The secret staying power of Lands’ End: A Decision Makers exclusive
Executive Produced by Neil A. Carousso
“Don’t get stuck in your ways,” might seem like unexpected advice coming from Lands’ End CEO Jerome Griffith.
Why? Well, the company is heading towards its 60th anniversary and, as Bloomberg’s Carol Massar noted during a recent Decision Makers interview with Griffith she hosted alongside WBBM Newsradio’s Cisco Cotto, Lands’ End has been called “stodgy” in the past.
Decision Makers interviews offer a peek inside some of the most well-known consumer brands in the country and the executives, such as Griffith, who run them.
Massar noted that the “stodgy” comment came before Griffith, formerly of Esprit, Tommy Hilfiger and Tumi, took the helm of Lands’ End in 2017.
While the company – which has evolved from a yacht supply store in Chicago to an apparel and home goods company in the past half century – is still known for dependable, comfortable apparel under his leadership, Griffith explained how it has to change things up in order to keep appealing to customers.
“You have to stay flexible,” he said. For Lands’ End, this focus on flexibility extends from its manufacturing decisions and its corporate culture to its product distribution and marketing.
Griffith explained that the company has worked for years to make sure its products aren’t all made in the same place.
“We didn’t want to be tied into any one country,” he said, adding that no one country represents more than 20% of manufacturing for the Lands’ End. This approach has helped the company avoid some of the potential impact of COVID-19 pandemic-related shutdowns, including a recent two-month shutdown in Vietnam.
Since the pandemic began two years ago, Griffith said Lands’ End has also embraced the benefits of remote work. Designers have been able to work using 3D technology. Customers have been consistently satisfied with the fit of clothes made by the company according to the TruFit app and Lands’ End has managed to keep up low return rates for its products, said the CEO.
Remote work has helped current employees become more efficient and it has also helped the Dodgeville, Wisc., company expand its talent base, said Griffith. Recently, workers have started coming back to the office for “collaboration sessions,” but the CEO doesn’t think working there will ever be the same.
“What you’re really seeing is a wholesale change of how people work,” he said.
As the company becomes more flexible about remote work, it has also been carving out a new distribution strategy. In addition to its own stores and website, Lands’ End offers its products online through Amazon, online and in-store through Kohl’s and is working with QVC for TV shopping.
Griffith said that offering Lands’ End at brick-and-mortar Kohl’s stores has only increased online sales for the company. Products are expected to be available at more than 500 Kohl’s locations by the end of the year.
“You’re relevant because you’re there,” he said.
Another collaboration aimed at keeping the brand relevant was with Draper James, Reese Witherspoon’s clothing line.
“It makes it cool, and the cool factor is something you can’t…really put your finger on,” Griffith said.
However, the most important part of staying relevant is understanding your customer, he said. And Griffith really knows the Lands’ End customer.
She’s a woman in her 40s or 50s living in suburbia. She’s affluent but frugal, she works and she is tech savvy, doing most of her shopping from her smartphone. Her children probably still live at home and she picks out her husband’s clothes for him – at Lands’ End.
Griffith said most of the men’s apparel produced by the company is actually purchased by women. School uniforms are another big seller.
The typical Lands’ End customer is also loyal and shops with the company for an average of 17 years, he said.
In recent years, the company has also worked to include more diversity in its marketing. Just before the pandemic, in 2019, Lands’ End launched “Let’s Get Comfy,” a campaign based on its customers’ biggest priority: comfort.
It proved to be a prophetic campaign when the pandemic forced people at home and reduced a need for more formal office attire.
“Better to be lucky than smart,” said Griffith of the campaign.
Going forward, he said the company still faces challenges such as supply chain issues and inflation. Even so, he thinks the future looks bright for Lands’ End.
“If you look at 2021, it was really a great year for the company. Overall, we had a good increase in revenue to the point where it’s our best year since 2011,” he said. “It’s our best earning year since 2014, when we were spun off from Sears as a public company. So, we feel really good about where the year ended up.”
Griffith said the company is looking to hire more employees, to expand its distribution and to grow its uniform business. He also said they are always keeping an eye on customer data as more Gen X customers join Baby Boomers as loyal Lands’ End shoppers.
Towels and sheets made by Lands’ End might even be the key to reaching out to millennials, he told Massar and Cotto. His children, at least, have been big fans and are spreading the word to their friends.
At the end of the day, Griffith said that keeping both Lands’ End customers and team members happy is the key to success, especially through difficult times such as a pandemic.
“I think the most important thing we should really be doing is keeping our people motivated,” he said.
Decision Makers is a joint exclusive production from Bloomberg and Audacy and executive produced by Neil A. Carousso.