“I do have this tendency to wander off,” Tom Chapman says about his conversational inclination. Before an hour-long phone chat has ended, that observation will prove something of an understatement.
The original purpose of a call with the Matchesfashion.com cofounder: To discuss the trio of “In Residence” symposia his brand will host throughout April to celebrate the retailer’s 30th anniversary. The first kicks off in New York, at a townhouse on 2 East 63rd Street, on Wednesday with a press day and dinner for designers and other “friends,” followed by a Thursday-through-Sunday program for customers. The densely packed schedule boasts sessions both fashion-centric (Joseph Altuzarra in conversation with Garance Doré; Gabriela Hearst on sustainability; Kristopher Brock with Refinery29’s Christene Barberich and Matches buying director Natalie Kingham) and not at all (florist Nicolette Camille offering a how-to demo with spring blooms; model-cum-trainer Akin Akman offering the kind of get-physical inspiration that only a model-cum-trainer can deliver). Other In Residence events will follow in Paris from April 20 to 22, and in Los Angeles April 25 to 27.
While Chapman’s enthusiasm brims at their mention, he finds the topic too narrow, and over the course of a telephone hour delivers a wealth of information and insights punctuated with a few bon mots worthy of tatting onto pillows: “We want to be everything to somebody, not something to everybody.” “A challenge culture, not a blame culture.” “Create the perfect balance of magic and logic.” “Data, data, data.”
It all speaks, in ways both direct and circuitous, to Chapman’s overarching philosophy, one that has transformed Matchesfashion.com from the single-door operation of three decades past to the global force it is today, with a reach into 176 countries that last year landed Chapman and his cofounder and wife Ruth Chapman on the annual Times of London Rich List of wealthy Brits. Said philosophy: Everything plays into a single consideration – serving the customer.
To that end, every message must be singular and complete. “You need to have absolutely one single information channel about consumers, only one version of the customer truth,” Chapman offers in reference to the brand’s comprehensive approach to data compilation.
Apparently, the same holds for communicating the brand message. So much so that a good deal of what spills from him in seemingly spontaneous conversation parrots very specifically – not just conceptually, but in word usage – points made by company chief executive officer Ulric Jerome when addressing the WWD Men’s Summit in Brooklyn last month. Some points of mutual expression: Despite endless attention to the explosion of digital commerce, only 8 percent of luxury sales are made online, suggestive of huge growth potential; a proud acknowledgment of the retailer’s largest sale ever, 90,000 British pounds, made via mobile (to the mostly American audience, Jerome reported $120,000); and a favorite refrain, proclaiming the obsolescence of the terms “omni-” and “multichannel.”
“These words, we don’t talk about,” Chapman says. “We really consider [various channels] as touch points, based on the belief that the more touch points you have with your customers, the greater the loyalty, the greater the engagement, the greater the retention rate, the greater the lifetime value and all the benefits behind that.”
He articulates a specific metric: Four or more touch points per customer translate into a 95 percent retention rate. Those touch points are both physical (brick-and-mortar store; Matches No. 23, its private shopping and events townhouse; a magazine; consumer-facing events held around the world) and digital (tablet, PC, mobile, social). “We look at it as how can each benefit the customer in the best possible way. Because ultimately this is a conversation about customer choice and how they want to interact with you.”
The digital touch points afford breadth and access; the physical, pre-purchase intimacy with the product. Not monolithic in their engagement, most Matchesfashion.com customers want both.
The three-city In Residence program is something of a pop-up spin on the Townhouse concept, and the kind of events Matchesfashion.com has held around the world for some time. After 30 years, Chapman says, “We think about how we build and deepen a relationship with customers, how we create a space which is collaborating with people. We’re almost creating a community of people.”
That community is not limited to the tony locals whose buying histories earn them invitations; about 400 guests are expected daily at the New York event. Rather, the point is to create bifurcated engagement, on one level, that in-the-same room physical connection available to the relatively few, and on the other, larger communal interest created by successfully telegraphing the in-person happenings to customers around the world. (In a major step, in February, the retailer launched its first non-English language web site, in French, and plans an ambitious rollout of two such sites every year.)
“With every single one of these events, we are thinking how do we expose it to the rest of the market?” Chapman notes. “We want it to be interesting for the one-and-a-half million people that are visiting our site every week, not just the few hundred people who can see any specific event. We think about how we can make as much noise in that market, and how we can make as much of an experience globally.” He sees this as one of technology’s many current benefits that will only enrich with time: “How you can not be somewhere but still be part of something?”
To achieve both local success and global engagement, each event must have its own distinct character. “Nothing we do is cookie-cutter,” Chapman offers. As great merch resonates the world over, Matches does not tailor its buys for local markets. That said, “We have to recognize different markets for what they are actually looking for. I’m not going to talk about coats in L.A. in November. It would be completely pointless.”
Chapman has secured several capsule collections for In Residence debuts, including those from Lisa Marie Fernandez, Erdem and a six-shoe collaboration with Gianvito Rossi and de Gournay. (Apart from the In Residence program, a Mark Cross digital trunk show launched on March 30.)
Yet filling a space with great product, beautifully merchandised in accordance with the brand philosophy that the Matches customer is a smart, forward-thinking type who doesn’t dress head-to-toe from any runway or retail missive, isn’t enough. Hence the program’s lineup of conversations with fashion and other personalities.
Altuzarra is approaching his stage time as an opportunity for customer interface, and a genteel marketing opportunity. “I relish the opportunity to speak directly to my customers, especially those who shop online on platforms like matchesfashion.com,” he says. “The talk with Garance will really focus on my process, the French and American duality Garance and I both share, the past few collections, mainly topics that are intended to either introduce or offer more insight into the Altuzarra brand.”
For her part, Hearst loves any platform that sheds light on her passion, sustainable chic. “I find Ruth and Tom incredibly inspiring,” she says. “So much of substantiality is practice and not apparent to the consumer, to be able to speak to them directly about our sustainable practices is a gift.”
As for the broad reach of presenters and topics – in addition to those noted above, there’s “Wake Up to Wellness” with Krissy Jones and Chloe Kernaghan; Sky Ting Yoga; “The Future of Social Photography” with Cole Rise, and a session on “The Art of Collecting” with Paddle8’s director of business development Maura Smith – Chapman maintains that to connect with customers only on the product level misses the point of connection.
“We don’t want to be a department store and we don’t want to be a market place…we need to make sure that we are not too broad in what we do,” he explains, noting that such focus involves an understanding of the customer’s interest beyond fashion — art, photography, health, etc. “If we’re just talking to our customers every single day about product, product, product, product, we are not going to inspire them.”
While Chapman calls these events “a celebration of the customers,” they’re also reconnaissance missions, providing invaluable customer information — as does every single purchase and every other point of customer contact made via any one of the brand’s multiple touch points. Chapman references a recent shopping event in Seoul, the location of which was announced a mere 24 hours in advance. Twenty-five hundred people lined up, some as many as 12 hours early, for a 16-piece collection called Official Fake. Though a successful event in terms of the bottom line, even more compelling to Chapman “was the 5,000 people that we got information on,” those who went and shopped the event and those who didn’t, but who sought information about it.
The In Residence concept allows for more connection-driven research. “We measure absolutely everything,” Chapman offers. The brand developed its own CMS system that, come event time, tracks everything from the invitation process to any pre-event queries to purchases and post-event commentary, gauging the bottom-line impact of an event sometimes even while it’s in progress. “And we understand how much we have gained value for that customer’s experience.” Typically, an event results in a clear, positive ROI after three months.
If it sounds a bit clinical, Chapman argues otherwise, noting that essential magic-logic balancing act. “I think first, data, data, data…Once you have a great data warehouse where all that information is kept and you can use it for all the requirements, you have the business intelligence, the predictive analytics, you get the accurate information that you require. Then comes the magic. It’s a magic of the people.”
And of a vast, compelling marketplace. Unlike so many others who have grown bearish on luxury, Chapman thinks that if his company can’t grow the business by at least 25 percent annually, the fault lies in the mirror.
“People say, ‘Oh God, digital is competitive. Are you crazy?’ It’s not competitive. Look at the department stores; look at the amount of department stores there are. They only have one market, and that’s within a few miles of them. I’ve got a global market,” he muses. “I’ve got the whole world.”
And if for a few days in April, New York, and then Los Angeles and Paris, are the movable center of that world, the data indicates that millions of customers will engage from afar.