Man Talk at Lands’ End

Whether it’s the brand’s classic oxford dress shirts, a sport coat or a nylon Windbreaker, each piece is designed to play a number of roles.

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Versatility the buzzword for the men’s division of Lands’ End.

This story first appeared in the May 23, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Whether it’s the brand’s classic oxford dress shirts, a sport coat or a nylon Windbreaker, each piece of merchandise is designed to play a number of roles. 

“Our customer is looking for multiple end uses,” said Max Garbutt, vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s. “They want something they can wear to work, then out to dinner and on the weekend. This is a brand that fits his entire lifestyle and where his life is going. He doesn’t want to shop in 19 different places.”

As a result, customers are drawn to Lands’ End’s Harris tweed blazers, cable-knit sweaters, polo shirts, chinos and madras shorts — pieces that fit that bill.

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Over the years, however, it’s dress shirts that have emerged as the company’s best-known — and best performing — men’s item. They’re offered in 45 sizes and a variety of fabrics and finishes including Supima cotton, poplins, pinpoint oxfords and the popular no-iron collection. The shirts are offered in traditional and tailored fits, short and long sleeves, various collar treatments and an array of colors, including solid blues and whites as well as tartans and plaids. “Each guy has his own personality and we offer options to fit those personalities,” said J. Henley, senior design director of men’s.

Within the past year and a half, the company has upgraded its fabric offering, adding Supima cotton to the list, a move that has helped boost business and increase market share, according to Garbutt. The biggest growth has come in the tailored fit models — come fall, the company will introduce a slim-fit version of its shirts as well.

“There’s been more interest in tailored fits, so we’re introducing a leaner version,” said Henley, pointing to the growth of slim-fit men’s wear across the industry. “Our business is following suit with that,” he said.

But Henley won’t push the envelope too far. He acknowledged that the Lands’ End customer is “not at the leading edge of fashion” and instead is looking to the company “for a more subtle approach to fashion trends. If we offered neon pink or orange, how appropriate would it be in a conservative business environment?”

The popularity of slim fit is also evident in Lands’ End’s tailored offer. The company doesn’t offer nested suits, but instead sells separates in traditional or tailored fits in super 110 lightweight wool that’s wrinkle-resistant and has stretch properties, Garbutt said. Jackets retail for about $294 and pants are $129. Hemming is free. “It’s a very approachable entry price for a suit,” Henley said, noting that separates also help a man be assured of a better fit.

“That way he can dress it up or dress it down,” Garbutt noted, wearing the jacket with corduroy slacks or the pants with a cashmere sweater.

From the design aesthetic to the technical details, it’s the customer who dictates the direction of the Lands’ End men’s offering. “We go where our customer wants us to go,” said Garbutt.

But at the same time, the company is careful not to move too far from its strengths.

“We have to be really careful not to discontinue something,” Henley said.

He noted some customers know the assortment as well — or better — than the merchants and if something is no longer offered, they hear about it. “We get 400,000 e-mails and letters from customers a year,” he said.

Instead, Lands’ End will work to improve popular products. For instance, the Squall jacket has been in the line since the Eighties — it’s the first piece of outerwear ever offered — but it now features the latest technology, including sealed seams, fleece linings and an MP3 pocket.

One addition that has proven popular is Canvas, a slightly trendier collection launched in 2009 that is aimed at a younger customer. It includes denim in updated washes and fits, cardigans, jersey Ts and outerwear. Henley called it “a modern approach to classics” with its updated fabrics, silhouettes and styling details. There are whimsical appointments, like a snowboarder knit used in a classic ski sweater. “Designing this collection allows me to explore new areas of men’s trends…with pieces that they wouldn’t typically see from Lands’ End.” 

Looking ahead, Henley said the line will continue to develop since it “fills an important part of our business and allows us to reach a different man.”

Although Lands’ End is still primarily an online retailer — 80 percent of its sales transactions come via the Internet — Garbutt said the shopping experience remains personal.

“Actually, customers are willing to give more information online than in the store, where they tend to just want to get in and get out,” Henley said.

Being an online retailer also has other advantages: it allows the company to test products quickly. “When we used to be a catalogue house, we had a four- or five-month lead time and had to be excellent predictors,” Henley said. “But now we can put something on the Web site and change it in an hour. It’s a way of trying something that our customer might not be used to seeing from us.”

Sometimes, results pour in fast. One successful product category was the new Lighthouse collection, which features the lighthouse logo on polos, shorts, swimwear and other items. “We launched it online and the day we put it up, it was the 18th most-clicked item,” said Garbutt. He noted, though, that the company found out quickly that customers didn’t like the logo on T-shirts, so they put on the brakes in that category.

That ability to shift gears quickly also speaks to the company’s oft-stated mission to continue to evolve to meet its customers’ needs. It’s this devotion that will mark Lands’ End’s future. “We’ll do whatever the customer needs and expects,” Garbutt said. “The customer knows best.”

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