Micky Onvural has walked an unconventional path to the top post at Bonobos. She spent most of her career in marketing at brands such as Kellogg’s, eBay and Trulia. But Bonobos founder Andy Dunn saw something in the U.K. native that made him tap her in 2016 to serve as chief marketing officer for the men’s wear brand he founded in 2007. With the company’s acquisition by Walmart Inc. in 2017 and Dunn’s new role as head of digital brands for the mega-retailer, Onvural stepped up to chief executive officer.
Here, the mother of three talks about how her background has helped Bonobos evolve, particularly in terms of its out-of-the-box marketing campaigns; her management style, and how she balances work and family.
WWD: Tell me about your background and how long you’ve been at Bonobos.
Micky Onvural: I started my career at L’Oréal in the U.K., running hair coloring brands. From there I went to Kellogg’s and did kids’ cereal. Then I went to eBay — none of this had anything to do with running a men’s wear brand — and ran global brands for them in the U.K. In 2004, I moved to the U.S. and ran global brands for eBay on the West Coast. From there, I went to Trulia, the real estate search company, as vice president of consumer marketing, and did that through the acquisition by Zillow. Then I went to a couple of start-ups in the beauty and video chat space and razor-cut my teeth in these smaller, entrepreneurial environments. I realized that my sweet spot was in brands that were 10 to 11 years in and were at the point where they had great success and were thinking about what the next chapter was. I was approached about the Bonobos job and it was exactly at that stage — 10 years in, great success, how do we think about the future, continue our growth and continue to disrupt the category? I joined as the chief marketing officer in October of 2016 and we were acquired in the summer of 2017, at which point I became co-president. Then September of 2018 rolled around and we decided it was time for me to step up as ceo.
WWD: How involved is Andy Dunn?
M.O.: He’s running the portfolio of brands [for Walmart] and I still report to him. I meet with him once a week, check in, get his advice, give him a quick update on where we’re at from a revenue perspective, but he’s not involved operationally at all.
WWD: How much interaction do you have with Walmart?
M.O.: I check in with the chief financial officer of e-commerce once a quarter to give him an update on how we’re progressing against our budget for the year. From a day-to-day perspective, they really respect the brand that we have built and our unique go-to-market approach and they want us to continue to do what we do best. We work with them to get the economies of scale that being a part of such a large organization affords us, but it’s really us going to them if we need their help as opposed to them being a helicopter parent.
WWD: Bonobos started out as a brand offering a solution in pants. But what are the most successful products today?
M.O.: Pants remain our biggest business, specifically our stretch Weekday Warrior and our stretch chinos, which are our heritage products. They continue to grow year-over-year as we continue to bring new customers into the brand. With this increased casualization of the workforce, they’re the great go-to pant because you can dress them up and down relatively easily.
WWD: What else does well for Bonobos?
M.O.: We have a very fast-growing shirt business — everything from a casual shirt to a dress shirt. We’re getting increasingly well-known for print: from small geo-prints and florals all the way through to outrageous, Hawaiian-style prints in our Riviera shirts. That’s our second biggest category. And then we have a strong business in tailored — everything from blazers to suits.
WWD: You recently expanded into activewear and big and tall.
M.O.: Yes, underwear and socks, too. Our goal really is to dress the man from head to toe. But we’ve actually walked away from activewear. It didn’t really work for us. We’re famous for fit and at the end of the day, fit isn’t a primary value proposition for somebody looking for activewear. So we pulled out of that, but we added underwear and socks. They’re nascent businesses for us but they’re really great at helping us build baskets and the total outfitting of the guy.
WWD: Are there other categories you’d like to add?
M.O.: We are always looking at new categories but there’s nothing major on the horizon right now. The accessories business — belts, ties, pocket squares — is growing for us but we think our primary growth will come from bringing new customers into the brand because we still have a relatively small user base and we know there’s a ton of headroom. With extended sizes, that is a deliberate play to expand the reach of our brand while speaking to this underserved audience and giving them an amazing fit proposition. So we’ll continue to expand the assortment in extended sizes.
WWD: You mentioned you were doing well in shirts, and Untuckit springs to mind. How do you compete against the other specialist men’s brands like that?
M.O.: What’s our special sauce? We think about this through the lens of the promises we make to our customer every day. We make a promise around fit, whether it’s great-fitting pants, suits, shirts, blazers, etc. Even with the underwear and socks, we think a lot about fit and comfort. That’s our number-one promise.
Number-two promise is quality and style. For the price point, we really believe you won’t get a better quality product. And then for style, how do we help men express their individuality and step out of the blue — the navy blue — into some more vibrant colors and into prints.
The third promise that I think is a real differentiator for us is service. When we think about service, we have our ninjas who offer customer service for those shopping on the web or after they’ve shopped in stores, and also our guides. We take this approach called “unscripted,” which empowers our teams to do whatever is in the best interest of the customer. Whether that’s a ninja getting a suit to a customer who lost their suit on the way to a wedding, which has happened, or us helping a customer who has lost all their clothes in a fire.
Then the guides in the stores are focused on making sure they know what the customer is looking for. It’s not just about finding their fit, but styling them head to toe and building a lifestyle relationship with them. We’ve gone back to the basics a little bit. If you think back to the mom and pop shops of 50 years ago, and the corner store on the street where they know you by name, that’s the mentality we’re taking. We’re talking about the intersection of personalization and humanization.
WWD: You recently dabbled in women’s wear with a capsule for Women’s History Month. How did that go?
M.O.: The intent of that campaign was to get the attention of women. Forty percent of men’s wear in the industry is actually bought by women. So we really hadn’t spoken to that audience in the past and we decided to take the moment of Women’s History Month to talk to that woman shopping for her partner. What we did was to make the whole campaign around male ally-ship and ask make men to stand up and cede ground to women and lift them up. And we wanted to walk the walk so we designed the capsule as a sibling to the men’s collection. We took the prints that we had in our shirts and brought them into women’s products, and we donated the proceeds of those products to Promundo [a global organization dedicated to gender equality]. For us, it wasn’t really about a big sales push, it was about how we invite women in. It went well, it lifted the month, but it was never a big revenue driver.
WWD: How has the Bonobos customer evolved since the firm was founded?
M.O.: Eleven years ago, the guy was typically a first job banker, lawyer. He was earning good money straight out of school. Quite preppy. But we have evolved over time and our audience now is men who are fairly well-educated, household income of $125,000-plus, but it’s not just lawyers and bankers anymore. It’s much broader than that, not just socioeconomically but geographically. It’s spread from this hardcore New York, which is where it started, to much more urban areas across the country. It’s much more racially diverse, but we’re still for men 25 to 54.
WWD: You’re really an online brand, but what’s your brick-and-mortar store count?
M.O.: It’s 62. And it’s counterintuitive but they continue to be really successful for us. We run this business agnostic of channel in which the customer engages with us. Structurally that’s true because we pull from a single source of inventory — we don’t have inventory in the stores. It’s true in how we incentivize our store staff. Any sale made within seven days of a customer visiting is attributed to the store. We market to consumers based on their segment and their interest so as we think, I don’t say, it’ll be “N” stores, but what will be the most efficient dollars spent to grow a geographic area. The stores are an extremely powerful experiential marketing tool. When a customer comes in, they tend to spend a little more because there’s somebody there giving them incredible service and styling them from head to toe — and the web can’t compete with that.
WWD: You do wholesale too, right?
M.O.: We do. We have a partnership with Nordstrom that we’ve had since 2012. We’re in all their stores across the U.S., not the whole collection, but we continue to see great growth and we’re moving more into extended sizes with them. Our golf line is being tested in a number of stores this year in line with our partnership with Justin Rose.
WWD: Are you sold internationally?
M.O.: We ship internationally to consumers who buy through the web or come into the stores. We don’t market or have stores internationally and we don’t have localized sites.
WWD: You’ve done some pretty radical marketing pushes of late — such as the video for masculinity. Where does that come from?
M.O.: I have a long-standing belief that consumers don’t buy what you make, they buy what you sell. If you think of brands like Dove, Patagonia, Apple, Coca-Cola — you’re not buying soda from Coca-Cola, you’re buying happiness. You’re not buying a computer from Apple, you’re buying creativity. You’re not buying soap from Dove, you’re buying a new definition of beauty. It’s ever more true in the world we live in today where slightly younger consumers are gravitating toward brands that have meaning and that have an impact on their lives and the world. So we asked ourselves, what do we sell? At the end of the day, we sell confidence to men, confidence to express yourself and live your life the way you want to live it. Our mission is to create a world where every kind of man, no matter body shape, race, age, sexual or gender identity could have the confidence to find their place in the world. We had our big moment in the spotlight in July of 2018 when we did the Evolve the Definition campaign and since then, we’ve continued to build on that. For holiday of last year, our whole campaign was about untraditional families — it could be your work family, a single dad with a daughter, a gay couple. It really takes all sorts.
WWD: How do these campaigns go over with your customers?
M.O.: Incredibly well. Now that’s not to say that everybody loved it. On balance, most people have gravitated toward it among our existing customer base and it has definitely attracted new customers to the brand. There’s always going to be a vocal minority who don’t like it when you take a position. But it’s better to be loved or hated than people being indifferent. What you hope for is that more people love you than hate you.
WWD: Who do you look at as the competition?
M.O.: We think of it in two main buckets: the established players, the J. Crews and Gaps and Bananas of the world, and then there are the upstarts: the Untuckits and the Mizzen + Mains. What’s important is to be very clear on who you are and how you’re different and not obsess about the competition. You need to keep [your competitors] in your side mirror but make sure you know the path you’re on and what you’re driving toward.
WWD: What other brands do you respect?
M.O.: I think there are some really unique services appearing, whether it’s Proper Cloth or the Black Tux or Stitch Fix Men. They’re taking a customer problem and finding a really compelling solution. Men are creatures of habit, they like convenience and Stitch Fix Men is really great because it can work with them to understand their habits but it can also help them break out of that by suggesting new product — and it’s shipped to their door, how convenient. The Black Tux offers an elevated experience to people in the tuxedo rental business. That’s really intriguing. Tux rentals hasn’t been disrupted and innovated in a long time.
WWD: How have you put your mark on the brand since joining?
M.O.: From a brand perspective, I think I’ve had an impact clarifying our go-forward mission — this idea that we make fit happen for every body — and for wanting to be a brand consumers are drawn to for what we sell, not what we make. Then I’ve always believed there is a permeable wall between culture and brand. The third piece is that earlier this year, we launched a three-year strategy and based on the feedback from the team, this is the first time we’ve had a roadmap on how we’re going to win in this next chapter of evolution of the business. The clarity is giving everyone the path of where we’re going and why they should care and why customers should care about us.
WWD: That’s not unusual with businesses that are young because they’re often seat-of-the-pants.
M.O.: Totally. You try things and there have been a lot of happy accidents. The Guideshop is a happy accident. It started out as a showroom for Nordstrom and other people to see the collection and we realized the impact of being able to show them the product and get them in it, but men don’t have to walk out with it. Women shop for entertainment and like the instant gratification of walking out with the cashmere sweater wrapped in tissue paper in a bag. Men are OK with waiting a couple of days. In the early years when you’re scrappy and growing, you can trip into these happy accidents. As growth becomes something you have to work harder for, you have to be a little more deliberate about it, know what you stand for and not try to be all things to all people.
WWD: What have been the greatest challenges in learning about the men’s business?
M.O.: The first one is that this is a pretty insular industry. Most people at the senior level, and particularly at the ceo level, have storied histories. There’s been a little bit of, “Does she really know what she’s doing?” So showing people that my intelligent naïveté works to our strength. I can look with curiosity and understand the customer in depth and how to solve problems for them. It is a skill of mine that is important irrespective of the fact that I don’t have any retail or apparel experience.
The second thing is that I didn’t realize how hard it was to make really great-fitting clothes. We have 175 fit combinations in our pants so making those with consistent high quality is hard, particularly when you’re scaling a business at the growth rates we’re looking at right now. I’ve spent a lot of time learning the nuts and bolts of sourcing and production and planning and making sure it’s on the shelves for the customer to buy. It’s complicated and it gets more so as we think about the customer need for speed, customization and more sustainable product.
WWD: Who have been your mentors?
M.O.: I have an incredible executive coach who I speak to on weekly basis and text in between. She is a really good sounding board for working through problems. Andy is somewhat of a mentor. I’m in the lucky position where the former ceo of this business is still around and in my universe and there’s a ton of knowledge there to tap into. And my husband, who’s not in this industry at all, but he obviously knows me extremely well and at this stage in my career, my job is 99.9 percent about leadership, how do I inspire, motivate, bring out the best in people and the best of myself to work every day. From that perspective, he’s a really great support.
WWD: How would you describe your management style? How do you hire people?
M.O.: When I became ceo, I made three commitments — to be a champion for the customer, the brand and the team. The second was to embrace innovation and reward failure. I’m pretty risk-tolerant and I have this mantra of fail fast, fail forward. I have a belief that there’s power in vulnerability and it’s OK to say you don’t know the answer to something. In terms of the people: I’ve been rebuilding the executive team over the past six months and I gravitate toward people who can really fly high at a 30,000-foot strategic level and can also operate very comfortably at the 3,000-foot level. But this is a detail-oriented business, so you also have to have a relentless focus on execution.
WWD: What do you read, or which sites do you follow and why?
M.O.: I’m a mother of three — my kids are seven, six and three — so my content is highly curated, it’s called LinkedIn. I look to my network for content. I probably read one to two leadership-driven books a year. I recently read “The Athena Doctrine,” which is a really interesting study around the qualities of female leadership. They’re inherent in men as well, but we don’t always give men permission to show them: things like vulnerability, resilience, flexibility. I’m a big follower of CliftonStrengths Finder, which is about the innate strength we all have and how to embrace those and stop trying to make up for our weaknesses.
WWD: Is it important for a ceo today to be on social media?
M.O.: Yes, for one very important reason: the employee brand. No matter who I interview at what level of the organization, they’ve always checked me out on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter. And they’re looking to see if what you say on the outside is lived every day on social media. It’s putting the face to the brand.
WWD: How do you do it with three little ones?
M.O.: I’m just very structured. I am not one of those ceos who gets up at 4 a.m. I’m woken up by my three-year-old at 7 and I make the kids lunches and take them to school because that’s important to me. I’m at the office by 9:30 and I leave at 6 to go home and be with the kids. I will get back online after they’ve gone to bed, but I have to be very intentional about how I spend my time. I believe in balance, whether you have kids or not. For me it’s family and work, for others it can be travel and work or exercise and work, whatever is important to them. With balance, we’ll all be better at our jobs.