Having recently tapped into some top-shelf talent and secured $4.5 million in first-round financing, Guideboat Co. is eyeing new store locations and is considering starting a wholesale division.
Launched in fall 2013, the Mill Valley, Calif.-based company is headed by Stephen Gordon, who recruited former Ralph Lauren Home president Ian Sears to join Guideboat as president. This is not their first go-round as colleagues — Sears previously served as chief marketing officer for Restoration Hardware, which Gordon started. As part of the plan “to take some of the weight” off Gordon’s shoulders, Sears is handling merchandising, inventory and operations, e-commerce, customer service and the company’s call center. Gordon remains in charge of finances, product design, production, stores and catalogue sales.
To date, Gordon and Chad Hurley funded the outdoor-inspired company. Hurley, cofounder of YouTube, is not involved with Guideboat’s day-to-day operations but helps with financial and strategic advisement and serves on the board of directors. The recently wrapped-up equity offering included Simon Equity Partners and the CircleUp Growth Fund, as well as Hurley.
As part of its plan to take an even more aggressive direction for 2016, Guideboat will open a store in San Francisco, and another one in Seattle, New York or Greenwich, Conn. The aim is to unveil seven or eight more stores in 2017, Gordon said.
Even though the apparel collections are equally divided between women’s and men’s offerings, a significant number of female shoppers are buying men’s products for themselves, Gordon said. Current bestsellers include the $385 Atlantique Peacoat, the $225 Irish Merino Cable Knit poncho, the $165 women’s Moleskin shirt, the $145 women’s Red Feather Tartans shirt, a $195 Scotland Calling Fair Isle sweater and a $225 Montagne Shirt Jacket. “Our female customers really gravitate towards updated classics that are made with authentic materials but are tweaked to be a little more alluring.” Gordon said. “We’re not self-editing. We’re just letting a masculine aesthetic be feminine and that’s appealing to her.”
Guideboat designs and makes 95 percent of its women’s and men’s apparel, much of which uses European and Japanese heritage fabrics. Most of the brand’s outerwear is cut and sewn in New York City, with the balance made in the U.S., Canada and Europe. This holiday season Guideboat shipped catalogues to one million shoppers and typically sends out about four e-mail blasts a week, so as not to bombard customers, Gordon said. To try to encourage late-in-the-game shopping, Guideboat will offer two-day shipping at no added cost from December 17 to 21.
Guideboat has added board members in two executives with successful start-up experience — Serena & Lily founder and chief executive officer Lily Kanter and Wheels Up founder Kenny Dichter. Kanter worked at IBM, Deloitte & Touche and Microsoft before starting Serena & Lily and helping to make it a 400-unit home decor chain. In addition to Wheels Up, Dietrich started Marquis Jets, which he sold to the Berkshire Hathaway-owned NetJets. In college, Dichter showed his entrepreneurial spirit by opening a store on the University of Wisconsin’s Madison campus selling T-shirts, sweatshirts and other staples.
More recently, Gordon has spoken with him about creating Guideboat gear for Wheels Up members, and potentially offering Guideboat-Wheels Up experiences around Adirondack estates, with Guideboat tours, all with the use of the Wheels Up fleet. Jet fly fishing and other high-end adventures could be appealing to the Adirondacks’ moneyed summer crowd, which now includes Alibaba’s Jack Ma, who in June sprang for 28,100 acres of what was once a private nature reserve created by Standard Oil’s William A. Rockefeller Jr. Dichter joined his friend Hurley — and transported him — to the Adirondacks for a few jaunts this summer where Hurley and Gordon each own property. The latter named his company and developed its outdoors-minded lifestyle concept from the 19th-century guideboats he rowed growing up on Lake Champlain in the Adirondacks.