Digital-native fashion brands tend to follow a similar distribution strategy: launch online, then test physical retail through pop-up stores, and if that looks promising, open branded boutiques.
Big distribution, with the occasional exception of some retail accounts, is simply not part of the playbook. The cost of selling and servicing retail accounts doesn’t seem worth it, especially considering that wholesale orders generate about half of the revenue generated from direct-to-consumer sales.
But when all the other brands turn right, the rewards can go to the brands that turn left instead, especially if they have a game-changing product with a significant point of difference that independent retailers can follow. One such company is performance men’s clothing brand Mizzen + Main.
Based in Dallas Mizzen + Hand was founded in 2012 by Kevin Lavelle, who borrowed technology and performance attributes from sportswear and applied them to traditional menswear, starting with dress shirts and now expanding to a full line of menswear. business and casual for men. In other words, its sportswear for the professional man.
From day one, wholesale distribution was part of the company’s growth strategy because it was essential for men to touch, see and experience the freedom and comfort they could feel in a Mizzen+Main dress shirt.
“Trying on the shirt is when the magic happens,” said CEO Chris Phillips, who joined the team about a year ago after Lavelle stepped down to join Stand Together, an organization that supports entrepreneurs. social. Lavelle personally chose Phillips to replace him and still serves as president of the company.
Fashion retail is in Phillip’s blood. He was recruited from StitchFix where he served as General Manager of Men’s, Kids’ and Exclusive Brands for three years. Prior to that, Phillips held numerous leadership positions at Gap Inc. for over 20 years and also worked for Canadian jeans company Bootlegger.
More contacts, more sales
As good as his website is and as effective as his growing list of influencers, endorsers and mutual supporters, including sports personalities like Phil Mickelson, NFL player David Vobora and his Adaptive Training Foundation which helps people, many of them veterans, with physical disabilities, and the Navy SEAL Foundation, the company found the best way to convert viewers into buyers through a real physical experience.
This is especially important in menswear, as men much prefer the in-store shopping experience, according to a recent First Insight study. And unlike women, they’re also not shy about patronizing full-price retailers.
These are exactly the kind of retailers that Mizzen+Main has cultivated. “If you think of wholesale, it’s not just department stores. There are thousands of specialty stores [~7,000 men’s clothing stores according to the latest Census data] who are looking for great brands to add to their portfolio that are differentiated and unique,” says Phillips.
And in addition to men’s specialty stores, Mizzen+Main has found a strong retail network in golf pro stores, thanks in part to Phil Mickelson, who has played in his shirts.
Golf shops are eager to wear the line as its garments can take a man from the golf course to the office thanks to its moisture-wicking fabric that stretches four ways and always looks flawless. “It helps a man stay cool all day, literally and figuratively,” jokes Phillips.
With hundreds of specialty stores now carrying Mizzen + Main, as well as Nordstrom, the company is selective about its retail partners. They need to maintain the brand’s premium price tag — a dress shirt is $125 — and not “play the promotional game,” as Phillips puts it. “We make sure they maintain brand and pricing integrity and present our products really well,” he continues.
He finds that the specialty retailers the company works with have a real grip on their customers, understand what they are looking for, and are always on the lookout for exceptional brands that will make a difference in their store, as well as for their customers.
“We are big advocates for specialty retailers and want to help them be more successful. We want to make customers happy for them and help them get good business,” continues Phillips.
This unconditional support from its specialty independent retail partners has enabled Mizzen+Main to overcome the complaint I hear most often from specialty stores about their direct-to-consumer partners: that they compete directly with their businesses, rather than than to help them.
This team spirit is particularly important now that the company is also developing its own chain of stores. After testing pop-up stores in major markets across the country, she opened her first store in her hometown of Dallas in 2018. Four more stores followed, including the most recent in Tampa which opened last December.
“The whole ecosystem works together,” Phillips says, as the company’s experience shows. “Retail is really helping us convert. Guys love our product and can get our product when they buy from independent retailers or our stores or website. They can discover our brand everywhere.
Measures of success
Though the company won’t reveal any funding or sales details, except to say, “We’ve been a high-growth brand since 2014,” Crunchbase reports. the company raised $4.6 million in six rounds of private equity financing, including an investment made by LCatterton in 2017.
Mizzen+Main’s success is based on its performance product which can be shown and explained online, but must be experienced in real life. Its omnichannel and ubiquitous distribution strategy serves this purpose.
“Our clothes are so comfortable, so mobile, so easy to care for. We hear stories time and time again about guys who buy one of our shirts and then end up handing over their entire shirt closet to us because they can’t wear those traditional shirts anymore,” Phillips says.
As for the company’s future growth, Phillips says the company is expanding into a full line of menswear to complement the loyalty they’ve developed among their customers and retail partners.
“We call it ‘sharing the closet.’ We want to own it,” he explains. “For example, our customers travel a lot, so they need a great blazer with the same performance characteristics to go with our shirts. We look through the lens of retention in all the categories that guys wear and that we can also apply our value proposition to.
Capturing more wardrobe share means expanding the touchpoints where men can experience Mizzen+Main’s clothing. The company has found that by developing a regional or clustered approach to distribution in specific markets, it benefits the entire company, including specialty retailers, its own stores and its website.
“We’ve found that having multiple touchpoints in our markets drives business everywhere. They all work hand in hand,” continues Phillips.
So, for 2020, the company plans to open three stores to “balance” the business in the markets in which it is already established and go from there.
“We want to make sure that we do this in a careful way so that we can open up and learn more about these markets. If we find that the data we learned from those early stores is still valid, then we can grow from there. We take a very focused regional approach,” he adds.
Although I hesitate to make comparisons with other brands, I will do so anyway. Mizzen+Main could be the next Lululemon in menswear, bringing the comfort of activewear to the professional man.
With its revolutionary performance products, its relentless dedication to the comfort and ease of its customers, and its vocal support for causes that are close to the hearts of men, veterans being one of them, I believe that Mizzen+Main is a company we will hear a lot about in the future.