Thursday, April 28, 2005

Why blogs will change your business - and why they may not

There is an odd quixotic character to blogging. On the one hand, it seems to have revolutionized the very idea of publishing - think easy, accessible self-publishing anytime and anywhere. Think about a world in which every competitor, every customer or every partner could publish whatever he or she wants about your business and more importantly reach a general audience at the click of a button.

On the other hand, most blogs seem to be just little more than updated personal home pages, as this Business Week article wryly notes. That article contains a wonderful image of blogs as "heat maps" of millions of different conversations about something. That something could be X's latest greatest product, Y's lunch with a Famous Person (she did what?) or Z's unfriendly customer service.

Blogging is a new form of interactive media that pushes and pulls a highly personalized blend of content through individualized, interactive channels to an audience. To me, this is the key disruptive idea - each conversation becomes its own channel. It's about creating your own inexpensive, multichannel customer experience.

By sharing some aspect of your professional or personal life, combined deftly and honestly with a commercial intent, you can reap free buzz, PR and awareness. At their best, blogs create fresh opportunities for you to get a first (or second) look by potential customers, partners, sponsors, investors, pundits and influencers (and, of course, competitors and enemies).

The great thing about blogging is that it lowers the cost of one-to-one marketing to almost zero, which can be a godsend for certain low-profile, low exposure, hard to understand markets such as bespoke tailoring.

It's important to understand that there is a conversational aspect to blogging, which puts you in direct contact with the "blogosphere" of ardent, opinionated individuals. If you need to remember just one thing about blogs, always remember that your blog is like a conversation or chat with someone. Be honest and you'll avoid the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune.

Before taking the plunge, it's worthwhile to do a little planning. Check tips 5 and 6 in a recent Business Week article "Six tips for corporate bloggers". I'll post my own tips in the near future.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The best measure to live by - the standard of "excellence"

Today I listened to an interview and profile of Rafe Esquith in an NPR broadcast. Mr. Esquith is a Los Angeles public school teacher with remarkable passion and dedication for instilling excellence in his students. His goal is to create a "culture of excellence" and the results are remarkable.

A great story and lesson for life - one could do a lot worse than strive for excellence.

Friday, April 22, 2005

The Italian influence and shopping in Florence

A recent and informative StyleForum discussion thread takes a look at the in's and out's menswear shopping in Florence - primarily from the consumer's point of view of course. I've never been to Florence (just to Milan). Florence, Rome and Milan, are considered the premier destinations for men's clothing in Italy. For my next visit I'd like to check out the atelier of Liverano & Liverano, a Florentine tailor who cuts a dashing suit, which to my eye, crosses the classic square-shouldered Roman with Neapolitan features such as the lapel shape.

This interest in Italian stores brings to mind the larger influences of both England and Italy on menswear. In the modern era, menswear has been dominated by the Italians and English. They dominate the textile mills (i.e. Loro Piana, Holland & Sherry), suit/jacket styles, tailoring traditions and retail brands. I hope to post in the future on the Italian and English influence.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The business behind blogging: Bespoke tailor sees sales lift

Here's a merry statistic behind the buzz of blogs and the business they can potentially generate. According to fellow blogger Red Couch, Tom Mahon's English Cut blog has created a 300% increase in new business in 10 weeks since posting his first blog entry at the beginning of 2005. The English Cut, if I'm not mistaken, is the world's first blog by a bespoke tailor.

Now, this sales lift is probably not sustainable over time but it does illustrate the power of technology-assisted marketing to reach and convert new customers for your product or service. Synergies between $3,000 bespoke suits and RSS feeds - who would have thought?

Yet the logic is powerful - blogs are proven to generate what is known as "buzz". Here's how it works. Blogs immediately extend your available network of influencers (e.g. those who generate buzz). These newly added influencers interact and communicate with their own social networks, clients, peers, colleagues and captive audiences. If the buzz is compelling, it's passed onto their friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Bingo - you've just increased your potential customer base by tapping into the buzz generated by blogs.

The concept should sound familiar. When buzz converts a certain percentage of listeners, that is called old-fashioned "word of mouth". Blog-assisted buzz is just word of mouth plus technology.

Followup to web marketing 101

After I had posted my advice on StyleForum, I received a very nice complimentary message from Alexander Kabbaz. I haven't had the privilege of wearing one of his shirts but many consider Mr. Kabbaz to make the finest bespoke shirts in the US. Needless to say, I was flattered.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Web marketing 101 for bespoke tailors

A few weeks ago I posted some advice to Darren Beaman, an independent tailor on Savile Row, on the StyleForum website. Mr. Beaman was seeking advice and help on improving his website.

Here's my advice in full form:

I've done some internet/technology consulting and I find a common myth about websites is that you just slap something together and you'll be fine. I actually think it would be a useful exercise to keep in mind some things when establishing a web presence:

(1) Understand whom you want to target
Not all customers are equal in terms of value to your business and presumably you would prefer to serve certain kinds of customers over others.

To that end, you can ask yourself if you'd rather target specific kinds of customers such as:
  • Novice
  • Upgraders (from RTW or MTM)
  • Experienced (customers switching from other tailors)
  • Overseas (American/Canadian, continental/European, Asian, etc.)
Without being a tailor myself, I can easily imagine that different types of customers require different levels of service and attention.

(2) Develop key marketing messages "tailored" to customer intents on your website (pun intended)
Below are some sample messages by customer segment:
  • Novice = Patience, knowledge and experience to help you develop the right attire for you and your lifestyle
  • Experienced = No compromise on detail or quality
  • American = Best value in bespoke, flexible visiting schedule
  • Asian = Unstinting service and quality, local language version

(3) Develop content and features to support key messages
For example, the novice user might be interested in an tailoring tutorial while more experienced users may want to see your fabric selection. Or, if you want to make more of a splash and shake things up a little, consider doing something different. I believe Thomas Mahon was the first bespoke tailor on Savile Row to offer up his own weblog (or blog). Quite avant-garde.

But perhaps even more avant-garde, the latest tech trend is "podcasting" which is basically audio-on-demand or audio broadcasts that users can download. You could be the first bespoke tailor on the Row to podcast! Perhaps you could record a "day in the life of" a Savile Row tailor as you interact with a customer or visit a textile mill to order fabrics. The latter could be fascinating and quite informative. In addition, since it is all audio recorded, you wouldn't have to worry about the extra work needed to edit text.

(4) Finally, remember to drive traffic to your site
  • Research and consider buying Google keywords relevant to your business and brand (e.g. Savile Row, bespoke, affordable)
  • Have suppliers, partners and associates link to your site - One idea is linking to a textile mill that you're a customer of (e.g. Holland & Sherry customer page). The reasoning is simple. There are probably quite a few eyeballs going to H&S website, which are relevant to you. You can quite likely divert some of that traffic to your own site.
  • Develop a comprehensive list of metatags relevant to your website and insert in your homepage (e.g. Savile Row, bespoke)
  • Build good old fashioned word of mouth, PR and advertorials (apparel articles highlighting your work)

Savile Row and the winds of change

I came across a blog that mentioned an interesting Evening Standard article on the real estate and business model issues of today's Savile Row. There's no direct link to the ES website but the blog has links to the scanned article.

Incidentally, the blogger in question is apparently one of Thomas Mahon's friends/colleagues who convinced him to do the English Cut blog. A brilliant piece of marketing advice I think.

The article highlights the defining issue of Savile Row from a business perspective - namely, the classic business question of "make v. buy". In other words, do you keep as much of the tailoring/cutting/sewing and production in-house or do you disaggregate/outsource to achieve efficiencies that keeps pricing competitive? The older houses are struggling to keep things in-house in an environment of increasing real-estate prices. This is a classic economic squeeze - with sales flat and costs rising, the number of management options suddenly decrease. For most industries, cutting costs is easier than increasing sales. However, in a high-touch, high-involvement customer experience like bespoke tailoring, increasing sales turnover is even more difficult.

It's a real challenge but I certainly hope the traditional method survives and indeed thrives. If "old" Savile Row survives, it will do so in part because of the loyal support of its customers above and beyond the payment for bespoke apparel. Perhaps the appropriate word is less "customer" and more like a partner or a patron. According to the article, Anderson & Sheppard has survived only because of the "support" of wealthy clients (including Prince Charles).

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Bespoke in Beverly Hills: A visit to Jack Taylor's

Prior to my visit to his shop today, I only had a handful of references to Jack Taylor's.

  • Flusser's entry in Style and the Man describes Taylor's cut as "British-inspired, with narrow shoulders, shaped torso, slant pockets, and deep vents".
  • A recent article on Mr. Taylor in the Los Angeles Times Magazine.

It was a wonderfully mild and sunny day today when I dropped by Jack Taylor's. The shop is on Canon Drive just north of Wilshire Blvd and near Spago's. When I walked in the store, Mr. Taylor greeted me from his desk at the back of the long and rectangular retail space. For a man of 87 years, he has remarkable energy and enthusiasm for the business of tailored clothing.

What did we discuss? Why suits of course. He made no secret of his preference for single button, peaked lapel jackets. But he also said that he would naturally accommodate the customer's wishes. At my request, he brought out a suit jacket and trousers in progress. Interestingly enough, regarding the trousers, he mentioned that he recommends horizontally slanted pockets - something about hanging better for the wearer. He also had some fairly critical comments about MTM garments (which came up because I was wearing one!) but I didn't mind at all.

During our conversation, a customer of his walked in to check on some jackets in progress. He was wearing a superb-looking Taylor sports coat - double vented (fairly deep), slightly roped sleevehead and noticeable waist suppression.

When Mr. Taylor left to attend to the customer, I spoke briefly with one of the tailors who is an assistant to the head tailor. He's a Vietnamese gentleman who said he's been there for 15 years. The head tailor is a Hong Kong-trained tailor who's been working for Jack Taylor for 20 years. He does the pattern cutting. There's also another tailor who's been there for 45 years.

All in all, an interesting set of conversations. As for the future, Mr. Taylor mentioned that his lease is up in 3 years. Amazingly, it appears that his plan is to keep on working at least a few more years! I hope he does as I am looking forward to trying him out (and hopefully Giacomo Trabalza too).

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Disney Hall Concert: Kirov Orchestra

This evening I attended a wonderful concert by the brilliant Kirov Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev. The program included Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina Prelude, the Sibelius Violin Concerto (featuring Leonidas Kavakos) and Borodin's Symphony No. 2 in B minor. The orchestra displayed spirited, dynamic intonation and pacing and virtuoso playing by the woodwinds and brass (French horn for example in the Borodin). The Orchestra also performed two delightful encores: excerpts from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite and Rimsky-Korsakov's Snow Maiden, which Gergiev dedicated to the Pope.

Sartorially, I noticed that the soloist Leonidas Kavakos and Valery Gergiev were similarly attired. They both wore an all-black ensemble with a jacket that looked like a simplified frock coat. It's a rather formal and severe look - perhaps too rectangular and orthagonal for most men's body types I would say.

In contrast, I remember that Yuri Temirkanov, the conductor of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, dressed in traditional white tie and tails when he performed last fall in Disney Hall. Disney Hall, by the way, is an absolutely stunning piece of architecture with wonderfully resonant acoustics.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Bespoke tailors in Los Angeles

Using Flusser's Style and the Man and the Robb Report's list of top tailors as my guide, I discovered that there are at least three bespoke tailors of note in the Los Angeles area. They are (or were):
  • Anthony Gasbarri
  • Jack Taylor
  • Giacomo Trabalza
Unfortunately Mr. Gasbarri passed away in 2003. According to a Variety obituary, Gasbarri's clients included Red Skelton and Steve McQueen. He specialized in a unusual jacket design with no center back seam.

The other two - Taylor and Trabalza - are rather advanced in age (octagenarians I believe) and tailoring institutions in their own right. I hope they continue to ply their trade and hope that they have a team in place that can continue their tailoring traditions.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Oxxford trunk show at Carroll & Co

This afternoon I went to an Oxxford trunk show at Carroll & Co in Beverly Hills. I met and chatted with Mike Cohen, the raffish young president of Oxxford Clothes which is based in the west side of Chicago - "city of the big shoulders". In operation since 1916, Oxxford makes what many consider to be the best RTW and MTM men's suitings made in the US (assuming here that quality is defined primarily by the amount of handwork and handstitching).

Mike took a few measurements along the chest and sleeve and recommended the Radcliffe model for my body type (narrower shoulder and lapel). It looks like Oxxford is making an effort to update their classic full silhouette to reach a perhaps younger clientele. Before my abbreviated fitting with Mike, the representative from Holland & Sherry spent a few minutes going through their latest fabric swatch books - including some beautiful lighter worsteds in their Crystal Springs line.

He also took note of my loafers and thought they were made by the English shoemaker Edward Green, a Northampton-based firm that quite a few shoe aficionados consider to make the finest ready-to-wear men's shoes in the world. Actually they were a pair of English Grenson shoes that I got on sale from Bennie's Shoes. Though not an Edward Green, the Grenson Masterpiece is an elegant shoe with a channelled sole.