Still Growing Strong: Andy Dunn

Andy Dunn, co-founder and CEO of Bonobos, an innovative menswear retailer that started out by offering made-to-order pants. They sell through their website, six locations, and select Nordstrom stores.

We spoke to you in 2009. Give us a snapshot of where Bonobos was then.

Thirty years ago Mickey Drexler changed commerce by inventing vertical retail stores. “Why am I selling Levi’s jeans in GAP?” he asked himself. With that revelation, stores became brands. This is taken for granted now, with brands as diverse as Zara, Trader Joe’s, and Victoria’s Secret all descended from his movement.

In 2009, we were in year two. We were trying to prove that vertical retailing could be applied to e-commerce—that it could not just sell a brand, it could build a brand. Most people said a brand built on better-fitting menswear could not grow via an e-commerce-driven model. More than 250,000 pairs of Bonobos pants later, the labors of 2009 have borne fruit. With other brands, like NYC-based Warby Parker, now proving the model in different categories, it is clear that Mickey’s radical-then but now-accepted invention of vertical retailing is going to germinate through e-commerce. History repeats itself.

Where are you now?

Early on, we assumed that e-commerce could completely replace the brick-and-mortar store. Since then, we’ve learned that stores aren’t going away, but will co-exist along with their online counterparts. While e-commerce has grown from 7 percent to 12 percent of retail in our category—and I believe it is headed to 50 percent over a decade, with accelerating innovation and consumer adoption—there is still that other 50 percent to remember. Said more simply: People are always going to want to try clothes on in person.

This year we invented the Guideshops. Staffed by our “in person” service team, the Guides (experts trained in fit and style), they are stores all about service. With inventory-light, appointment-driven, “fulfill from the web” e-commerce showrooms, you can focus on what counts: great clothes and meaningful human interactions. We are now building a great technology team out of Palo Alto to power this innovation.

Where are you going?

Great men’s brands don’t come around that often. Ralph Lauren started with a line of ties in the 1960s. Brooks Brothers, another iconic brand, began in the 19th century. I hope we are building the next great men’s brand.

It started with creating a great fit in men’s pants, something incredibly rare in the men’s apparel industry. This year we are tripling our shirts business by bringing our signature patterns and color to tops. We make wonderful Italian wool suits as well, and with our vertical model, we can bring them to market at less than $700. 

If we can be as relevant to guys when it comes to work attire as weekend wear, we have something amazing going. This year we announced a partnership with Nordstrom. There is still a lot of work to be done, but Bonobos can be the next great menswear brand for the digital generation.

How do you see your industry evolving in regards to customer service via social media?

One of the powerful things about digitally driven brands is the potential to build a direct-to-consumer connection enabled by both humans and technology. Our Ninjas—our in-person customer service team—staff our "call" center. What is fascinating is they handle more customer cases, in total, across email, Facebook, and Twitter than they do by phone. We treat emails, Facebook, and Twitter communications as customer cases requiring measurable rapid response in the same way as an inbound phone call. In an omni-channel world, your service must also be omni-channel.

The number one way we plan to improve our service is by technology-enabling our Ninjas. By the end of next year, we'll have more than 25 engineers in our Palo Alto office developing the most personalized experience in apparel e-commerce. Part of that is building tools for the Ninjas, part of that is capturing data from customer visits, and part of that will be delivering a personalized e-commerce experience across desktop, tablet, and mobile.