#64. Bonobos was a healthy product-driven company, built on a strong vision and a small, but loyal audience. But since 2016, and Bonobos’ Walmart acquisition, co-president Micky Onvural has helped steer the company into a resonating brand. We had a great talk with Micky about what it’s like to take the reins at someone else’s company, go through an acquisition and turn a company’s core DNA into a long-lasting brand. The Loose Threads Podcast features in-depth discussions with leaders across the rapidly changing consumer economy.

Check out the full transcript below.

Richie: [00:00:07] Welcome to the 64th episode of the Loose Threads Podcast, a show about the rapidly changing consumer economy. This episode is brought to you by Loose Threads Membership, which gives you actionable analysis, insights and events to drive growth and Loose Threads Espresso, your energizing and high pressure filter for consumer news—in context. We also have a newsletter the features the latest open letters to CEOs, podcasts with industry leaders and news from Loose Threads. Check it all out at LooseThreads.com.

Richie: [00:00:34] Joining me today is Micky Onvural, the co-president of Bonobos, who leads everything that impacts a customer for the brand. Mickey joined the company before it was acquired by Walmart and has helped steer it ever since.

Micky: [00:00:44] We believe that if we tell really great stories around guys, around our products, we will sell great product. We’re an apparel brand that has a point of view.

Richie: [00:00:56] We had a great talk about what it’s like to take the reins at someone else’s company, going through an acquisition and turning a product-driven company into a resonating brand. Here’s my talk with Micky Onvural.

Richie: [00:01:09] Why don’t we start. Just talk a bit about your background and then we can work your way up to when you joined Bonobos and then we’ll push forward.

Micky: [00:01:17] So when I left school—I went to CBG. So I worked for L’Oréal for a few years. Then from there I went to Kellogg’s to do kids’ cereals and then I made the big segue into technology when I went to work for eBay, which was a real career-changing moment for me, to go from a category that was growing maybe 2% a year to a business that was growing triple digits a year. So that was my big foray into technology and then, from there, to Trulia, the home search site. And then Bonobos has really been a marriage of those two worlds—so a marriage of businesses where there’s a physical product together with technology as the distribution mechanism.

Richie: [00:01:50] Gotcha. What were you doing on the CPG side and how did the roles evolve over time? Or how did your interests evolve with them?

Micky: [00:01:58] So, at the end of the day, I’ve always been a brand marketer and, for me, what that means is really understanding your audience—what’s the problem you’re going to solve for them—and then building experiences for them. So that has been a constant throughout my career, from my first day managing hair colorance at L’Oréal through to even today and what I do at Bonobos. It’s that consumer centricity—solving a problem for them and really building experiences out from there.

Richie: [00:02:21] And what was it like to see these industries change? Well, do you believe they have changed? If so, how much and what was it like to watch that evolution over that career?

Micky: [00:02:31] They’ve all changed in different ways, I guess. I mean, I think CPG businesses are probably the laggards in many ways from a digital perspective. So they’re very much still focused on building a brand and packaging and products and then they’re thinking about distribution through third party retailers. I think they’ve been pretty slow to catch up with a digital age and they’re still not there. I think eBay has, and brands like that and some digital marketplaces, have evolved really, really fast but we’re somewhat at the vanguards of digital, if you think about eBay and its growth. It was launched into the world not long after Google and it’s grown exponentially from there. And I would say that they were more, sort of, vanguard businesses that are now, actually, needing to try and find new ways to disrupt themselves. And now, as I work in the fashion business, quite frankly, we are the pioneers of actually disrupting fashion. So, I’d say it’s been different by category and by business that I have been at over the last 20 years or so in my career.

Richie: [00:03:33] So, before you joined Bonobos, when did you first hear about it? What did you think of it, before you joined?

Micky: [00:03:40] So the first time I came across the brand was probably eight or nine years ago, living in San Francisco. I have a very dear friend who worked with me at eBay and he came into work one day in a pair of bright orange pants. He’s about six foot four. He’s not a small man and he made quite the impression in his bright orange pants and I was like, “Where on earth did you get those pants from?” And he said, “Bonobos.” And I never really thought anything more of it. And then when I got a call from a recruiter, about 18 months ago now, about Bonobos, I was like, “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of them. They’re the bright-orange-pant people.” And I had this intrigue in them because they had, obviously, delivered a product that was really different in its category but I knew nothing else about it until I started digging in to see what were they doing now, eight years later.

Richie: [00:04:30] Interesting. So it was the pants. The pants were the—

Micky: [00:04:32] It was the pants, my gateway drug to the business. They made his butt look really good.

Richie: [00:04:38] Very on-brand.

Micky: [00:04:40] Yes.

Richie: [00:04:40] Okay. So you got a call. And then what happened?

Micky: [00:04:42] So then I met with Andy Dunn, who is the founder, CEO of the business and he asked me very atypical questions for a first-round interview for a CMO job, which is what I was interviewing for. He asked me about what was my commitment to my people, which I thought was an intriguing question—didn’t quite understand it, at first. He asked me just what were my initial impressions of the brand. That wasn’t surprising but what was surprising was, in the conversation, when I said, “Well, your social media presence is terrible for a digitally-native brand,” he said to me, “You are the first candidate we’ve met for this role that’s actually even mentioned social.” That blew me away. I was like, “[Whom] have you been talking to?” And they’d been talking to a lot of traditional retail marketers as opposed to digital marketers. And I think, for him, that was a bit of a lightning-bolt moment and certainly, for me, it was, in terms of the opportunity it represented to make an impact on the business.

Richie: [00:05:39] So where was the company when they reached out and you started talking?

Micky: [00:05:43] I’d say that the business was in a rock-solid place. They had built a very healthy business with a relatively small but very, very loyal audience. They had a strong brand in its DNA but I think, in the way it was presenting itself to the world at the time, it had become a little diluted and it had looked a little J.Crew or Banana Republic or pick your favorite mainstream brand. So the job at hand, really, was how do you continue to grow this business and brand, build this loyal following and really showcase the brand’s story to the world in a more compelling and contemporary and culturally relevant way? And that was what was intriguing about the opportunity.

Richie: [00:06:23] 2008 it was founded?

Micky: [00:06:24] Yes.

Richie: [00:06:25] Yeah. So it had been a decade, basically, of being one of the first to sell these things on the internet and, unfortunately or fortunately, have to build all the infrastructure to do so. Did the fact that it was a decade in play into the need to start to make this move and bring you in?

Micky: [00:06:41] No, I don’t think it was a question ten years in. Although, it is strangely coincidental that I joined eBay ten years in and Trulia ten years in, but I think that’s a strange phenomena of my career to this point. I think what played into it, for Bonobos, was, if you think about how they started, and they started with the pants, the orange pant, they had really disrupted, from a product and clothing perspective, with this idea of really great fit and the curved waistband. So they’d disrupted in product. Then they’d disrupted in distribution model, which was, obviously, selling entirely online. Then they disrupted themselves, again, and disrupted the traditional retail model with their Guideshop concept. And I think it was really about the fact of where do we go next? And how do we continue to disrupt this industry and ourselves? So, less about ten years in, and more about “how do we get to the next phase of exponential growth?”

Richie: [00:07:35] How, in those early conversations, what did you—because, I think, watching the company grow is one of the most evolutionary paths of all of these companies, just because they were first at so many of these things.

Micky: [00:07:47] Yes.

Richie: [00:07:48] Did you sense that there were battle scars from that? That the original ambition was changed or watered down? What was the mentality coming in, knowing that a lot of that stuff was crazy, crazy hard [and] expensive to do?

Micky: [00:08:02] Andy is a true visionary. I don’t think there are battle scars in the company from forging the path. I think there’s actually excitement from it of like, “Where do we go next and how do we stay on the front foot?” When I think about the culture, it’s not one that’s weary from having forged a path. It’s one that’s really actually excited to take the next turn and go to the next place together. It’s an incredibly collaborative culture. That’s really where they’re at, and where we’re at now—forging that path ahead.

Richie: [00:08:35] Okay, so the first interview was interesting questions. You eventually joined.

Micky: [00:08:38] I did.

Richie: [00:08:39] What was the first day like? What did you want to do? What were the priorities? How did you start, given you had a moving target, basically? This is not from day one.

Micky: [00:08:48] No, it’s not. Far from it. The first thing, for me—and it’s always been this for me in my career—it was around the people and the team that I was inheriting. So there were about 30 marketers who were looking to me and saying, “Okay, what are we going to do then?” For me, it was about getting to know the team. And then, I don’t know if you’ve ever read the book “The First 90 Days?”

Richie: [00:09:07] I have not.

Micky: [00:09:08] It’s one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read and I’m not a big business book reader but, what I learned from that, was this idea of “negotiate success,” which was this concept of ‘go around the company, interview people, essentially, have the same sets of questions.’ And it’s a research project. And you figure out, that way, different people’s perspectives and you really get to the heart of what are the problems you need to solve. And then, from there, essentially, you create your plan and say, “This is what I’m gonna do and this is what I’m going to do in the next 120 days, et cetera, et cetera,” and get everyone to buy into that. For me, a lot of that was around the people, as I mentioned, and getting the marketing team into the right place. The next order was growth, which is not surprising. In a business that aspires to double-digit growth in a category that is single-digit growth, at best, the next order of priority was how do we sustain and, actually, accelerate growth? And then, the third thing was about planning further out. So, how do we start to think of the seeds that we want to plant now that will deliver benefits to the business two, three, four, ten years from now?

Richie: [00:10:19] And so what were some of the early, before-and-after projects that you started to put your and your team’s energy toward, to those goals?

Micky: [00:10:28] The first was table stakes stuff, around the growth piece, and how do we accelerate growth? So, for me, at that point in the business, we were focused mainly on catalog marketing and email marketing. We weren’t doing any paid search whatsoever. We did not have a good SEO infrastructure. A lot of the things that were second nature to me as a digital marketer weren’t in place because the people that had been running marketing were fairly traditional. So that was table stakes.

Richie: [00:10:54] That’s kind of surprising, no? For the first digitally-native brand?

Micky: [00:10:58] Yes.

Richie: [00:10:58] Do you think it worked up until that point? How did that happen?

Micky: [00:11:02] The brand was built, and the brand’s success, was built off of word-of-mouth. Those orange pants got me talking. That certainly got other people talking. PR—we got a lot of PR in the early days.

Richie: [00:11:12] Right. So the traditional mechanisms.

Micky: [00:11:15] Traditional mechanisms. They then layered on, essentially, email and catalog. And they had been fortunate enough, because they had such a sticky product and experience, to not actually need to grow through a lot of new user acquisition, at that point. That’s the challenge we have now and ahead. And so, a lot of those digital marketing channels were some of the very early initiatives that we undertook. So, for me, it was, “I need to put these things in place.”

Micky: [00:11:39] The second order of priority was to say, “Who do we want to be? How do we want to be increasingly culturally relevant to our audience and to a new audience?”—also known as “What’s our brand strategy and what do we want to be famous for?” So I spent a lot of time, in those early days and months, figuring out who [we wanted] to be. That was the second order or priority.

Micky: [00:11:58] And the third one, and I already alluded to this, was the team and getting the team set up for success, on both the things that run the business day-to-day, but also, as I said, on how are we going to innovate on a go-forward basis.

Richie: [00:12:11] Talk a bit more about the brand strategy piece because, again, it sounds like your career is built on this, but you are always used to working with something and then pushing it to a place versus, a lot of people are just used to creating from nothing, which is—I don’t know if it’s easier or harder. It’s different maybe. But how did that evolve?

Micky: [00:12:25] Yeah. So I’ve done this three times in my career now—joined a brand, as I said, ten years in, joined a brand that has something in their DNA that you want to extract.

Richie: [00:12:35] And how would you describe it, through your interpretation, when you came in?

Micky: [00:12:38] I would have described it based on the product.

Richie: [00:12:42] Okay.

Micky: [00:12:42] So I would have described it on better-fitting pants. And what was interesting, as I was going through the brand strategy exercise—for me, you build a compelling brand because you have a key belief in something. That has always been true for me as a marketer but I think that is ever-more relevant for a customer today, is people want to join your movement. They want to believe in what you stand for. So, for me, we had a very good product value proposition. We needed a brand belief and, one other truth that I’ve seen throughout my career, is that that brand belief is very, very often already in the walls of the building. The way that the founder is wired. It’s in the way that the culture has evolved. And it became very clear to me, early on, that it was in Andy and in Andy’s story and what he believed.

Micky: [00:13:29] So I would articulate that, right now, as Andy’s belief in the fact that the world would be a better place if it were run by women. What I mean by that is, as we think about men and we think about masculinity, which is obviously relevant for us given our audience, we think that we should be in a place where men have more empathy, that men should be a key part of championing gender equality, that there’s no one way to be a man—a very diverse and inclusive definition of masculinity. It was clear that Andy stood for that. That was at the heart of the truth of the brand, which felt incredibly culturally relevant, probably more so now than when he started the business. And so we really took that idea and we have wrapped it up now in a mission statement that we call “fit for every man,” which for us is, obviously, a connective tissue between the fit of our product and how we make every man confident to go be himself and to go do his thing, whatever that might be. And that is now the guiding light for how we think about the brand and has been the underlying truth behind the communications that we’ve been putting out in the world, over the last three or four months.

Richie: [00:14:47] There’s a ton of stuff going on, politically.

Micky: [00:14:49] Yes.

Richie: [00:14:49] And, in a number of places, you see companies, now, start to see that there’s no neutral space. They’re either one way or the other. They can’t be in the middle, and so forth. What has it been like from your perspective, or how has it evolved, of figuring out where you want to play in that sandbox because it seems like you can’t not play in the sandbox?

Micky: [00:15:06] There is death in the middle.

Richie: [00:15:07] How does one go about navigating where that stake in the ground goes and what happens when it is intentionally put there? And what sort of risk or belief does it take to do, to position the next X many years of the brand around?

Micky: [00:15:22] You have to make a stance. And you also have to have the confidence to say people are either going to love it or hate it. That faith, that ability to take that risk has to come from the top, whatever the top may be. There has to be full support around that. In terms of choosing what it is that you’re going to stand for that people are either going to love and hate, I think that goes back to my original point about the fact that it has to come from the core DNA of either the founder or the culture of the company, depending on the origin story of the business.

Micky: [00:15:55] So, for us, we knew that this idea of fit for every man, this very diverse and inclusive vision of masculinity, when pushed to its edges, could be a little political. But that was okay because it was really what Andy believed and what I believe. We manifested this in February. We picked role model Chris Mosier, who was the first transgender athlete to be on the U.S. national team, an incredible human being. We put him in our catalog. We put him in emails. We’ve done Facebook Live events with him. It has been very polarizing for both our existing audience and for new members. We kind of don’t care because, to the point I made earlier, love it or hate it, it is who we are. We’re proud of who we are. Better to stand for something then stand for nothing. And it’s been so galvanizing for the team, internally, as well as very galvanizing for our existing community, those who love it, and a whole new community too. And I think you’ll see from us, over the next six months to 12 months, increasingly leaning into that because we’re seeing the power of it in engagement in the brand, reach of the brand and, quite frankly, in revenue.

Richie: [00:17:12] So, you joined in the end of 2016. When did this messaging start to roll out?

Micky: [00:17:19] October 2017 is when we put the stake in the ground.

Richie: [00:17:19] Okay. So you took your time to run through the exercises and vet this and so forth?

Micky: [00:17:23] Took us about six months to really put a fine point on our belief statement and our point of view. And then, I guess, it took us another three or four months to figure out the execution of that. And we chose to execute it through six men who embody different walks of life, very diverse in terms of the paths they’d taken, what they stood for. The common thread was they were forging new paths and they were doing things a little bit differently and a little unexpected in their take on the world. And they were the precursor group to Chris Mosier, who is our most recent one, [who] we featured this month.

Richie: [00:18:05] And then when did the acquisition happen?

Micky: [00:18:07] The acquisition by Walmart was July 2017.

Richie: [00:18:11] Okay, so, the acquisition actually happened before this ever saw the light of day.

Micky: [00:18:15] Yes.

Richie: [00:18:16] What was the first inkling to you that something was happening?

Micky: [00:18:21] So, the initial conversations happened in early spring of 2017 with Marc Lore, between Marc Lore and Andy and then the deal was leaked in April of 2017, which caused some consternation, and then we actually did the deal in July. We closed the deal and we announced it to the world and our team.

Richie: [00:18:43] Did you know, going in, it was gonna happen?

Micky: [00:18:45] I had no idea.

Richie: [00:18:46] What was your first reaction upon learning that it was going to happen?

Micky: [00:18:48] It was so unexpected, not just selling the company which was somewhat unexpected for me, but [whom] it was selling to was extremely unexpected for me. It is not, on face value, a natural marriage to have Bonobos that is a brand that has spent ten years building itself up to be premium mass, to be very digitally-centric, to then be acquired by one of the oldest retail brands in the world that prides itself on everyday low prices. Clearly not a marriage that you would expect. It has been a really interesting experience, a very powerful experience, I think, for us all, in positive ways and in ways that I wouldn’t have expected when I first found out about it.

Richie: [00:19:35] And what are some of those?

Micky: [00:19:37] I think the interesting things are how much Walmart and Marc Lore, in particular, are driving for change and innovation and you’ve seen some of those things come out into the world through new brands that we’ve launched like Allswell, which we announced last week. Whether that’s through the launch of Code Eight, which is essentially an innovation lab within Walmart… There’ve been a series of moves that have been made, acquisitions of things like Parcel. There’s been a lot of things that have been happening.

Richie: [00:20:06] A lot of activity.

Micky: [00:20:09] A lot of activity. And I think that my perception is changing and probably changing faster because I’m on the inside, and it will change much more slowly on the outside, but I think it will get there. So I think that’s been the most surprising thing, for me on the inside, is the pace of innovation which is amazing. I think the other thing that I hadn’t appreciated until I was on the inside was Walmart gets a bad rap for many things. They’re actually very progressive, in terms of things around gender equality, pay, sustainability. They recognize their impact on the environment and they’re actively working to reduce it. Those things were quite surprising to me because those aren’t things that get in the press. It’s been interesting to see that from the inside and, as a marketer, it’s a very interesting case study in, how do you shift brand perception of a brand like Walmart? I think it will get there. It’s just going to take a long time.

Richie: [00:21:00] Yeah. Had you gone through an acquisition before, in your career?

Micky: [00:21:02] I had. When I was at Trulia it was acquired by Zillow. So, my CEO, whilst I was at Trulia, after he heard about the acquisition by Walmart, said “Goodness me, what’s going on? Every time you join a company, a year later they get bought.” So I’d been through it before. It’s pretty different this time, for me. Trulia and Zillow was an interesting experience to live through. Much closer, in terms of the value proposition, the positioning and what they stood for, which was challenging in different ways for me, running consumer marketing at Trulia.

Richie: [00:21:34] More of like a merger than an addition, right?

Micky: [00:21:36] Kind of, yes. Whereas this is, it’s very clear that we are very additive to the Walmart/Jet portfolio. We were their first digitally-native, vertical brand that they acquired or built. They’ve now launched Allswell. Very clear that we’re about adding selection and inventory to their portfolio. So it’s very clear our role in it. Different experience.

Richie: [00:21:59] Were you pro-acquisition when you heard about it?

Micky: [00:22:01] I was a little taken aback. It took me a while to wrap my head around it. I needed to meet people. I needed to meet Marc and some of the leadership team there to truly understand where we fit into the picture. And I needed, really, to understand, from them, that we would stay who we are, that we would stay uniquely Bonobos. And as soon as I understood where we fit into the picture and that we would continue to be us, then I was great.

Richie: [00:22:29] I don’t know if you want to speak for Andy, but do you have any sense how his journey—

Micky: [00:22:32] Very similar to mine.

Richie: [00:22:34] Yeah.

Micky: [00:22:35] I think the whole leadership team at Bonobos had a similar initial reaction. He knew Marc from before and he’d always been an admirer of Marc’s.

Richie: [00:22:44] And how long was Marc there before this? Because this was the first big move of his tenure.

Micky: [00:22:48] Yeah he had been there, I think, maybe a year? Maybe not even.

Richie: [00:22:53] Okay.

Micky: [00:22:54] So Andy knew Marc, which, I think, gave him a slightly different starting point.

Richie: [00:22:58] Right, [rather] than just a random solicitation.

Micky: [00:23:01] Yes. But I think he had the same reservations about Walmart that the rest of us did. And he went on that similar journey of understanding them, where they were going, where we fit in, how it would be for us. And then we all ended up in the same place.

Richie: [00:23:14] So what was that pitch, now that you’re well past it?

Micky: [00:23:17] Really in this idea of selection and bringing to Walmart and Jet, the company, a different business model, a different kind of brand and selection and I think we will continue to see those brands play out, over the course of the next few years, as a real differentiator to Amazon.

Richie: [00:23:39] So the acquisition happened.

Micky: [00:23:40] Yes.

Richie: [00:23:40] Went together pretty quickly. You go to work the next day. Is stuff changing? Same kind of path? How did your own work and time start to evolve now that there was another party at the table?

Micky: [00:23:52] So, on a personal level, once the deal was closed and we realized that Andy was going to take on a role across ModCloth and other brands—

Richie: [00:24:00] Because he stepped up, basically.

Micky: [00:24:00] He stepped up. It became clear that, in order for Bonobos to continue to grow at the rate we needed it and wanted it to grow at, that we were going to have to change the structure of the leadership team at Bonobos. So, at that point, myself and Brad Andrews, who was the Chief Merchant at the time, stepped up to be co-presidents of the Bonobos business. We now take shared penalty responsibility for the business and divide and conquer, in terms of the individual pieces of the organization. He takes, what we call, the apparel part of the business and then I take all the customer experience part of the business. So that’s how we changed things, internally.

Micky: [00:24:40] In terms of the bigger landscape and did other things change, in terms of the way we operate because we’ve been acquired? The answer to that is no. Nothing changed, at all, for a significant period of time. Things have changed a little bit, recently, not in terms of how we operate the business but, clearly, there are efficiencies when you’re a big part of Walmart. That is simple things, like shipping contracts and the rates that yo tu get with FedEx and UPS look pretty different. There are efficiencies around, from an employee base, around health benefits, for example, that come with the scale. So the changes that we have made to Bonobos have, really, been around, how do we become more efficient, from a people perspective, cost effective on things that the customer doesn’t see. We have not changed anything as relates to customer experience nor will we. That’s, obviously, integral to the brand and we want to preserve that and a key part of why we were bought was the brand. So, really, the things that we have changed are totally behind the scenes but driven by leveraging some of the efficiencies at the larger portfolio.

Richie: [00:25:47] Right. I think it’s telling, even going back to the brand strategy, that that project continued all through this and seemed to come out exactly as it intended.

Micky: [00:25:54] Totally unchanged. And, in fact, we are doubling down on it and will continue to increase our investment in the brand and against the value proposition and the brand proposition.

Richie: [00:26:05] So, Bonobos had investors up until the point.

Micky: [00:26:08] Yes, it did.

Richie: [00:26:08] Was there any sense of relief or pressure remove, now that that had been taken care of and it was now part of a larger thing? Or was that never in your headspace?

Micky: [00:26:20] I mean, I think when you are privately owned with investors, there is always a pressure of how they’re going to get their money back out and when. It is not that anyone was breathing down our neck. We had an incredibly supportive board and group of investors that really believed in where we were going and what we were doing. So I wouldn’t say we felt undue pressure and then it was all of a sudden relieved, in any way, nor would I say that Walmart came with a massive wallet. That wasn’t the intent. The intent was to continue on our trajectory, start to leverage some of the efficiencies that come from being part of a much larger organization. But I don’t think the pressure changed and I think that’s partly because the pressure is internal.

Richie: [00:27:03] Right.

Micky: [00:27:04] And what I mean by that is this is a culture that prides itself on innovation, disrupting the status quo, growing when no one else is growing and that is actually baked into the culture. So, as long as that culture doesn’t change, I don’t think that pressure really changes. It’s somewhat self-inflicted.

Richie: [00:27:24] Yeah, absolutely. And so, under your purview is the retail side also?

Micky: [00:27:29] Yes.

Richie: [00:27:29] Had you worked on retail businesses with stores before?

Micky: [00:27:33] No. The closest I’d ever got was eBay but I had certainly never worked in a business that had physical, owned locations.

Richie: [00:27:41] So, we’ve spent a lot time looking at all these digitally-native brands that are all, now, moving offline.

Micky: [00:27:46] Yes.

Richie: [00:27:46] Which, I guess, you could simply say is for cost reasons, among others, that there’s a lot of interesting—some are finding it cheaper than just buying Facebook ads. You can acquire customers offline. Others [have] experiences they want to offer. There are a range of reasons why that would happen. What was the status when you started to assume that role? How are you looking at that footprint in the future? And then, obviously, how does it tie back into the online piece, as well, as everything moves?

Micky: [00:28:08] So we think about our physical presence, our guide shops, in a couple of different ways. The first, which is important, is about how we think about omnichannel and true omnichannel. For us, we think about an MSA. So, we think about a city or a market and we think about the investment that we put in and what we get out of that market. There are many inputs into that market. One of those inputs could be marketing dollars. Another input could be the dollars that are required to open a store, it’s the people we put into that store, etc. You get the idea. So we think about it as an integral part of our business and, what we know is that, when we put a Guideshop location into a market, we see the traffic and the revenue that comes through the door, but we also see an impact just on our web business in that location. When I think about it from a why did we do it and what’s the KPI, aside from revenue and that lift that I just talked about, I sort of think of it as experiential marketing that has revenue. Back in my days at L’Oréal, we used to do this thing where we would go into stores and try makeup on people. This is the ultimate way of going into a market, giving people the opportunity to touch, look and feel the brand and then we have someone there to help close the sale. So it is experiential marketing, but it’s also revenue and sales is how we think about it.

Micky: [00:29:35] In terms of what my first impression—which was part of your question, what my first impressions, when I came in, about what that looked like—I was really intrigued by the business model. But when I walked into a store, I was a little confused because it looked and felt like a traditional store but, yet, I couldn’t walk out with a bag. As our Creative Director described to me, when I was interviewing him, he said, “No one told me I walked into the internet.” And I thought it was such a good description because it, currently, is looking a little like a traditional store and it isn’t until you engage with one of our guides, which is what we call our store employees, that you realize that it’s a different experience. So I really want to lean into, going forward, to the fact that it is a very different experience, lead into the fact that the guides offer you a very personalized, one-on-one experience, which is so absent from a web experience today and, actually, absent from many retail experiences that you have in your day-to day-life. So I think, as we go forward, that’s where we want to focus is that this is experiential marketing with a very human touch, very personalized one-to-one and that is truly additive to a region or a market.

Richie: [00:30:49] Along those lines, I’m curious—I think one of our fascinations here is looking at where the defensible parts of these businesses, in terms of with intense price pressure and a ton of selection, there’s a lot of competition out there. Why do you think people buy from Bonobos? And does that answer change if it’s an online customer versus an offline customer? What part do you think drives now? Do you want to change that in the future? How does, maybe not the magic formula, but the higher-level formula exist but also maybe want to evolve?

Micky: [00:31:24] So we’ve always been about the fit and quality of the physical product. That I don’t think will change. And, interestingly, as we have launched new categories, where we’ve seen success is when we stay really true to that formula. So we launched short-, regular-, and long-shirt sizing for different height guys. Super successful. Blew its plan out the water. We launched underwear with waist sizing, not just small, medium and large. Again, sort of blew its plan out of the water. So what we don’t want to change is that product DNA around fit.

Micky: [00:31:58] The second part of our DNA has always been around service. So, whether that’s the ninjas, who are our customer service representatives, who do an incredible job, or whether it’s around that one-on-one experience that you have in a Guideshop, we don’t want to change that and we want to lean into that. I think the third piece, about why people bought us in the first place and stayed with us, was a combination of those two things but it was also this DNA of the brand that I’ve been talking about. And I don’t think that we have, yet, told that story to enough people in a meaningful enough way. When we started in October with our role models campaign, started to put that story out into the world, we saw that it not only galvanized our current audience, but also brought in new people. And I think telling that story and that brand belief system that is so of the zeitgeist will continue to attract new people who will stay because of the product quality and fit and the experience. So I think that’s where we want to continue to evolve in terms of why people come to us.

Micky: [00:33:04] There’s other things that we want to evolve. We want to find new ways of letting people have that personalized experience. For example, we have just started taking our guides, who work in a store, and taking them into local businesses. They go with a small selection of products and they essentially do a pop-up trunk club.

Richie: [00:33:22] Right.

Micky: [00:33:23] And it’s been amazing because it helps us access new people, we can still give them a very personalized experience, they can touch and feel the product and it’s really convenient. In the same ways, we started the Guideshops, where it was a total experiment in our head office, but look what it’s become. We have 48 locations and growing and it’s north of 20% of our business now. We never knew that. So you kind of have to try things and see how it plays out.

Richie: [00:33:52] Talk about underwear a bit.

Micky: [00:33:54] Talk about underwear.

Richie: [00:33:55] Yes.

Micky: [00:33:55] Not something I ever thought I’d be asked but okay, I can go with it.

Richie: [00:33:59] Talk more broadly about a category expansion, over the time you’ve been there, and then we can work that way into the underwear side and how that came to fruition and the results, and so forth.

Micky: [00:34:07] So, whenever we think about adding new products and new categories, we’re thinking about a couple of things. One is where is there green space in a category? And where do we have an unfair advantage? And the unfair advantage that we always focus on is fit because it’s core to our value proposition. It’s why people choose us. So, when we’re thinking about a new category, in this case let’s talk about underwear, what we saw was that this is a category that is growing fast. It has got a lot of players in it but no one was doing anything particularly different and they certainly weren’t doing anything particularly different around fit. So we saw an opportunity to go in with waist sizing, so 32-inch but also different inseam lengths, based on their style preference, or maybe if you have shorter legs.

Richie: [00:34:54] You’re making it like pants.

Micky: [00:34:54] We’re making it like pants. Exactly. So we saw that we had an unfair advantage and a right to play there. So we launched it last year, tail end of last year. And it really has beaten our expectations so far. We’re excited to see it continue to grow and, as we think about category innovation over the coming years, that’s really where we’re focused, in terms of do have an unfair advantage.

Richie: [00:35:19] At a high level, how broad do you think it could get and what won’t you do?

Micky: [00:35:24] So, I don’t think that this brand will go to women because fit for women isn’t necessarily the same kind of compelling value.

Richie: [00:35:35] It’s also not math as much.

Micky: [00:35:37] And it’s not math as much. Exactly. So I don’t think we’ll go to women. I don’t think we’ll go to kids because we need to have the purchaser and the purchaser for kids is women. So, if we don’t have women, we likely won’t have kids.

Richie: [00:35:50] So, let’s say we stick within men’s.

Micky: [00:35:52] Yes.

Richie: [00:35:52] Should a customer be able to get, literally, everything they would ever need from you?

Micky: [00:35:55] No.

Richie: [00:35:55] Or what boundaries do you put on? Because you can get almost, if not an entirely full wardrobe, no?

Micky: [00:36:00] Yes, you can get shoes.

Richie: [00:36:01] Okay.

Micky: [00:36:02] Can’t get socks, currently. Hats.

Richie: [00:36:06] Other accessories.

Micky: [00:36:07] There are sorts of accessories that we don’t do. But, in terms of your core closet, yes. You can get everything. We did an experiment with a sporting line. We call it GoodSport. That has not been a runaway success for us. And I think there are two learnings from that experience. One learning is it’s a very competitive category. Now, that shouldn’t put us off but the question is can we invest enough to make it work? And then, the point I made earlier is, do we have an unfair advantage or right to win there? And, it turns out, that in the athletic category, not only are there lots of players who have a lot of money to spend, but they also have a value proposition around performance fabrics or around just athletes wearing their clothes, that we don’t have. And so that has been and proved to be a real challenge for us. So we are going to, gracefully, bow out of that category, at this point in time, because it’s not driven by fit and fit is what drives us.

Richie: [00:37:10] Does Bonobos mark their clothing with a logo or anything?

Micky: [00:37:13] No, not on the outside.

Richie: [00:37:15] Not on the outside.

Micky: [00:37:15] Or it’s a very subtle ‘B’ on the patch of our denim.

Richie: [00:37:19] What is that like, as a marketer, to not have an outward display of a billboard, basically? Is that really good, actually? Does it present challenges? How do you think about that?

Micky: [00:37:28] This is incredibly conflicting for me because, as a marketer, I want the billboard. As someone who understands the Bonobos customer and has a belief in what we’re doing as a brand, I don’t think it’s right for us to put a logo on all our clothing. Our guy doesn’t want to wear a badge. He wants to look great in great-fitting clothing, be able to express his own sense of style, not someone else’s, not with a big, massive, massive badge. So I get the guy. I think it’s an integral part of our brand value proposition but it’s challenging for me as a marketer.

Micky: [00:38:05] I think one of the things we had, in our early days, was the pocket liner. So, in the back of those orange pants of my friend Julian, he had a printed pocket liner inside the back pocket, which you could see. And that became, kind of, our badge. People still have the option of putting that in our pants right now, if they wish to. Increasingly, people are choosing not to because it’s now become recognisably Bonobos. So it’s kind of a badge of a different sort. So we’re moving away from that, for that exact reason, that guy just doesn’t want people to know, “Oh, he’s wearing Bonobos.” It makes it more challenging, as the marketer, because those would be free impressions so it just means I have to work harder everywhere else.

Richie: [00:38:44] So, competitively, I think watching J.Crew revitalize, they just announced this new thing with WeWork and LinkedIn, and they’re going after, it seems, the work crowd, of trying to fit into the worker, the modern professional’s life. Where do you see that Bonobos sits in between the work and the play side? And then how do you market effectively to either or both at the same time? Or, more macro level, how does a lot of the casualization happening in the workplaces fit into that? Do you see that as an opportunity? Lifestyle-wise, as tied to purchasing decision, how is that envisioned?

Micky: [00:39:16] The casualization of the workplace has been really good for us. This is a brand [that] was built on pants and, actually, chinos, which, as a staple of a man’s wardrobe, particularly the man’s work wardrobe, but also the hybrid and the segue into a more casual wardrobe, it’s core. So, for us, we’ve always been somewhat of a crossover brand and that was intentional and remains intentional, is to offer the whole closet and to actually speak to both. Men are creatures of habit. Once they find a brand they like, they tend to stick with it. They tend to buy a lot in one shopping excursion and it’s about convenience. So if they can get their whole closet somewhere, so much the better. So our gateway drug is a product, a pant, a chino that can bring them in, that speaks to both work and play and then we can actually trade them up to the more formal or we can trade them down a more casual, like a beach short, for example, but all in one place, which is super convenient. And it just means that they can get everything in one place, whether that is in one shopping event, but it’s also about creating that habit, if they know where to go back to, for the thing that just fits them brilliantly.

Richie: [00:40:29] Yeah. The word lifestyle brand is thrown around a lot.

Micky: [00:40:33] A lot.

Richie: [00:40:35] And, from my perspective, it has always been something that you can’t claim yourself, it’s something you have to earn over time and you have to assume that position.

Micky: [00:40:41] Couldn’t agree with you more.

Richie: [00:40:41] How does that word, or that term, relate to and/or how is that viewed, internally, at the company? Because it started with such specific product, fit, almost utilitarian beginnings. How do you think about that word?

Micky: [00:40:54] I don’t think of ourselves as a lifestyle brand.

Richie: [00:40:57] I’ve never heard someone say, “We’re not that,” but it’s so refreshing because everyone thinks they are and they aren’t.

Micky: [00:41:01] We’re an apparel brand that has a core belief about the way the world should be and the way that men should be able to live. We believe that if we tell really great stories, content around those guys, around our products, we will sell great product. If writing content makes you a lifestyle brand, then I guess we are? But I would never consider us a lifestyle brand. A lifestyle brand, for me, is probably something that crosses outside of apparel into, you know, home and—

Richie: [00:41:35] Right, furniture.

Micky: [00:41:37] Furniture and travel and all of those things. We’re not that. We’re an apparel brand that has a point of view.

Richie: [00:41:45] What do you think is the most misunderstood part of Bonobos, publicly?

Micky: [00:41:49] Great question.

Richie: [00:41:51] And I’ll make it a two part question. One, to customers and, two, to people, analyzing the industry and paying attention from a meta perspective?

Micky: [00:41:59] Okay, so the meta piece. I think people have forgotten that we were vanguard and the pioneer of this business model, is I think what people have forgotten. And I think that is because so much has happened in the category. It’s partly our own fault. We didn’t carry on telling our story and we need to continue to disrupt ourselves and continue to be seen as the vanguard. You’re only as good as your last act. So, we need to continue to push ourselves and come out with our new act.

Micky: [00:42:27] In terms of the most misunderstood by customers. Potential customers—we have two challenges I would say one is either people don’t know about us, outside of New York. So our brand awareness is a challenge that we continue to push forward on. I think there may be a little bit of a perception or misperception, I should say, in terms of whom we’re for. There was a period of time in which the brand was a little bro-y. That’s not who we are and I think that’s, again, the fault of the fact that we just weren’t telling our story in a very clear, succinct or compelling way. So that’s probably the biggest misperception amongst consumers today.

Richie: [00:43:06] And when you talk about telling the story and doing it in better, more true ways. What’s that tool kit that you go for to do that? Sounds like, whether you call them spokespeople or celebrities or influencers, [that] has been one of them. But how have you viewed or assembled the tool kit of how you will retell or evolve the telling of that story?

Micky: [00:43:23] At the heart of all of the toolkit are the stories and the content. So, whether that is the stories of the men that we have chosen or the stories of how we tell the story of a product, that is at the core. You need that first. We’ve been doing a lot of work on that now and now we’re working on distribution. So, whether that’s distribution through our brand ambassadors, whether that’s distribution through our Guideshops, through catalog, through email or an increasingly vast array of digital channels, that is where we have been pushing forward over the last three or four months, is just the distribution of those stories. And, later this year, we will be working on more traditional media around out-of-home, potentially television, doing a lot in podcasts. We’ve been doing a lot of native advertising. We were just in episode two of the new season of “Queer Eye” on Netflix. We’re in the middle of this podcast partnership with TED and Adam Grant. So we’re just going out there in increasingly new channels but really leveraging stories and content of different kinds, in all of those.

Richie: [00:44:27] Right. So is it more of a shift towards brand advertising opposed to just pure, direct response or both of them working for you in tandem?

Micky: [00:44:33] Both of them working for us together, in tandem. When I think about constructing a marketing strategy, I think about what’s the base layer? What are the things that we just need to have right to get the engine going? And then I think about brand advertising as the accelerator on top. You don’t want to have the accelerator until you’ve got the engine. So that’s how I think about constructing the plan. We built the engine first. That was a lot of the work that we did last year and toward the tail-end of last year. And, going into this year, it’s about the accelerators.

Richie: [00:45:01] Gotcha. What’s been the cheapest and most expensive lesson you’ve learned at Bonobos?

Micky: [00:45:06] Ooh. The cheapest lesson learned is the power of relationships and what I mean by that is, we see time and time again the power of building a personal relationship between the ninjas and the customer or between our guides and the customer. I could bore you to tears with stories where a ninja or a guide has gone above and beyond to build a relationship and that relationship has borne fruit, not just in that customer being a loyal customer, but how that person turns into a brand ambassador and brings his ten friends and their ten friends bring ten friends. And that should seem like, “Is she that stupid? Did she only just learn that lesson there?” I mean, I’ve always believed in great customer service but I think it’s this point about going above and beyond that has been totally eye-opening and it may not have been free, but it’s been cheap. It’s been the power of us sending a guy, who’s going to a fundraiser, who’s just lost his wife, a tuxedo. It’s not cost us a lot of money, but it has reaped rewards exponentially for us.

Micky: [00:46:13] The most expensive lesson is not something that I executed in the time that I was there but, when it comes to building our guide shopping experience, we need to invest in the people, not necessarily in the fixtures and fittings. People come into our stores. They want to touch the product but, more than anything, they want that human interaction and you don’t need fancy sofas, fancy fixtures and lighting to actually do that. It can actually be very stripped back.

Richie: [00:46:41] Do you think of, with your marketer hat on, where Bonobos is going as a brand that happens to sell product, a product company that is also a brand, or a third option that I’ve not spoken?

Micky: [00:46:55] I have always believed brand is your product and product is your brand. So they are completely symbiotic. Without your product, you don’t have a brand and, if you don’t have a brand that stands for something, you won’t sell your product. I think that comes from my early days in CPG, to be honest with you. That is not a commonly held belief if you work at a Trulia, to be honest with you, who are very product-centric and brand is something else. But in CPG, your brand is your product, your product is your brand. I believe that should be true for every business. It’s certainly true for Bonobos.

Richie: [00:47:31] How big do you think this company can get? And, given that answer, what could go wrong along that journey that would get in the way or unwind a lot of the work that you’ve done to get to where it is?

Micky: [00:47:44] Well, I’m betting my career, somewhat, on the fact that we can double it over the next three years. So, without telling you how big we are today, that’s pretty aggressive growth, given the market is only growing 2 or 3% a year, in menswear.

Richie: [00:47:58] I would assume it is a multi-hundred-million-dollar business.

Micky: [00:48:00] Yes. So we think it can be big.

Richie: [00:48:02] Yes.

Micky: [00:48:03] What could get in our way? Most likely ourselves. What I mean by that is we need to be extremely focused on what we need to do and we need to say no to a ton of things. I think saying yes to everything is, probably, the death knell of any organization. It’s driven by shiny-new-toy syndrome. It’s driven by just a multitude of opportunities. So, saying no, being really focused, making sure our team is really focused and inspired by small sets of things that we just knock out of the park. And we also need to make sure that we’re focused, not just on today, but three years from now and five years from now and ten years from now. We can’t, five years from now, wake up and say, “We’re not growing the way we want to” and have an impact in that year. We need to start thinking about that now. So we need to be conscious of the horizon while still, say, being focused and saying no.

Richie: [00:49:00] And then, as for that horizon, what is on it in the next, I would say, six to 12 months? What are you most excited about there?

Micky: [00:49:06] I’m excited about continuing to tell the brand story. That won’t surprise you. I am a CMO, at heart. I’m excited about continuing to expand the footprint of our Guideshops, taking that to new markets. I’m excited about continuing to innovate on the product. Not going to tell you too many secrets about new categories that are coming out but we do have some really exciting categories that deliver against the fit value proposition, happening later this year. So there’s probably no one thing that overrides everything else in terms of what I’m excited about but I’m just excited, personally, to build a brand that matters to men. When you think about the landscape of brands out there, there are very few, and I would challenge you to find one in apparel, that speaks just to men and is really meaningful to them.

Richie: [00:49:55] And then, what’s been the surprising part about the Walmart acquisition partnership, as you sit there today and also look forward?

Micky: [00:50:03] I’ve been through acquisitions before where you haven’t been left to your own devices and we have been entirely left to our own devices. And we were told that but you don’t know it until you see it.

Richie: [00:50:14] Right.

Micky: [00:50:15] And I see it.

Richie: [00:50:16] Cool. Thank you so much for talking.

Micky: [00:50:18] Pleasure. Thank you.

Richie: [00:50:27] Thanks for listening to the Loose Threads Podcast. You can read full transcripts of the podcast and join the newsletter at LooseThreads.com. Feel free to leave review on iTunes—we always appreciate it. This episode was edited by George Drake Jr. My thanks to him for his time on it. We have a great roster of upcoming guests including Brian Watkins of Rep the Squad, Sarah Nakintu of Kintu and Brian Schechter of SelfMade. Thanks for listening and talk to you soon.