales in the specialty retailer category of the wholesale business have grown over 50 percent year over year.
“They’re helpful, from getting the word out to building up volume for production to increasing margins, and just building healthier businesses,” he said, noting apparel markets have become crowded in recent years with new, interesting menswear brands focused on a wholesale model.
Here’s how Ledbury has used specialty retail partners to its advantage.
Developing an appealing partnership
Specialty stores have been hit hard by the rise of e-commerce, so many see brands with a strong online presence as competition, Trible said. He approaches potential partners accordingly.
“When we speak to specialty retailers, we say, ‘Don’t look at [our positioning] as a negative, like you built a customer base and we’re going to come in and try to take it from you. Instead it’s: How can we work together to give the customer a better all-around experience?’”
Two perks Ledbury brings retailers are new customers and a unique financial incentive through what it calls the Ledbury Share Program.
Ledbury has 40,000 online customers and an email database of 200,000 people. About quarterly, the company sends segmented, targeted emails to its lists, driving shoppers to the Ledbury retailers in their area.
Through the Share Program, Ledbury gives partner specialty stores a percentage of sales made on Ledbury.com by shoppers located within 10 miles of the store: It’s 5 to 10 percent of the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, depending on product category; special offers like promotion codes for new customers are not factored in.
Reaping the benefits
On the flip side, selling through specialty stores provides big benefits for Ledbury.
“It takes the pressure off of us having to open up 125 stores throughout the country,” Trible said. “It’s a great way to grow exposure for the brand and get more people in the product.”
And it allows the company to jump into local markets feet first, without first having to test what products will fly, as shop owners are often experts on their customers and what they’re looking for.
“They’re very good merchants and have an existing customer base; a vast majority of their strength is in relationships,” Trible said. “And they are looking to expose something new to the people who walk through their door. It makes for a great partnership.”
Finally, Ledbury’s customer base is men ages 25 to 75. Trible said many in their 50s, 60s and 70s aren’t willing to provide their email address and get emailed a few times a month. What’s more, a significant percentage have yet to shopped online. For Ledbury, selling in store is necessary to sell to this customer, as well as their wife are partner.
But it takes work to get these partnerships right.
“Store owners are busy running their own businesses. It’s up to us to train their staff about the quality, fit and innovation of our product. We spend a lot of time in stores, and we get a lot of shirts on the backs of salespeople so they understand the product. It’s very time-intensive, but it pays large dividends.”
What other brands are saying about working with specialty stores
Peter Leff, evp of Tommy Bahama Wholesale:
“Specialty stores have been a cornerstone of the Tommy Bahama business since the brand was founded 25 years ago, and they continue to be a very important part of the company’s business today. The specialty store business has changed so much in the past five years, and the specialty stores that have survived those changes have emerged stronger, more relevant and very clear about what their customers want. Tommy Bahama strives to stay connected with the specialty stores and provide them with the fresh and innovative product they need. Specialty stores, in turn, allow Tommy Bahama to showcase new product, raise awareness and often reach a new or different customer.”
Pauline Sokol Nakios, founder and creative director of Lilla P and Leo & Sage:
“Social media and digital marketing has become such an important part of how we shop what we buy. It exposes the consumer to new product and can drive sales to retailers if they strategically market themselves. As a brand, we provide our specialty retail partners with tools and professional images, which in turn helps them sell our brand and our story.”
Related reads on Glossy
Beauty boutiques and shoe standalones: The rise of the luxury specialty store
“Fashion brands looking to raise their profile and boost market share use standalone beauty stores to make bigger statements to beauty consumers and improve consumers’ experience with the brand.”
‘Specialty stores are the future’: Why MyTheresa’s founders are going niche
“It is a luxury shopping experience when you enjoy the process.… Specialty stores are the future, because they give the joy of shopping back to the customer.”
Milly CEO Andy Oshrin on making the DTC shift
“We want to be in control. We know our customer age breakdown, and having a sweeter price point for a younger customer is, I think, going to be a blessing for us.”