Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Future of Big and Tall: The Little Guy!

I was always tall for my age; way taller than anyone else my age and because of this I have always been interested in the big and tall apparel market.  So, in 1990, when an opportunity presented its self to create a label I made sure that we also developed a line of big and tall tee shirts under the label, "Turner Originals."  Having now achieved 20 years of market success its time to focus on the next 20 years and there is no place better to seek out opportunities than to explore the bigger market;  the key to success in niche markets is to adapt a big trend to the specifics of your niche market.

Now, the plus sized apparel market as of 2008, represented approximately $29 billion dollars in annual sales and is projected to grow to over $42 billion dollars in annual sales by 2012; and overall, plus sizes represents the fastest growing niche within the apparel industry.  There are three major retailers in the big and tall menswear market, JC Penney, King Size, and Casual Male, and they are all aggressively attempting to increase their market share of this profitable niche market.  Casual Male has come up with "DXL" or "Destination XL" which represents a big and tall mega store and JC Penney, not to be outdone, has announced that they are opening up 300 big and tall retail stores under the banner, "The Foundry Big & Tall Supply Co." and the interiors of these concept stores are awesome as shown below: 

These stores are big at 6,000 sq. feet, and according to Myron Ullman, CEO and President of JC Penney:
“With big & tall customers making up over 50% of the male population and spending nearly $6 billion on apparel, footwear and accessories, we saw an opportunity to serve the fashionable and professional big & tall customer who is often frustrated by the lack of sizes and fits, availability of brands and the overall lack of customer service in their category.  Offering an upscale environment and extensive assortments of apparel, footwear and furnishings created with them in mind, The Foundry Big & Tall Supply Co. is positioned to address all of the needs of the big & tall customer -- one of the largest and fastest growing segments in the market place today.”
King Size Direct, a catalog company that I have been shopping from since the early 1980's, took to the internet, while Casual Male bought their retail competitors and developed a catalog/internet sales channel and JC Penney is finally stepping up its activities.  While a consumer may favor one over the other the reality is that their product lines are not all that much different; the labels are different but the product is the same.

What the plus sized consumer wants is variety and individualism;  the days of being "branded" by the clothes you wear are over and thus, Nautica, Dockers, and Timberland no longer have the drawing power because they are so readily available through numerous retail outlets. 

The future belongs to companies such as Mod Cloth and or Bonobos (I am not the only one who believes this considering that these two companies received a combined $21 million dollars in venture capital funding).  Its not about "what" you offer as it is "why" and "how" you market it.  In my niche  companies like Threadless and Cafe Press have led the way to a new consumer centric, Web 2.0 inspired business model.  I have been a fan of Threadless for a long time and I cheer them on every chance I get because you cannot help but admire the brilliance of the model!   Threadless continues to blaze new paths and has now expanded successfully into accessories, kids wear, and I am sure that they will continue to expand their retail stores and will continue to add product lines in the future.

From information garnered via the internet, by combining tee shirts and screen printing with a Web 2.0 business model you create a new sales channel with average net margins of 35% and annual sales increases of around 50%!

From consumer centric to sized centric! 

The plus sized consumer wants product that are specifically designed for their body types and trendsetting at the same time!  Its about capturing the energy and essence of lines like Affliction, Abercrombie and Fitch, and or Hollister; with designs specifically developed for a plus sized consumer on tee shirts that are truly big and tall.  This just isn't going to cut it anymore:

Its time to offer the big and tall consumer the same consumer centric options available to all consumers and to develop lines of product for retailers that are something more than just a mere license of what is available any where else.  Its obvious that the market is big enough, and growing bigger every day, for the plus sized consumer to have the same choices and variety, but choices and variety that are specifically tailored for the niche! 

By the niche for the niche: Or, size centric!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Lifestyle, Branding, and Location

So much of our time is spent making decisions today that will dramatically impact our future based upon our experiences from the past; that not only sounds counter productive but it might actually be counter productive!

We are currently reorganizing and repositioning our company, a company that produces goods in Central America while also screen printing goods domestically which we distribute, both B2B and B2C, throughout the world.  Currently, we are located in Bowling Green, Kentucky which is ideally located, from a logistics perspective; along the I-65/I-40 corridor and some what centered both east to west and north to south.  Then, there is also Western Kentucky University; which graduates some very talented young people!

As a manufacturer and distributor, location of our operations is critical considering the market that we serve.  But, our anticipated future growth, which will be primarily in the area of product development, web development, and marketing, makes location less relevant.

With the internet and various other communications development why do all of ones operations have to be located together?  Does location matter and what is the future of location?

We do represent an established brand and we will build upon that foundation but why be just a brand when you can also be a lifestyle?  Would L. L. Bean be what they are if they were not located in Maine?  What were the benefits for Nike to be located in Oregon?  Can you imagine Jimmy Buffett without Margaritaville?  Imagine Ralph Lauren without polo, yachts, or the cowboy….

What if we moved certain aspects of our operations to…..Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin?

It’s definitely a great place to live with sense of lifestyle that is all its own.  Small town, beautiful natural scenery, and an active year round schedule of activities.  Door County offers all sorts of potential for adding a sense of ‘lifestyle’ to a brand.

Now I realize that 'lifestyle' can be created very easily by any half way decent advertising or marketing firm, but that doesn't make it real.  To be real it has to become part of a corporate culture; the whole 'outward' facing aspect of the corporation has to become part of that lifestyle; for one simple example we can turn to Patagonia

What about employees? 

Does location play a role in the choice of jobs employees make?  Wouldn't lifestyle be a great fringe benefit to an employee? 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Niche Markets - Big and Tall

Niche marketing, or marketing a niche product of a niche market to a particular consumer.  Or, more to the point; we sell Big (2X to 8X) and Tall (XLT to 6XLT) tee shirts and these are our customers: 
But, I am 6'10" and I only weigh 265 lbs and I am one of our customers also; so is most of the NBA and NFL players!  I came across an interesting statistic at Spreadshirt, which is a German based equivalent to Custom Ink and or Blue Cotton, and that was that while 3.4% of their German male customers claim to wear the size "XL or larger" t shirt in 2008; 33.6% of them actually ordered an XL or larger t shirt from Spreadshirt in 2008! 

Now, I wear a 2XLT and I know that if I visit a site like Spreadshirt, Custom Ink, Blue Cotton, Threadless, Cafe Press, or Zazzle, I am not visiting to buy anything because nothing there will ever fit me.  Since I visit these sites regularly, because shortly I hope to create a big and tall (I call it a 'sized centric' business model) of their business model, I also notice that more and more they are telling their customers to order one size bigger than what they normally order as their shirts are "slim fit."

I read where the average American has 26 screen printed tees in their closet!  I don't have any where near that many but its because I can't find screen printed tees in my size.  Which brings us to one simple question, "How many screen printed tees would I own if I could be sure that they would fit me?" 

Most people think of screen printed tees as an impluse buy, and for the most part they are.  But an impluse assumes the fact that you can enjoy the product; or you can wear the shirt.  I can't count the number of times that I participated in events where with your registration you received a t shirt and when asked my size I said, "whatever..." because no matter what nothing would fit.  Care to know how many times people went on vacation and returned with a t shirt for me that was not any where near the right size but was "...well, this was the biggest shirt we could find..."?

Over 76 million American adults are obese and another 13 million children are obese; that is on top of the 34% of Americans who are just pleaseantly "over weight."  This also does not include the number of Americans, such as myself, who are just big. 

If you think, "...76 million adults at an average of 26 screen printed tees each....." you realize that you come up with a market for 1.976 BILLION t shirts!  Then if you add in a few thousand for the obese children, a few more thousand for the percentage of Americans who are overweight, and then add another few percentage points for those Americans who are just naturally big ( or those who are big due to steroids) you have quite a market here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Culture Of Success

"You will not attract and retain the world's best builders in a command-and-control environment," says Hulu CEO, Jason Kilar in a recent article in Fast Company.

I can't help but laugh, not because I do not agree with the idea, but rather because I remember that when I started work for an apparel company back in 1989 the owner and CEO shared with me his philosophy; which basically was that one should never keep an employee longer than a year because then they will believe they know more than you do and you can never let an employee know more than you do....

I just looked at him and said, "I want employees that can do their jobs better than I can and I want to surround myself with people who know more than I do!"

For the next 18 years our corporate structure grew from a 150 employees with $15 million dollars a year in sales to 900 employees and over $100 million dollars a year in annual sales and there was always the tension between 'his' way and 'my' way.

Never once did I hire anyone in an administrative position as "salaried" but brought everyone in as hourly employees; that included human resources, accounting, payroll, customer service, and IT.  I also have to acknowledge that we never started anyone in any position much higher than a dollar over minimum wage.

With that said, I created an environment for opportunity!  I did hire part time college students as interns and gave them exposure to their future careers;  right now I know that three of these students went on to become CFO's at much larger companies, one has become CIO, two are vice presidents of human resources, and one went on to be a doctor!  I also know that 7 of the individuals that I hired and trained in human resources went on to become human resource managers with companies in our local community and with our daycare we have witnessed five of the employees that started with us go on to become daycare directors in our local community and one has gone on to be head of Head Start in our state!

You have to take what you are given and make something out of it!  I did put organizational charts together from time to time and a complete explanation of and justification for becoming more "traditional" in our administration staffing and production support but the two owners of the company never really saw any need because we were doing just fine with what we had.

Did I hire great people and put them in the wrong jobs?  Sure did, and I would have to sit down and tell them, that due to no fault of their own, we needed to find them a job that better fit their skills and another company!  I have also had to sit employees down and let them know that they had advanced to such a level that it was time we found them employment with another company that could best allow them to continue their development.  I lost some very qualified individuals who I relied on tremendously; but if you are committed to the idea of success then you cannot stand in the way of the success of your employees either.

Now, I did quickly give pay raises when the performance justified a pay raise;  sometimes that meant more than one raise a year.  I also did annual performance reviews where we focused not on what the employee had accomplished but what they needed to develop, learn, and or achieve to attain their next pay raise.

To create a culture of success you have to build an organization of builders.  I realize that while we did achieve tremendous success operating with the constant tension between my philosophy and that of the company CEO I also will acknowledge that we reach a point and could go no further; if an organization does not grow then it dies.

I did not focus that much on "skill sets" but rather on an individual aptitude and attitude;  why would one focus on what an applicant had done when what you really  wanted to know was what they could achieve?

A culture of success within an organization requires leadership and the fundamental belief that " policies built on frankness, trust, and occasionally awkward closeness engender a culture of success..."

We spend so much time crafting rules and regulations to ensure workplace efficiency and to protect the organization from lawsuits; we basically assume that all people, given the chance, will be bad and are irresponsible of the interests of the company.  Its as if senior management is deeply distrustful of human nature. 

As I used to tell prospective employees, "If you applied for this job thinking you were going to get rich, well, you may want to walk up and leave now!  But, if you are looking for a job that you enjoy doing and being successful then you have found the right place!"

A culture of success is not about employee empowerment but rather about employee encouragement!  Its letting an employee know they can take risks, they can go out on a limb, and that you will be there with a safety net.  Like I used to tell people, who were attempting new tasks for the first time and had said that they feared making mistakes, "...if you're not making mistakes then you are not achieving...."

I remember once on a flight to the west coast I was reading an executive magazine which had interviewed the 100 most successful businessmen in the country.  One of the things the article pointed out was that these successful business leaders admitted to failing at 70% of what they set out to accomplish!
Hmmm... the 100 most successful businessmen in the United States were bragging about a .300 batting average?  We idolize people who only succeeded at 30% of what they set out to accomplish?

A culture of success realizes that we will fail more times than we succeed but that success comes from continously trying; that is the environment that organizations have to create for their employees. Or:
"Familiarity breads innovation," says John Foster, Head of Talent and Organization. "You have to be able to share half-baked, provocative, sometimes completely wrong ideas in order to get to a breakthrough."
 A culture of success requires an environment where employees feel as if they are part of a 'family' or a 'tribe' and they have to believe that they can share ideas, issues, and offer solutions that just might be wrong but they also have to realize that success is a process....

Saturday, May 21, 2011


One of the most fascinating aspects of the Web 2.0 experience is that it tears down the walls around a company, a product, and or a brand.  There is a new app out for iphones called Instagram which basically is a way to take a photo, filter it to transform the look and feel, and then sent it to Facebook, Twitter or Flickr; its basically photo sharing, reinvented!

Now, some very visionary companies/brands have taken to this technology in a big way:  Like Threadless and Starbucks to name two!

While there is no web interface, but there are solutions currently available and its just a matter of time before Instagram has their own up and running.

This is really an awesome opportunity for smaller companies to get creative with their social media programs.  Have new product that you want to get out to your customers?  Why not have a contest that involves photos of your product?  It opens a whole new layer of interactivity in marketing; and with the eventual web interface you have another whole virtual community in which to attract consumers and or retailers.   


I was fortunate to have a position with a company and in an industry that allowed me to witness dramatic change over the last 20 years:  From NAFTA, to ecommerce and Web 2.0, the change was/is revolutionary and fundamental.

I have witnessed the shuttering of millions of square feet of productive capacity and I was on hand as some great products and brands became cultural litter.

Change takes leadership; because change is a process not a direction.  Change is a constant state of being and becoming not going from one to the other.  The concept of “constant improvement’ is one that is based upon the idea that one always seeks improvement but never achieves it.  Having played basketball all my life, successfully I might add, I realized that after winning a championship an individual can either stop, and enjoy the moment, or one can begin the process of winning all over again.

We talk about empowerment and or teams but we cannot deny the need for leadership.  Teams can be dysfunctional without leadership; they do not need a chain of command or organizational chart as much as they need for the members to understand the roles each and every one of them serves within the team.  Teams need encouragement rather than empowerment and encouragement requires individual respect and leadership.

If you look at Apple Computers they have embraced change as a constant while Microsoft has made change something to fear; Apple comes out with something new every few months and consumers look forward to the change when Microsoft offers something new it is resisted and feared. 

In apparel we witness change constantly;  where at one time you had brands of screen printed goods such as Caribbean Soul, Big Dogs Sportswear, Hobie, and of course my favorite, Spuds McKenzie, we now see the change wrought by Threadless and CafĂ© Press for example. 

One can lead change or be led by change……

Friday, May 20, 2011

Be The Change

I just received my annual letter from the Social Security Administration and it dawned on me that I have been working since 1972!  Since I am 53 that would have been back when I was 14; obviously there were no social security taxes taken out of my pay from my newspaper route which I started back in 1970.

I guess that makes me old....

Funny thing is, I don't feel old and I definitely cannot be accused of thinking old.  In fact I have nieces and nephews who are now in college and they come to me all the time in their search to make sense out of things and or in their search for the "cutting edge."

Maybe I like change....

Maybe since I was a 'military brat' during most of my childhood I came to embrace change and maybe I grew up with the perspective that the 'unknown' could be something to look forward to?

The concept of 'constant improvement' seems so natural to me!  The idea that there must be a better way, an improved way, never seemed like 'thinking outside the box' but rather seemed to be the natural evolution of everything in life. 

But what seems so natural to me, must not be all that normal;  I can remember getting a part time job in high school and or college and before I knew it I was being promoted to assistant manager and then manager.  I remember my senior year in college and being informed that I needed to get involved in clubs and groups (as if being on an athletic scholarship and starting varsity for four years wasn't enough) so I went out and joined and ran for the presidency of the political science club and won!  Then I decided that the club needed more funds so I ran for student senate, won, and then got myself appointed to the budget committee.

I remember a job at a convenience store where I worked third shift and within the first three months I found myself being told that I had to become a manager because it was time I "...put my money where my mouth was...." then before you knew it I was being sent to all their worst performing stores to clean then up.

I remember working in Saudi Arabia, where I was quite a bit younger than my coworkers, but before you knew it I came to be referred to as "The Kid."  Like, when there would be a problem they all would chime "...get The Kid!"

I cannot help but believe that challenges are nothing more than opportunities; once you look up to the rearview mirror of life.

Its always been real hard for me to talk about what I have done because I don't dwell on the past but rather always seem to focus on what I want to do in the future.

Be the change....