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Michelle Bitran
Blog Manager @ Yotpo
June 6th, 2018

UNTUCKit: Building a Product-First Brand in the New Era of eCommerce

We sat down with UNTUCKit to get an insider view into the makings of an industry-leading brand.

Table Of Contents

UNTUCKit is an anomaly in the apparel space.

While clothing brands typically invite shoppers to buy into a lifestyle aesthetic —Ralph Lauren’s polo-playing chic, Calvin Klein’s urban modernism — the digital-first retailer instead built its brand around solving a shopper problem.

And the problem they honed in on ended up being worth $200 million.

Founded in 2011, UNTUCKit designs and sells men’s button-down shirts that are meant to be worn — as you might’ve guessed — untucked. As it turned out, men everywhere shared their frustration with ill-fitting shirts that made it impossible to go untucked while looking put together.

College buddies Chris Riccobono and Aaron Sanandres started the company with $150,000 put up by friends and family. As they grew, they teamed up with eCommerce marketing agency BVAccel, and have now grown their online-first business into a household name and earned a $30 million investment from Kleiner Perkins.

Now, as they embark on a path of rapid brick-and-mortar expansion, with a plan to hit 100 physical retail locations by 2022, UNTUCKit’s Marketing Director Alberto Corral shared some critical insights learned from driving a leading product-first brand.

Cracking the code on a category-defining product

Given UNTUCKit’s hyper-growth, it’s almost hard to believe that the product at hand is a button-down shirt. It’s not a particularly exciting garment, and in the age of Instagram brands, it doesn’t stand out in photos the way other types of clothing can.

So, how did UNTUCKit take this simple closet staple and turn it into a booming brand estimated to have brought in more than $100 million in revenue in 2017 alone?

There’s no question that UNTUCKit has succeeded in such a saturated market because we solved a problem that people had,” says Corral. “There’s very few companies, especially in the apparel world, that have done that.”

For emerging brands looking to nail a product niche, identifying this type of problem correctly is the key to innovating a category-leading solution. Riccobono and Sanandres didn’t bet on a hunch, they conducted a year of market research, including hundreds of interviews to find out exactly what their target audience was missing.

The modifications they made to standard button-down shirts — shortening the length and adjusting the proportions and fit in the torso — were created to the exact specifications of what men of all ages were looking for. Their quick rise to ubiquity in the menswear space is proof that building a product based on target audience preferences is a sure path to success.

But what comes next when your brand is built on a single product? How can you keep customers engaged when they might just buy two or three shirts a year? And how can you expand your product line without losing their loyalty?

How customer-centricity powers product-first brands

Product-first brands, by their very nature, cannot “set it and forget it.” One outstanding shirt, razor, or perfume is not all it takes to ensure ongoing success. As a customer base grows and competitors deliver more sophisticated products, brands need to keep a pulse on changing consumer expectations.

From early on, UNTUCKit made keeping up with those expectations a part of its DNA.

A lot of companies are looking at trends, trying to stay ahead of the curve on trends. What we’re trying to do is stay ahead of what customers want,” Corral said.

They also cracked the code on the most effective way to get meaningful, actionable customer input: “We’re constantly reading reviews. We’re not only applying it to marketing, but we also have our production team figure out what our customers are saying, what they like, what they don’t.”

Unlike customer satisfaction surveys or other questionnaires commonly used to gauge consumer sentiment, using reviews to source this information provides UNTUCKit with a constant stream of feedback in their customers’ own words.

Instead of asking for a 1-5 rating of fit or quality, they can easily find out if they need to fix a shoulder seam or if a new fabric is comfortable, for example. And being a vertically integrated brand means that they can put that feedback into action near instantly.

In a saturated market, lag time in product development cycles can impact bottomline, since customers have an abundance of competitors to explore to find exactly what they’re looking for.

One of the main reasons behind UNTUCKit’s rapid growth — going from $150,000 in initial capital raised from family and friends to a $200 million valuation in just 7 years — is that they keep a laser-focus on customer feedback and maintain an agile, responsive approach on product iteration.

UNTUCKit regularly makes specific design changes based on what customers are saying — whether it’s introducing a shirt with French cuffs or a different collar.

Expanding a problem-solving brand

UNTUCKit isn’t looking to replicate the category-defining success it had with button down shirts, but that doesn’t mean secondary product development shouldn’t be competitive. “Constant innovation is the most important thing,” Corral said.  “You can’t just sit on your hands and hope that one thing you did right will just continue.”

This outlook has guided the brand as it ventured into designing pants, jackets, and sweaters, each meant to compliment the staple button-downs. UNTUCKit now boasts a women’s line as well as one for boys. The move allows them to grow without going the route of department-store-style middlemen. Following the model of the world’s leading Digitally Native Brands, they got one thing right before expanding, boosting consumer confidence in the brand.

Diversifying their product offering also helped pave the way for the rapid brick-and-mortar growth they have planned. For digital-first brands like UNTUCKit, physical stores are as much about brand presence as reaching the offline customer base. Extensive research goes into selecting each location, so that foot traffic is maximized and potential online customers have a place to try on the product, and a convenient option to return or exchange.

Part of reaching today’s customer means meeting them where they are instead of expecting them to find you. While eCommerce is growing at a dramatic pace, there are still millions of shoppers who prefer the in-store experience, especially for a brand like UNTUCKit, which serves virtually the entire age spectrum. The click-to-brick move gives them clout with a whole segment of customers, who might not have found them otherwise.

Although UNTUCKit’s main channel is their Shopify Plus site, they also sell some products on Amazon to promote brand recognition. For brands that rely more on image and lifestyle, selling on Amazon can be too much of a departure from a hard-earned aesthetic.

Multi-channel can feel like the only option when trying to compete with more established brands. But, it doesn’t offer visibility into customer data, a requirement for differentiating a brand in today’s eCommerce landscape.

Analyzing this data is the only way to create personalized, relevant experiences that will bring customers back repeatedly. Keeping the bulk of operations under the branded umbrella, rather than on marketplaces like Amazon, ensures access to the feedback that allows a brand to continue nailing product iteration.

Learning from UNTUCKit’s success

As brands continue to pop up overnight, propelled into the limelight on social, only those that cultivate a community of advocates have a chance at long-term success. UNTUCKit built that community around a product, and they’ve been able to grow exponentially by listening to customer feedback with religious devotion.

Data-backed customer insights are the defining advantage for direct-to-consumer brands. As big box retailers shut their doors, the brands of the future will be differentiated by how their customer feedback drives their evolution.

As Corral said, the real challenge for growth is finding out “what it is that people really want.”

“What is the next product? And how do they want that next product to be designed or changed?”

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