For brands operating exclusively in the digital world, adding a bit of brick-and-mortar space to the business model can go a long way.
That was what John Ballay, chief executive officer of Knot Standard, a custom men’s suit company, learned when he subdivided his 900-square-foot headquarters in Manhattan’s Flatiron district, into a 200-square-foot showroom and 700 square feet of offices.
“The birth of Knot Standard happened five years ago as an e-commerce custom men’s wear company — that is almost a complete paradox in of itself.”
“For the first two years we sold exclusively online” via an online studio that created a 3-D wireframe of the customer’s body to design a custom suit with fabrics assembled to the customer’s specifications. “You could not come into a showroom and purchase anything,” Ballay noted. “The supposition was if you created a strong enough product and a strong enough brand, then people wouldn’t need to come into a showroom and experience it.”
But after a couple of years in business, Ballay and his team came to realize that the company was working “because we were filling a need. The U.S. had been underserved for generations on the custom front and the custom tailors were not passers-down to their offspring, so you had a void in the market.”
But Ballay also learned that since custom fit is subjective and people had different notions of what a custom jacket or of shoes should look and feel like, being online only was a big challenge. “There was an opportunity in our e-commerce platform to give us an edge with our supply chain base to do a couple of things, the first of which was to take our whole 900-square-foot office, and hold your breath for the anticlimatic announcement — build a partition.
“So in this 200 square feet, what you had was a test. You had a bookshelf with a bunch of fabric books, and made-to-order custom suiting. We had so many people showing up unannounced to the office, and saying they’d like to see the fabrics. I’d like to see the suit I saw online. Can I see it in person?” They were also inquiring from Knot Standard workers, “What do you wear? What do you recommend?”
“What this led to over the next three years is a very different state — we now have eight locations,” Ballay said, including San Francisco; Texas; Washington D.C.; Chicago; Dubai, and New York.
“We didn’t replicate what was working by market. We replicated by individuals. We built a solid customer experience,” Ballay explained.
That’s by having stylists in the showrooms who are “very specific, providing very curated experiences,” Ballay said. “Each stylist has two common denominators: first, high attention to detail and high mental capacity. Custom suits are not easy. You are not just pushing product out the door. There is an extremely high attention to detail.”
Secondly, “Each of our individual stylists generally cares what the customer looks like, how happy he is and how he feels when he leaves, and this has been interwoven in their DNA. It has really helped drive repeat business into our showrooms.
“What are you gaining by having the physical space? The easy things, and that’s customer confidence,” Ballay said. “If I can come into a physical space and see and trust that you as a brand are legitimate, there is a lot of confidence, and that’s going to increase the basket size.”