The past decade has seen more US companies allow business casual dress at work. According to a survey by the Society of Human Resources Management, slightly over 60% of companies now allow business casual to be worn to the office. While there is not a universally accepted definition of business casual, for men, it typically prescribes button-down shirts, slacks, and dress shoes for men. Women under such a dress code women normally wear a buttoned blouse, slacks or a skirt, and closed-toed shoes.
Millennials, who currently make up a majority of the workforce, are thought to play a role in driving this trend, especially given fierce competition to attract good workers in labor markets. However, with traditionally formal firms such as JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs embracing business casual, it is clear that even many senior managers think a more casual look makes sense.
So what is a clothing company to do in order to keep up with the trend toward business casual? British headquartered menswear firm Charles Tyrwhitt has been very successful in responding to this trend. The company has achieved double-digit grown over the past three years and increased annual sales above the $100 million market in the US market, led by strong sales of business casual products.
I spoke with Luke Kingsnorth, Global CEO of Charles Tyrwhitt and former President of its North American operations about trends the company had noticed and how they have responded. Kingsnorth observed that the company, founded by Nicholas Wheeler has strived to provide a high-quality menswear product that is accessible to everyone ever since its founding in 1986. This has led the company to focus on providing high quality at a more affordable price point than its competitors. Over the years, Kingsnorth notes, the company has had to expand its product line and the business casual trend has accelerated this even further. He observes:
“To serve the needs of our customers who are choosing a business casual look, Charles Tyrwhitt has developed a range of pants and sports jackets to meet the ever-evolving work wardrobe. We have a wide range of business casual shirts with softer collars that look great worn with or without a tie. Our pants now come in 3 fits with multiple ranges, ranging from more formal to business casual to casual (ie washed chinos, 5 pocket trousers).
Kingsnorth notes that the men’s wardrobes are expanding into a greater number of colors and styles than in the past as men are now more interested in what they wear. Thus, a wider range of products was needed. He notes that technology has also played a role in providing offerings that meet customer wants and needs, especially in the area of comfort and stretch. For example, the summer polo shirts offered by the brand are designed to resist moisture and stay cool, and eco-friendly Lyocell and wrinkle-free linens are also core fabrics. Kingsworth states:
“We see that our customers are looking for products that look great but are also very comfortable to wear, and we’ve responded with new stretch and travel ranges. Our purpose is to make it easy for men to dress well, and we work tirelessly to make sure we can help customers in the vaguer world of business casual with great products and guidance on how to match pants, shirts and jackets.”
Essentially, what the Charles Tyrwhitt brand has done is recognized that men now want a wider-ranging wardrobe that is also practical and comfortable. Whereas a few decades ago a consumer might buy four suits for the year with two white and two blue dress shirts, today’s man is more likely to buy something along the lines of a suit, two sportcoat, chinos, and more different colors of shirts, though blue and white remain best sellers. Kingsnorth stresses that the fashion trends are more gradual than sometimes made to be and, hence the company still offers formal suits. He believes that the formal men’s suit will not die out any time soon in spite of the shift toward business casual, stating:
“A large sum of people still wear suits and in my opinion, it’ll be a very long time before the suit is a thing of the past. It is still the smartest, most professional work outfit, and a high quality, well- However, as more businesses relax their dress code and employees look for more expression in what they wear at work, the traditional suit market has seen a very gradual decline over recent years and separate jackets and smart trousers have seen an increase .”
According to Kingsnorth, the essence of Charles Tyrwitt’s competitive advantage is in its value proposition. By offering very high quality, stylish clothes at a good price, the company appeals to a wide core demographic, including younger consumers looking for value and many older consumers who have high net worth and could actually afford higher-priced brands but like to save money . This is not too surprising given that saving money is, after all, the best strategy for pursuing high net worth. The brand’s British heritage influences its style and tone of voice and helps the brand to stand out in a very crowded market.
In the end, this is a story of a company doing excellent marketing by monitoring consumer trends and understanding technology to offer products that meet consumer desires, are eco-friendly, and are positioned effectively. This effective application of marketing principles is a winning strategy.