When you think of Vuori, Psycho Bunny, Faherty, Johnnie-O, and Bombas, you think of their rare growth trajectories. None of the brands were first-movers; they each had stiff competition form incumbent retail brands and better-positioned DTCs. But something set them apart from the rest. Here’s an example of how many of these brands work against the typical best practices associated with the segment:
Tucked away in suburban Ohio, a small boutique features a number of brands, none of which are native to the midwest. One trip around the Trevor Furbay boutique in Dublin and you’ll find Faherty, Johnnie-O, and Vuori among others. For smaller formatted stores like this one, it’s rarer to find modern brands of the caliber of those mentioned. For the brands, this type of distribution is a lot of work for relatively little revenue. To a brand of Vuori’s size, this could seem like a waste of time and energy. But for brands like these, who’ve excelled in the art of finding customers where they are, there is no such thing as an account too big or one too small.
These brands are not just popular; they are reshaping what high-performance retail looks like. With their own unique stories and approaches to business, they are rewriting the rules of success for retailers across the globe. Let’s delve deeper. In a recent deep dive by Women’s Wear Daily, the report explained the characteristics that other DTC brands can replicate for their own success. WWD explains the difficulty in achieving what these brand have:
But there are brands that have managed to break that cycle and build highly profitable businesses. In menswear, some of the most impressive include Vuori, Psycho Bunny, Faherty, Johnnie-O and Bombas. Although they service different parts of the market — everything from socks and activewear to polos and beachy button-downs — they have managed to navigate through the potential pitfalls to build multimillion-dollar businesses.
Their stories emphasize the importance of authenticity, quality, social responsibility, and community engagement – trends that are shaping the future of the retail industry.
In an increasingly competitive market, staying true to a brand’s ethos while adapting to market shifts is as difficult as it is crucial. As these brands demonstrate, remaining customer-focused and delivering high-quality products can drive significant growth. Upcoming retailers and DTC brands looking to replicate this success should focus on these aspects: offering unique, quality products, demonstrating social responsibility, fostering a strong brand community, and perfecting channel mix.
This could not come at a better time as fashion retail is poised for a leap in volume of sales for 2023. It’s never been more important to be build close relationships with consumers as competition grows between competitive brands.
Seeing those brands prioritize a small but potentially influential local retailer got me thinking about how each of these companies did so well to build brands with loyal followings, appropriate amounts of inventory, reach, and profitable growth. Here are the top four characteristics shared by each of these retailers.
Trend: Prioritize Product Quality and Innovation
Product reigns supreme in these companies. If you’ve shopped any of them, this is evident. They understand the three Ps of business: Product, Product, and Product. Bombas, a sock company that also deals in other basics, has taken the ‘product-first’ strategy to heart. They prioritize the quality and the utility of their products and you can tell when you wear them. Faherty, an East Coast-based family business, also follows this principle. They deliver products with an East Coast beach flavor made from sustainably sourced materials. The key to their success has been their dedication to creating exceptional products that are both durable enough, appealing, and readily available to consumers.
Vuori was a fitness brand born out of necessity, and another exemplar of this strategy. In “Size Charts, Returns, and EBITDA,” I explained:
Over the course of the pandemic, Vuori became one of the fastest-growing modern brands in the fashion retail space. When the retailer landed its $400 million Softbank investment (at a $4 billion valuation) in 2021, I admittedly didn’t understand the buzz. Then I bought my first pair of joggers from them around a year later. REI, one of Vuori’s top wholesale partners, made it easy. A section of the store is devoted to the brand and an REI associate is frequently stationed within the shop to answer any questions. I was an immediate fan.
Vuori offered an innovative solution to a lack of appealing athletic wear, leading to its exponential growth.
Trend: Craft a Distinct Brand Story and Culture
These standout brands don’t just deliver great products; they also built compelling stories and cultures around their brands. As CEO Dave Gatto of Johnnie-O said, “a brand is a living organism, more than just a logo or a name.” A successful company must create a culture that reflects its brand ethos.
Psycho Bunny turned the challenges it faced in its early years into an inspiring success story. This excerpt begins the narrative that laid the groundwork for the company’s present day stature:
But around 2013, things began to unravel and Psycho Bunny experienced operational issues and internal struggles. Enter Alen Brandman to the rescue.
In 2021, Brandman became the brand’s majority owner. Similarly, Bombas’ advertising campaign Compassion = Change was a powerful expression of its brand story. This campaign was instrumental in spreading awareness about homelessness and promoting a more compassionate approach towards this issue. And, Faherty had a strong human capital ethos that shaped its culture and had consistently been a part of its brand story over the past decade.
Trend: Understand Your Customer and Their Needs
These successful DTC retailers understood their customers and their needs better than anyone else. Johnnie-O’s focus on ‘West Coast prep’ resonated with its target market. Bombas’ approach to addressing the issue of homelessness through its business model appealed to its consumers’ sense of social responsibility. Vuori and Faherty too, with their unique, high-quality wears, understood and catered to the needs of their respective target markets. This quote by Brandman was pretty solid:
Men especially are strange creatures. Some men have the same type of underwear for 12 years. Some men have the same T-shirt for 10 years, so you need to make sure those core fundamentals are treated with great respect to ensure people are going to come back. And we’re not going to do anything to breach that trust.
These brands are not just selling products; they are partnering with their consumers, selling a lifestyle and fostering loyalty to an identity that their customers could connect with.
Trend: Leverage Multiple Channels for Distribution and Growth
This is the key trend, in my opinion. And it goes back to the second paragraph: several of these brands saw value in working with a small store that would barely move the needle from a sales volume standpoint. Each of these brands recognized the importance of multiple distribution channels to their growth. While direct-to-consumer retail was a crucial part of their success, they also understood the value of physical retail spaces and wholesale partnerships.
Faherty, for example, has a significant brick-and-mortar presence and operates 52 stores around the US. Psycho Bunny, despite facing internal struggles and operational issues in the past, managed to bounce back and is currently present in over 70 retail locations across North America. Vuori has followed a similar path, starting out as a direct-to-consumer brand, and then branching out into wholesale. Their strategy shows how a multi-channel approach can help a brand expand its reach and tap into different customer segments.
The success stories of these high-performing DTC brands offer a road map for other retailers. By focusing on product quality, crafting a compelling brand story, understanding the customer, and leveraging multiple channels for distribution, a retailer can replicate their success. But in the end, the internet remains the center of the wheel for these retailers. Vuori founder Joe Kudla:
There’s so much to learn about navigating different cultures and consumer preferences, but that’s the stuff I view as fun. The real challenges were raising money and getting our product marketing and fit correct. Two years in, I thought we were going to run out of money so I thank my lucky stars for the internet and being able to sell online.
These brands have shown that it’s possible to carve out a niche in the market by taking lessons from DTC’s past and challenging the status quo. As the retail landscape continues to evolve, the lessons from these trailblazing brands will remain relevant, guiding the way for future DTC success stories.
Emulating these brands doesn’t require massive investment or out-of-the-box thinking, but instead a dedication to quality, community, and authenticity. It’s a testament to the potential of retail done right, proof that in an industry often seen as challenging and unpredictable, success is achievable when businesses stay true to their values and put the customer first.
By Web Smith | Edited by Hilary Milnes with art by Alex Remy and Christina Williams