As the company which innovated the hyper-customer focused online experience, Bonobos more or less redefined what being a great brand means in today’s world. The company has grown into a legitimate player in the bare-knuckled world of clothing retail, so much so that in 2012, Nordstrom led a $16.4 million investment round in the company. As part of the deal, Nordstrom also features the Bonobos line in select stores and online.
In addition to introducing the term “ninjas” into the retail/service lexicon, Bonobos also innovated where it really matters: the product. Back in 2007, the new company re-imagined khaki pants, the pedestrian staple of workday wear, and in doing so created a market for classics repositioned as envelope-pushing designs.
With a signature curved waistband and trimmed seat, they carved out a niche as menswear innovators and fit experts. In doing so, they earned love and praise from Wall Street rainmakers to suburban office dwellers alike. The quirky pocket linings and near obsessive customer support helped build Bonobos into a company that moved quickly through cult status and onto full-fledged retail maturity.
OTC just road tested a pair of Slim Straight Washed Khakis and, without overdoing it, we can say that they are some of the most comfortable pants we have ever tested.
As the company matured, so to did its customers, who in turn demanded more from Bonobos. They were moving up the corporate food chain and looking for new fits, more wardrobe options, and finer fabrics. Instead of focusing solely on expanding its own label, Bonobos also built strategic alliances with up-and-coming and “heritage” accessory labels. These partnerships allowed for the Bonobos lifestyle concept to grow and meet customer demands for broader product offerings, while still holding to the the company’s ironic but sharp brand identity. The message was consistent, but they didn’t have to do it all themselves.
BACK TO BRICKS?
While still website-based, this new retail approach to defining a growing brand (one friend described it as, “sort of like a little Amazon or a cool department store, but totally ‘Bonobos’”) allowed the company to expand product offerings, capture ancillary consumer purchases, and broaden their customers’ ninja-love experience, all of which encouraged them to keep their their wallets at the ready. Bonobos also saw the writing on the cyber wall and recognized the natural desire of consumers to touch and try on stuff. This is of particular importance when moving from commoditized products like khakis to higher-end wares like BillyKirk leather bags.
Online shopping is no longer new or untested. For many of Bonobos’ educated, digital, hipsterish, and quality-focused consumers, online shopping is what they know. However, as the idea of shopkeeping and curation became the bywords of these consumers, the need to touch, examine, and analyze one’s purchase grew in importance.
Ralph Lauren is a great example of a brand already prepositioned for this market shift. Its online and physical worlds meld seamlessly; walk through a store and experience the RL world and then shop from home, confident that you know the brand and quality first hand.
To create a similar customer experience for the Bonobos consumer, the company developed another break-the-mold approach to retail. The Bonobos Guideshop is an e-commerce showroom concept that blends brick and mortar with online ordering and fulfillment. More showroom than retail store, you cannot actually walk out of a Guideshop with a purchase, as it maintains no stock.
Rather, consider the storefront a real-world version of browsing a website, curated for your regional/consumer market demographic. Every Guideshop carries core and seasonally promoted product in myriad sizes so that during your appointment – yes, you need an appointment – you can be properly sized and fitted. The shop doesn’t stock everything Bonobos carries, but it does carry most of what people in the area tend to purchase.
And yes, the staff are seriously “ninja.” They want to show and tell you everything, set up your profile, get you a beer, and answer your questions so that when you do pull the trigger on those slim fit classic khakis or new suiting, be it on the store’s Mac or back at home, you will have fallen in love with Bonobos. And, since you have tried on the clothing, fiddled with the leather goods, walked in the shoes, and examined the Cone Denim jeans, there is a good chance that purchase will be made – and shipped to your door in about two days.
Along with the newly opened Guideshop in tony Bethesda, Maryland, the company’s eighth, one of the original locations is housed in DC’s shopping hub of Georgetown. As with all Guideshops, the experience is tailored casual, like a really nice living room and the walk-in closet of your dreams blended together. It’s a refreshingly simple yet compelling example of how to effectively translate a corporate zeitgeist into an appealing physical street-level presence.
As you will have guessed by now, Bonobos has moved well beyond the world of khakis. They recently released a new collection of slim fit suiting that we really liked here at OTC. The Bonobos obsession with modernizing and refining fit, especially in trousers, is apparent in the comfortable way that the suit’s pants sit on your hips. It’s the type of suit that people who don’t wear suits, would probably wear.
In addition, a host of cool yet grown-up product lines have been introduced for Fall 2013, including sweaters, shirts, killer cords, and those aforementioned jeans. This last item is surely noteworthy as Bonobos more or less built its identity on being an anti-jeans company. Jeans with Bonobos’ focus on fit and the reducing of fabric bulk, rendered in outstanding denim from Cone Mills pretty much says it all. Still not sure? Head over to a Guideshop and just try them on for yourself.
Hitting the Links
Lastly, the company also moved into executive sportswear, as it were. The Maide brand seeks to capture Bonobos’ iconoclastic nature within the construct of the most corporate of all past times – golf. And, you know what? They do a pretty good job of it. The designers looked to some of golf’s greatest players for inspiration and then built on that starting point, crafting a young, contemporary collection.
Maide pieces have a certain Jack Nicklaus-meets-surfer/tech exec guy feel that somehow balances out in the end. We would wear Maide on the links or for dinner at the 19th Hole. For those curious, “maide” is Gaelic for golf club or stick. On the business side of the equation, Maide is also sold on a wholesale basis to golf clubs and resorts worldwide.
And that little nugget nicely embodies the unique nature of Bonobos as a brand and a company. Because, while it projects, and indeed lives, for its irreverent and off-centered brand identity, it is still a business run by passionate and very smart folks. When it comes down to brass tacks, at the end of the day if you’re not in business, you message doesn’t much matter.