LAS VEGAS — It took a computer and software engineering major who previously worked at Deloitte in management consulting to perhaps crack the code of building a men’s lifestyle brand.
Four-year-old Frank + Oak, which just this month announced a brand refresh, represented one case study at the International Council of Shopping Centers’ RECon conference taking place in Las Vegas this week of what digital disruption looks like as the retail industry aims to evolve in step with consumers.
“We live in a world where industries are crossing over,” Ethan Song, cofounder, chief executive officer and creative director, told the crowd at the conference. “We’re talking about gray zones. It’s not so clear if you’re a technologist, if you’re a retailer, if you’re a brand or if you’re a service. You almost have to rethink your key competency and what value you bring to the market.”
That’s why Frank + Oak is so specifically homed in on the Millennial male lifestyle segment and, more specifically, guys in the creative space, ages 21 to 35 that work in entrepreneurial companies such as marketing, advertising and tech, Song said.
“If you go online and you look at Amazon, you’ll find 10,000 hits for blue shirts, which means that we are all in the commodity business. Nike’s in the commodity business. As a matter of fact, Apple’s in the commodity business,” he said by way of stressing the importance of branding, especially for start-ups.
Part of the Montreal-based firm’s successes has also come from nimble moves.
Song started the company with his high school friend Hicham Ratnani in 2012. They were an online-only brand for the first three months of the company’s life. They thought mobile first with responsive design websites and about two years ago went into physical retail.
“Innovation needs to come from every single touch point, every single unit of your business,” Song said.
The company designs product in-house at lighting speed with 12 to 16 collections produced annually turning designs around in three-month cycles. Its community of now 2.5 million members around the world creates brand loyalists but also helps Frank + Oak glean key data about its customer base, such as the fact that many of its shoppers buy tall. There’s also data and its integration with the rest of the business making Frank + Oak perhaps a technology firm first before fashion company. “We have more web developers than we have fashion designers and it’s by design,” Song said.
Frank + Oak currently has 13 stores, mostly in Canada and all of which were opened in the last 18 months. About 70 percent of its sales come from the U.S., leaving plenty of room for expansion.
“We’re definitely looking for more opportunities to grow in the market,” Song told the crowd of shopping center owners and brokers.