After hearing Andrew Berg speak at Luxury Interactive, we had to learn more. Andrew is president at Robert Graham, a self-described “American eclectic” purveyor of luxury menswear. Andrew’s vision for a brand that encapsulates the feel of luxury while maintaining a vibrant personality was contagious, and we loved hearing his strategy for brand cohesiveness.
Holly Vander Wall: Andrew, we loved connecting with you at Luxury Interactive! A key takeaway for us is that luxury retailers are adapting to the digital age by doing what they’ve always done best: centering the customer experience. How do you put this into action at Robert Graham?
Andrew Berg: We strive to put our customer first in every conversation we have as a brand. Along those lines, every consumer touchpoint must be consistent. Whether it’s brick-and-mortar or digital, the brand experience is cohesive and authentic across channels. This translates to empowering the consumer to choose their preferred channel of interaction with the brand — whether they prefer to experience Robert Graham in person, via email, on social media or our website. The consumer can choose. It’s our job to make sure the experience is comfortable and consistent for them.
For example, we’re currently showcasing our Downhill sport coat across channels. Walk into any store, and you’ll see it on the front mannequin. We’ve emailed our subscribers, and you can find it featured on Facebook and as a trio of images on Instagram. In parallel, we’re doing an outpost at Bloomingdale's focused on the coat. To me, this is how brands today cut through the clutter and noise and really make an impact — universal consistency through all touchpoints. Of course, it’s much easier said than done. You’re dealing with hundreds of SKUs, you need to coordinate marketing initiatives around the website, and at any given moment other opportunities will come up that may conflict with the expressed plans of your current campaign. But this consistency is at the core of what can make brands today win or not.
HVW: The Robert Graham style is self-described as “American eclectic,” and strikes a balance between colorful, expressive and old-world luxury, notably with the exclusive look and feel of your Collector’s Club. How do you balance this juxtaposition?
AB: I see this balance as speaking to the core of our value proposition. The beauty of Robert Graham is that our collectors get to experience the brand based on how it feels to them. We’re a distinctive brand, of course, with our own unique point of view. But the reason it resonates so powerfully with our collectors is it allows them the opportunity to express their individuality through the brand. For some it’s the eclectic look, for others it’s being part of an exclusive club. For most, it’s a combination of the two.
This is an intentional result of everything we do, from marketing to design to production. That’s how we’ve set out to create an authentic luxury company with a bold, distinctive personality.
We’ve also broken the rules that luxury has to fit into a traditional mold. Of course, before you can break the rules, you have to first master them. Robert Stock, our founder, has been a menswear designer since the 1960s, moving in the same circles as more traditional menswear brands such as Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren. Knowing those rules, and then intentionally breaking them, was his strategy from the beginning of Robert Graham’s launch in 2001.
HVW: As a younger company, do you feel Robert Graham has an advantage over some of these iconic brands when it comes to keeping up with the digital transformation of retail?
AB: In a way, I suppose the fact that we’re only 17 years old is a benefit in the sense that we aren’t so ingrained in the old way of doing things and weighed down by decades of legacy infrastructure and processes. At the same time, every year is a renaissance around new technologies, so in today’s world a 17-year-old company is by no means young! We came of age in the middle. We’re not new in the same way that a digital startup is approaching the business, but then again I don’t think only companies that are a few years old can innovate and transform retail.
I think about Uniqlo as a great example of an older company that continues to innovate. It’s been in business for decades, but has remained innovative in the brick-and-mortar space in terms of merchandising, consumer experience and product. I previously worked at Theory, owned by Fast Retailing, whose CEO preached the philosophy of change or die. With great leadership and processes, a company of any age can be cutting edge and a great innovator.
HVW: In your role as president, what's your primary challenge in staying abreast of innovations in tools and technologies?
AB: I think the primary challenge is the sheer pace of the changes that are happening, in both technology and the retail landscape. Just when you’ve gotten a company up to speed, there’s something new to consider. It’s critical to have the right team in place to help you evaluate all the different opportunities at your fingertips, while keeping a close eye on the core operations of the business.
HVW: To your point about having the right team in place, what do you look for in strategic partnerships?
AB: It has to start with partners who have a track record of successful execution in the relevant area of where you want to go and what you’re looking to achieve. Regardless of their tenure and accomplishments, it’s essential that they have relevant experience. Of course, there are times when a technology is so new — machine learning, for instance — that there simply isn’t much to point to. In those scenarios, it’s crucial that you have trust in the relationships and the people you’ll be working with. There are instances where we run parallel paths in order to evaluate different partners who come to the table, and quickly learn who’s going in the right direction.
HVW: What was your biggest “Aha!” moment in the last six months?
AB: If you’ve ever done one of those spin classes, you’ll know that each bike has a resistance knob which is really the key to the whole workout. The interesting thing is the resistance knob is a personal decision of whether you turn it up and how far. From an outsider’s viewpoint, two people could be doing the same pedaling, standing and other movements, but if one of them has turned up the resistance knob, they’re getting a much better workout and return on their time.
My recent aha moment was when it hit me that many brands have websites full of pages, product and content. But how much work goes into optimizing that channel, while not always visible from an outside or consumer point of view, is of the utmost importance. What’s behind the scenes matters, whether it’s having the right technology, personnel, business processes, personalization or dedication to constant evaluation to get the best return on your time. Just because it looks like you’re in business, it doesn’t mean that you’re really “in business.”
HVW: So true! I think that will resonate with anyone who has put extensive work into behind-the-scenes optimization. Thank you so much for sharing your insights into your vision regarding brand consistency, innovation and integrity. I'm looking forward to seeing what’s next from you and Robert Graham!
Holly Vander Wall is director of marketing at Avenue Code, an enterprise IT consulting firm. A retail and e-commerce enthusiast, she enjoys keeping up with the rapidly changing retail landscape and is a regular contributor at Avenue Code Snippets. In her free time, Holly enjoys traveling, reading and writing.