#116. Huckberry is an outdoor apparel brand made for men in the city who love spending time in nature. We talk with co-founder Richard Greiner about evolving from a digital retailer stocking once-unknown brands to one selling a growing roster of its own creations. The Loose Threads Podcast features in-depth discussions with leaders across the rapidly changing consumer economy.

Richard: [00:00:01] Curation has been key, so making sure that we have selection, but not too much. Most guys, if you don’t have a choice as a guy you’re going to freak out, be like, no no no, I need to have a choice. But you don’t want too many choices. 

Richie: [00:00:15] That’s Richard Greiner, co-founder of Huckberry, an outdoor apparel retailer catering to urban-dwelling men. With a background in finance, Richard and his co-founder Andy Forch quit their jobs in 2010 to create a middle-ground retail experience, selling approachable and convertible clothes and accessories for guys who need products that were as appropriate for work as they were for a trip outside the city. 

Richie: [00:00:34] I’m Richie Siegel, the founder of Loose Threads, which analyzes and advises next-generation consumer companies, and FaceLift by Loose Threads, a retail incubator and accelerator for leading brands and retailers. For our latest analysis and insights check out our free weekly newsletter at LooseThreads.com. 

Richie: [00:00:53] I started the Loose Threads Podcast to spark engaging discussions with leaders across the consumer economy. That’s why I was excited to talk with Richard about how Huckberry has evolved from a digital retailer stocking once-unknown brands to one selling a growing roster of its own creations. Here is how it all began. 

Richard: [00:01:13] In 2010, 2011, there was sort of an explosion of new brands out there. So you had the Kickstarters of the world, went through the Great Recession so lots of people were laid off, and just, there’s a great entrepreneurial vibe going on. So there was just an explosion of new brands out there. And so one of our big things was really around like, hey there’s so much out there, you need somebody to sort of curate this for you. And so that was kind of like our M.O. at first; let’s go out and find new cool emerging brands, and let’s sort through all of them and weed out the ones that don’t really have a great product and a great story. And then, let’s bring them to life through storytelling and point of view and sell the story of the brand and what makes them special. 

Richard: [00:01:52] So for us, at first it was all about curating, finding new discoveries, and really bringing those to life. So I think people, our initial customers, and still to this day, the sense of discovery and inspiration come at you. For us, our leading edge is our email newsletter, and that comes Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, and it’s always got a dose of inspiration in it. So it’s something that people look forward to at eight or two in the morning when you’re on your train ride into work. “Oh, what am I gonna do? I’m gonna look at the Huckberry email ’cause there’s something interesting and inspiring and new in there.” That really resonates with our customers. 

Richard: [00:02:27] So we started off curating third-party brands, and most of those creations were shorter term. We’d have the product for a couple of weeks, when we’d sell out we’d move on to something else. As we learned our customer and, I think, understood what they liked and what they didn’t like, and got their feedback, and sort of built the trust with our customers, and that we were great curators, we had good POV, they started asking for us to just stock permanently some of our key items in the different categories that we operate in. And this is, you know, probably four or five years ago, [it] went from just being, “Hey, we get some inventory, when it sells out we move on,” to then starting to sort of curate a best-in-class selection of the different categories that we sell, that we service for our customers. 

Richie: [00:03:11] So early on, you have young brands, many of them that are trying to just get new customers, build their business. To be a good retailer and to be valuable to them, you have to have customers too. How did you guys go about that chicken/egg piece, and what are the marketing or early on acquisition piece look like, to the point where you go, “Oh yeah, we actually have customers and we can buy your product and it’ll sell to them,” versus just buying product and holding it?

Richard: [00:03:35] Well we had a bunch of brands lined up, and they’re all like, “Oh, once you get going we’ll jump on board.” But it was all about that first want to take a chance on you. I remember to this day, this brand’s called FlyLow, a really cool back-country ski gear company. I remember being on the phone with Dan Abrams there, and we’re like, “Dan, we’ve got this incredible write up about your brand. We have original content, imagery and copy-writing and wrote a whole blog post about him and that kind of thing.” And he’s like, “You know what, fuck it, let’s go.” And that was basically the beginning of Huckberry. And I think at that point in time we had a couple thousand subscribers to our newsletter. 

Richard: [00:04:09] At first it was mostly word of mouth and, you know, the classic sort of things, but we also did such a great job of telling the brand stories that they would share with their audiences. And so it was this sort of like quid pro quo kind of thing where—

Richie: [00:04:20] Almost like a semi, kind of media-like use. 

Richard: [00:04:21] Yeah. Oftentimes brands would say, “Wow, you guys positioned us and storytelled better than we do our own brand.” And so when you start building that kind of reputation with — we call them our “brand partners,” but sort of, “vendors,” whatever — you then have folks that are trying to work with you. And then we can afford to be pickier and hold out for the best products and the best brands. But it was also like growing up in this great network, though. Like, we did a great job of telling their story, they shared with their customers. 

Richard: [00:04:48] Then we found some early partners, we worked with Outside Magazine really early, and they basically were just starting to figure out the digital world, and we were positioned well for that. And so, if you signed up for a subscription online through their service, on the order splash page was a, “Check out Huckberry, you get ten dollars off your first order.” And that was really the first partner that legitimized us. Oddly enough, it wasn’t a ton of traffic, and it wasn’t like a huge growth moment for us, but it was more so reputational and we had this partner. So we were able to take that partnership and then expand to a bunch of others, and now we’re partners with all the O.G. media folks; so, Condé, Hearst, GQ, Esquire, and Outside Magazine, Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, the newer guys, so, Gear Patrol and folks like that. 

Richard: [00:05:39] So it was really just getting a couple of partners and building on that in the initial days. And because we were bootstrapped, we were not out there spending money on performance marketing, it was really around like, “Hey, let’s go establish relationships with other media players who are speaking to the similar customer that we are, and let’s form a real partnership.” Ultimately it’s largely an affiliate structure, but I think affiliate’s got a like, negative connotation. It’s getting better now, more recently, as everyone’s running into commerce, right? But it was really like a white glove affiliate partnership that our different partners loved, because we supplied them with regular content and was always new and interesting and inspiring. 

Richard: [00:06:17] We would ask that they would do it in a really authentic way. So it wasn’t like the classic like, “Oh hey, 20% off this product at Huckberry.” It was more like, “Holy cow, this is this incredible new bag brand that Huckabee is carrying. You guys should check it out. We love it for these reasons, we field tested it.” So it was more of like a real authentic relationship with these partners, and so the quality of the customers that we got from those partnerships is incredible. Great repeat rates, great lifetime value, and so, like I was saying, we didn’t have any money to pour into Facebook and Instagram, so we built a lot of these really strong organic channels and partnerships. 

Richie: [00:06:54] So you talked about the first kind of business shift was going from a scarcity model to more of a replenishment model. What were the key pieces that led you to make that switch?

Richard: [00:07:04] Inventory planners. When you’re playing the scarcity model there’s not much risk. Putting my business cap on now, it’s like, you have a really limited number of units that you bought and you feel pretty confident that you can move through it, and there is like this scarcity. But then your customers are sort of like, “Well, I wasn’t in the market for those pair of shoes two months ago, but I am now, and those are really cool. I want to buy those now.” So we had to really change our core competencies when it was before like, pure discovery and storytelling. We now, it’s sort of like, build more of our traditional retail muscles. So inventory planning and sort of understanding trends and, if we are going to sort of stock a category, how do we go about that? And you know, for us, curation has been key, so making sure that we have selection, but not too much. 

Richard: [00:07:55] And I think this is particularly important with guys. Most guys, if you don’t have a choice as a guy you’re going to freak out, be like, no no no. I need to have a choice, but you don’t want too many choices. And so, honing in on how to curate for our guy, and guys just broadly was sort of something that we just had to test and try. And like, do they want six colorways, or do they want three or do they want two? And so it was really a lot of trial and error, and taking feedback from our customer and trying to really listen to what they are telling us. 

Richard: [00:08:25] You know, one of the things we always say is like, customers vote with their wallet. You can think you know what your customer wants but really they’re gonna vote with their wallet. And so, trying to balance choice with not too much, so how tightly curated, and then really just listening to your customer. 

Richie: [00:08:42] So were they not selling out, or you had people writing in saying like, “Hey, I really wanted that, it’s gone now. What the heck?”

Richard: [00:08:48] Yeah. Mostly people writing in and saying, “Hey, I wanted those boots that you had two months ago, where are they?” What would happen [is] like, we would support our brand partners, we’d send them their website or send them where they could buy it. But we realized we were leaving so much money on the table, and even more importantly, we were doing our customers a disservice. We had built this trust and this rapport with our customers, and for them to be disappointed that we didn’t have the product that they thought that we would and they expected us to was really a customer experience issue. 

Richard: [00:09:17] And I think that’s a big part of it, is like, ultimately you have to be maniacally focused on your customer and their expectations of you and what value, ultimately, are we providing? And we realized we’re not just providing discovery and newness anymore, we’re providing more of a lifestyle, and that needs to be available when you want it. And so that was a big shift mentally, and we had to really build a new set of muscles for that kind of thing. 

Richie: [00:09:41] In terms of the names of these brands, if you rattled off ten of them, would most people have heard of one? Or were they generally great products, but really under the radar, small scale, that needed a bigger light. 

Richard: [00:09:52] Three or four years ago you would have heard of one out of ten, one out of 20. Now as these brands sort of have gotten picked up in larger retail, and as the rise of the Shopify ecommerce stage has come, now these are more so household names. It was funny. Like, one of our pitches to our prospective brand partners, if it was somebody that was really exclusive or did not partner with anybody, we were like, look, Huckberry’s grown to become this destination for discovery and newness. At one point we took a look at our email list and you have buyers from every single major department store, every single retailer you can imagine that are following us like, what’s Huckberry featuring next. And what’s this new brand that we’ve never heard of that’s going to be tomorrow’s next big thing? We’d have writers at all these different magazines and everything. It sort of became this place where people wanted to find the new cool thing they would follow Huckberry. 

Richard: [00:10:47] I think was good and bad for ourselves. When we’d find these new brands three, four or five years ago, it would be exclusive to us, ’cause they basically would have a small little website or shop somewhere, but you couldn’t buy them anywhere. You didn’t even know who they were before we sort of featured them and told their story. So like, Topo Designs is a good example, or Raen Optics, or a Taylor Stitch. These are brands that most people had no clue of, and they probably sold on their own website and that was it. So when we started selling their products it was great. 

Richard: [00:11:16] There was basically no other competition. You could only get it at Huckberry or some little obscure site or shop. And then over time as the big retailers, and even the Amazons and Walmarts of the world start picking up these new brands and finding ways to work with them, we’re sort of in a position where these great semi-exclusive partnerships are no longer that case. And so that was like one of our big a-ha moments of like, okay, like, we’re doing a great job of bringing these brands to life and telling the story, but it’s also to our own detriment. So that was kind of a big moment for us as we started to see the writing on the wall as far as the way that the world was moving towards, and sort of the landscape that ecommerce and retail was playing out. 

Richie: [00:11:59] So what was the next kind of big inflection point in the business from a strategy approach perspective, going from scarcity now to having more replenishment to what? 

Richard: [00:12:08] It’s sort of twofold. I think two, two and a half years ago, we sort of took a step back and saw the writing on the wall, the way the world was unfolding and so, just to kind of give it a little color, it’s the big guys, the Amazons the Walmarts eating everything they can. Mostly commodity-type stuff, but they’re moving heavily into even the brands that a general retailer would carry, and much more heavy into footwear and apparel. And then really, you have [what] we call “the Shopify effect,” where anyone can start an ecommerce site overnight. Within a couple of weeks of phone calls you could probably have it stocked with some of the better cooler brands out there. So you start to see competition from up top and then from the bottom, the Shopify effect. 

Richard: [00:12:46] And so for us, we’re obsessed with creating a sustainable long lasting business, and again that’s back to our bootstrapped roots. We want to do this the right way, grow organically. We want to be here in 50 years. So we were thinking about what our long term strategy is, and our view is that to have a sustainable business strategy you have to have exclusive products that you can’t buy anywhere else. And that is more or less table stakes. You know, unless you wanna compete against the Amazons of the world and put all your investments into transportation and that sort of thing you’re just not going to win unless you have exclusive product. 

Richard: [00:13:20] So for us, exclusive products has become, from the product side of things like, the North Star, if you will. And you can go about exclusive products in a couple of different ways. You can work with your brand partners and partner with them to either create exclusive product for Huckberry, or take entire lines off of their wholesale sheets, and work with your relationships to have exclusive products. The other way of doing exclusive product is to make it yourself. You know, we thought it was important to do both, really. We have all these great incredible relationships with some of the best brands out there that do something really, really well. And so we’re leveraging that brand’s expertise, what they do well, what they’re known for, we combine that with our storytelling, our point of view, with all the customer feedback and data we have and we can create an incredible product that is more or less customized for the Huckberry customer. 

Richie: [00:14:10] So there are two approaches, right? One you said is making your own product, one is collaboration with existing partners. What was the reception from the partners when you started to kind of bring this up? 

Richard: [00:14:20] As this strategy kind of evolved I think we had reached a scale where exclusive product was more feasible. Very often there’s, you know, minimum order quantities of whatever that would make it tough for the brand to do an exclusive, and then for us to take that risk. So there’s a little bit of like, you know, we were at an appropriate size where a certain MOQ is no problem, we can handle that. And so there’s that. But then, I think there was a lot of interest in exclusive and everyone wants to collab or do this or that. But what you do need though is you need to have a POV to make it special. Like, just slapping your label on something, that’s not exclusive. That doesn’t really do it for us, or it doesn’t really do it for our customer. It does to a certain degree, but really you need to have a special angle or like, what’s our POV. 

Richard: [00:15:03] So I think that was one of the things where it’s like, you’re doing this dance. Like, yeah let’s do an exclusive but what are we going to do? And so it took us a little while, trial and error, and sort of shifting our mindset a little bit and not just seeing the wholesale sheet and being like, “Okay, this is what we can buy.” It’s more so like, what [does] our customer want, what’s the customer telling us they want, where are trends going, where are their holes. And using all that information and working with the brand much closer to then take that and create something new. 

Richard: [00:15:29] And then also are working to have our creative teams get in front of products more. And that’s one thing that we’ve really found has been great, the more our copywriters and photographers and product marketers can be involved in that product creation process, the better. That was kind of the other shift in mind of like, okay, cool. Like, the people who are out there on our catalog photo shoots. So, out there adventuring and ultimately positioning the product and photographing the product, getting them involved was a huge part in creating an exclusive product that actually matters and is exclusive. That’s something that our customers actually want. 

Richie: [00:16:07] When did you start to know that that part of it was working? Is there an example of what that looked like that gave you the confidence of, oh, this actually has legs? 

Richard: [00:16:17] Well, any important priority, you need to start tracking it and measuring it. So the first step was really just like, putting an exclusive goal for every quarter and every year. Making that a visible metric and goal that we’re tracking towards, that’s the first step. Like, make it measurable and start tracking it. You know, we would start to see some successes where—one example, we’re working with Peak Designs. They make bags and different camera and photographic accessories. And we did an exclusive bag with them, and when we launched the exclusive it was also alongside two of their best sellers, and our exclusive outsold all of them by far. And so—

Richie: [00:16:58] Why do you think that was? 

Richard: [00:16:59] We were able to take all of our customer feedback, and like, we know the colors our customers like, we know the features they like, we know what they don’t like, we know what their complaints into our customer experience teams are. We know what their return rates are, what their product reviews are. So, really taking a holistic view. 

Richard: [00:17:15] There’s tons of data at our fingertips. There’s tons of anecdotal feedback, like phone calls to customer experience and chats and stuff like that. And then what our buying team is looking for that they can’t find. And putting all those pieces together [is] effectively making products for our customer. So taking the Peak Designs bag which is made for the general customer and customizing that for our customer. And with all of our exclusive products, our expectation is that it’s a better product for the Huckberry customer. And if it’s not, we probably shouldn’t be doing it. And that’s not in the best interests of the customer and then, therefore, not in the best interest of the business. So focusing on, it’s gotta be a great product, and it’s gotta be something that’s tailored to the Huckberry customer. 

Richie: [00:17:58] So then, with the house brands, how did you start to figure out where those should play from an assortment perspective as to not alienate/ rip off your other brands, but also provide you the benefits that such a thing does?

Richard: [00:18:11] Yeah. So back in October of 2015 one of our biggest brand partners, Flint and Tinder, we had the opportunity to acquire them and sort of bring them into the Huckberry family. And so for us we thought this was a great very natural way for it taking our first step into making our own product. This was a brand that we had been promoting and telling the story of for three years and our customers loved it. And so, when we had the opportunity to bring it in-house, we were super excited and thought it was just a natural way of working on exclusive product by making it ourselves. And so with Flint and Tinder, we acquired the brand and a lot of the assets and IP, but what we did then was really take a step back and make sure that we retooled the brand and the products from the ground up based on all of our information. So again, making Flint and Tinder with our customer in mind and not just the broad general customer. 

Richard: [00:19:06] The other thing we loved about Flint and Tinder is it had a very distinct reason for being, it really stood for something. And so, for us to have a house brand it’s got to be able to stand on its own, it’s gotta have a reason for being, and it has its own voice and its own brand ethos, and so it’s really speaking to a segment or a core group of our guys. You know, we try and stay pretty narrow and focused, and it’s core, it’s basics, and accessible price points and just a great, comfortable clothing. 

Richie: [00:19:36] Is the next inflection point starting to open up retail offline?

Richard: [00:19:40] Yeah. So we’ve always wanted to bring Huckberry to life in person, and I think our bootstrapped roots have been very focused on staying focused. And so for us it’s like, until we have a great ecommerce product, until we have a great newsletter, until we have a great print catalog, we didn’t want to move into other areas. But we feel like, with the foundation strong now, we want to really bridge the online and offline worlds. And we just opened our first store. It started as a pop-up and it opened on Bleecker Street in [the] West Village. [It] did really well, great reception. So we rolled the lease and extended it and now it’s a full-time brick and mortar. And, you know, it’s a whole new muscle to build now. So now we’re learning retail and and how to operate, and so it’s a fun new challenge. 

Richard: [00:20:25] But what’s really amazing is the ability to interact with your customer. It’s incredible to be able to talk to your customer, around what they like, what they don’t like and really learn who they are, as well as having the store operate, as we call it, base camp for inspiration. So it’s a place for a community. We do two or three events every week and we want the store to be very welcoming and approachable. If you’re buying, great, and if you’re not buying, great. And so yeah, this is our first step in that world, and the hard and the soft numbers and everything are great, so we’re excited to continue expanding in retail and bridging Huckberry online and offline. 

Richie: [00:21:03] From like a merchandise kind of perspective, you know, you have an example, like Revolve in a very different category but somewhat similar business model, where they use their house brands to lead with marketing, they get you in ’cause they have more margin to acquire a customer on the first order and then move you over to the third-party assortment. As you think about the stores now, are you leading with your house brands? Or like, what does that mix look like in terms of what someone encounters there versus what they get online? ‘Cause obviously you have limited space, you don’t have unlimited space anymore. 

Richard: [00:21:35] Honestly we try and have a good representation of what our assortment is overall, so it’s certainly a mix. We want to make sure that for a first time visitor walking into the store, they’re able to see some of the best-sellers and the classic pieces, but it’s also really important that we have the new and the exclusive in there as well. I think that’s kind of the balance that we’re really playing with, is like, for the existing customers that poke their head in every couple of weeks we want to make sure there’s something new and exciting in there for them, and really time that to our big marketing campaigns, and that can be around like, launching an exclusive product, or that could be around a new house brand, or that could be around our summer catalog and sort of bring some of those stories to life. But something that’s new and exclusive in the store on a regular basis, but then also you have to have like, hey, these are our best-sellers for the new customer, and this is a great taste for what Huckberry is all about, and come to Huckberry.com for the full-fledged. 

Richie: [00:22:31] How important is it for customers to know whether they’re buying from a third party brand, a house brand or an exclusive?

Richard: [00:22:38] We’re transparent with our customers when it is a house brand. I think ultimately, like I was saying before, making sure that these house brands have their own identity and that what they stand for is very clear, and [that] they have their own brand compass is super important for us. Ultimately, we want our customers to be happy and for us, like, we’re laser focused on like, “Hey, are our customers coming back to buy a second time?” And there’s lots of reasons why they might be coming back to buy a second time, but if you find a brand that you love and we can consistently fulfill that need, that’s a great reason to come back. So for us it’s just really staying focused on the customer and how they’re voting with their wallet and what they’re telling us. 

Richard: [00:23:14] So again, if we launch a new house brand, what does that do at our NPS? If we launch a new exclusive product what does that do to our NPS and the repeat rates and the lifetime value of our customers? But we’re customer-obsessed, and so, everything that we’re doing we’re doing it in the lens of like, this is in the best interests of our customer. And if it’s not, then we shouldn’t do it, even if it is our house brands. Whatever it is, we always are acting in the best interest of our customers and trying to provide them the best product possible. 

Richie [00:23:40] Right. It sounds like at the end of the day, you want them to know it came from you, whether it came from you, from an exclusive or a house, it seems to matter less, if I’m hearing correctly. 

Richard: [00:23:49] Yeah. Well, you know, one thing that’s kind of funny is like, even three or four years ago, I see a friend or meet a random person that had a product that they bought on Huckberry, and they’d be like, “Oh, look at my new Huckberry watch,” and it could have been a Timex or whatever, right? That was a pretty interesting thing, that our customers were really looking at us and really identifying that, oh, hey this is something that Huckberry recommended, and I think that that was kind of an interesting observation that was pretty consistent. 

Richie: [00:24:15] In terms of the catalog, how is the catalog’s role evolved as you’ve gone on this larger kind of business evolution as well? 

Richard: [00:24:24] So catalog for us has always been something that we lead with inspiration and storytelling. And so, for us I think, really, it’s always around like what’s the angle of this catalog? And we want it to be something where it’s going to inspire our customer. We hear all the time like, “Oh, last fall you guys did a catalog to Cornwall England. I just went to Cornwall because of that catalog.” And so that’s ultimately our aim, is continuing to inspire our customers. 

Richard: [00:24:51] From a product perspective, I think we break a lot of the rules of a traditional catalog company, and that’s something that I think we got yelled at [for] a lot at first. Like, “You need more product density, and there’s not enough of this category and that category.” And I would say it’s always been a little bit more brand marketing than most people approach it from, and I think catalogs had a huge resurgence and, you know, I like to think we were on sort of the forefront of that, particularly from the storytelling side of things, and we’re not as worried about the old-school metrics from the catalog. 

Richie: [00:25:22] In terms of where the business is going in the next few years, how small do you think the third party piece will get and, at the same time, how big do you think the first party piece will get? Like in three years, are you going to be a majority third party retailer still, or are you going to be a majority kind of monobrand? 

Richard: [00:25:40] The third party side of things always has been and I think always will be the driving force of Huckberry, and what makes us special and what makes us cool. We do want exclusive product to become the majority of the business over time, and that really is mixed between third party exclusive and house brands. So that’s really the key is exclusivity. And, frankly, it’s been really fun and refreshing to take our relationship with our third party brands to the next level. And we’re designing things for spring of next year with a couple dozen brands right now, right? And it’s been a really cool part of our evolution and we really believe rising tide lifts all boats, and so continuing to work with brand partners and new brand partners and creating this great ecosystem, I think, is really what will be our long term success. 

Richie: [00:26:28] What could get in the way of that? Or what are the risks of moving to a majority-exclusive model? 

Richard: [00:26:35] Exclusives are a lot more work than just buying something off the line. So you need more resources and you need more expertise to really do it. So it complicates the business quite a bit. The days of going to a trade show and—we never really did this too much—but like, going to a trade show, I like that, that and that, and just buying that, are sort of gone, right? The funny thing for us at a trade show, if we discovered a new brand at a trade show we weren’t doing our job, ’cause then, at that point, everyone else had seen it. For us, trade shows are about building relationships and working on exclusives and that kind of thing. But the complexity of the business skyrockets as you start doing exclusives. And the risk, too. You’ve gotta be smart on the inventory management side of things and that kind of thing. 

Richie: [00:27:20] If you play this model out—I guess when I say that I mean, like, if you play where the ecosystem is going broadly even outside of the company, ’cause you can see third party retailers across the space, whether it’s Macy’s or Evolve or Stitch Fix or so forth, all going towards having exclusive products, which means somewhat commonly themed brands with, effectively, very fragmented choice and things specific to each. What is the inflection point on that, in terms of, would you ever get to a place where you don’t consider yourself a third party retailer anymore? Like you’d consider yourself more of, I don’t know, a brand, or I don’t know what label you put on it, but it seems—and feel for disagree—that the chances that reverses seem to be almost zero. That you go back to a world where there’s product freely distributed on multiple places, where those places themselves are good businesses and the brands themselves are doing good business. 

Richard: [00:28:10] I think it’s very difficult, if not impossible—outside of being a large, large conglomerate, an Amazon/Wal-Mart-type thing—to be here in ten years if you’re only a third party ecommerce retailer. You’re not gonna be around. The distribution and the underlying economics just are not there for that to be a sustainable business model. There are some specialty niche players where there’s some opportunity, but once you get to a certain scale, that’s gonna get eaten up. So I think you can be really, really specialized, but even those over time will probably still be eaten. Your exclusive properties, certainly, I think it’s almost table stakes to being around in the long term, but for us we have more creatives in a broad sense of the term than we do in any other position in the company. It’s really incredible how much we invest on that side of things. And so, people don’t want to be sold to anymore, people want to feel like they’re part of something, they want to be inspired, they want to learn and sort of grow. I think that is really a secret sauce that is also very hard to replicate. And so, tack exclusive products on with that POV and that lifestyle, and I think that’s really a huge key to success in the long term. 

Richie: [00:29:24] If you were to start the business again today what would you do differently from a starting point, if anything? ‘Cause you also mentioned earlier that you need scale to do the exclusive product piece, so it sounds like you couldn’t actually start with that today, necessarily. 

Richard: [00:29:37] It would be tough to start an ecommerce site now. If you had a bunch of money and sort of went that route, and go raise a huge round, there’s probably a chance there, but I think it’s very tough. 

Richie: [00:29:49] So maybe you wouldn’t start it today. 

Richard: [00:29:50] Probably not, no. I think there’s a certain time and place. We absolutely are very fortunate and lucky to have gone after this when we did. Some of the things now that are beautiful, the Shopifies of the world, and our site is basically 100% custom, and that’s a huge pain in the ass. And so there’s things around now that just make life so easy, it just lowers the moat, it makes the moat an inch wide when it’s so easy to do something. So you see success of the Goops of the world, and how they came in where—Glossy, same sort of thing, where you come in more from a curator, the tastemakers side and the content side first and then you can establish the commerce side of the business. I really do think like, if you are to get into commerce, that’s how it has to be done now. And you sort of build an audience and you learn about them and you provide them value, and ultimately you build that trust that allows you to sell product to them. 

Richard: [00:30:43] And we started that in conjunction with selling products from day one. We were always more content than we were product. For us that’s in our roots, that’s in our DNA. And right now, in the big landscape, you’re seeing all these media companies encroaching on commerce, and you’re seeing all the commerce companies becoming media companies and this big convalescence of everything. 

Richie: [00:31:06] What’s been the cheapest the most expensive lesson you’ve learned building the business, but specifically from having gone through that journey. 

Richard: [00:31:14] Yeah. So I think one of the more expensive lessons we learned was around just being maniacal about our customer, and that we’re always one, trying to target our really core customer and ultimately servicing them. We had a big campaign a couple of years ago selling beer growlers, and we were selling these things like hotcakes, so a huge part of our marketing budget went into selling these growlers. And what we realized was that we weren’t targeting our core customer. It was very much so a gift purchase, it was a lot of sort of women shoppers, where we don’t have the assortment to service them as customers, or just like a random gift purchase. And so we acquired a ton of customers and put a lot of our marketing budget towards this campaign, but it wasn’t our customer. And so we had a lot of 1x customers from this. And so, you know, for us we don’t have a giant marketing budget, and so, what we put our money behind we want to make sure that it’s really getting our core customer and that it’s something that’s gonna ultimately build that group of people. So that was a pretty frustrating, sort of expensive lesson. 

Richard: [00:32:17] The cheapest lesson I would say is the complexity of the business is skyrocketing. We’ve invested heavily on the people and flourishing side of the business. And as you have more functions and more teams, the interaction between those teams gets incredibly important, the processes that you have set up and the systems are incredibly important. So we brought in some great people-people, and it’s been a huge game changer for us, to have people that are just dedicated to making sure that teams are working together, that processes are working, and that ultimately the machine is well greased. And for the cheap price of a couple of people it’s been an incredible impact. And we’re just sort of getting to that stage of the business where we have to really make sure that we are thinking about it as this living breathing organism and investing in that. 

Richie: [00:33:05] Can the company get too big? And how do you think it out from a scale perspective, what that curve looks like and should be?

Richard: [00:33:15] Ultimately we’re going to let our customers speak for us and how big we can get. If we’re not providing unique value to our customers then I think we are too big, or we’ve lost our differentiator. Where Huckberry is in our evolution, I think we’re in the first inning or two of what we can do. There’s a huge group of guys out there that were not talking to us or don’t know about us. And so I think we have a long ways to go, but ultimately if we’re not providing value, distinct value for our customer then we’ve probably gotten too big and too broad. 

Richie: [00:33:44] Last question, where is the name from it how much was the domain? 

Richard: [00:33:47] Yeah, so the name was inspired from, you know, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, and that sense of adventure and that spirit, and Huckberry.com was available for $7.99 at GoDaddy. 

Richie: [00:33:58] That’s pretty good. 

Richard: [00:33:59] So it was one of those fortuitous kind of things, and taking inspiration from, you know, a great American novelist and sense of adventure and then the bootstrap roots, and $7.99. 

Richie: [00:34:09] So you just dropped the L. 

Richard: [00:34:10] Dropped the L-E. 

Richie: [00:34:11] I’m sure Huckleberry would have been a lot more. 

Richard: [00:34:13] Oh yeah. Oh yeah. 

Richie: [00:34:14] Awesome. Thanks so much for talking. 

Richard: [00:34:16] Yeah. Definitely. 

Richie: [00:34:21] 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, and thanks to George Drake, Jr. for editing this episode. We have a great roster of upcoming guests and we hope you tune in next week.