Brian Berger: The Apple of Underwear

Brian Berger: The Apple of Underwear
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Paradigm Shifters is a series of interviews with a select group of women and men from eclectic walks of life. It will highlight unspoken, real-life insights on how they have been able to turn weakness into strength. A naked soul point of view of how their breakdowns were really a preparation for breakthroughs. They are your quintessential paradigm shifters; internal shifts converted into genuine change.

Everything I have ever done has been focused on this underlying theme of shifting the paradigm because, "What we think determines what we feel and what we feel determines what we do." Hence, why Empowered by You takes lingerie, which has traditionally been seen merely as a tool of seduction and redirected that energy as a tool of empowerment.

I hope from these stories you will look at your own situations, struggles and accomplishments through a different lens. At the very least you will be more equipped with real life tools to change your own paradigm. At the end of the day, we are our own Alchemist turning the silver we were born with into the gold we are destined to become.


Brian Berger - Founder & CEO, Mack Weldon

You were a Silicon Valley guy before you jumped into this underwear world. Was there an Aha moment that led you here?

Obviously, I had a strong inclination and passion for the Internet as a marketing and distribution channel but how I came to found Mack Weldon was through your typical frustrated customer experience.

I could never find what I previously bought which is a problem in a category where customers really want consistency. When you dig deeper it makes sense because retailers want "new" they don't want what they purchased last time from a brand. Couple this with a lack of long term customer relationship management - in a product category that is all about loyalty - and the light bulb goes off.

I was looking at companies like Warby Parker and Bonobos that were doing an amazing job at taking painful customer experiences and creating delightful ones - why not apply the same approach here. After all, this category really is perfect for e-commerce - simple sizing, repeat purchases, no try-ons, easy to ship, etc.

Tell me what sets Mack Weldon apart from other underwear brands?

First is the product. We are a product-centric brand and that permeates everything we do. The fabrics that we engineer from scratch are all rooted in natural fibers like pima cotton and merino wool but also include a lot of innovation. For example, in our Silver line we combine pima cotton and XT2 Silver technology, which is naturally antimicrobial and keeps you cool and dry.

The second thing is that we obsess about creating the most convenient customer experience. And that's not just because we're largely an e-commerce brand, it has to do with how we merchandise (not a ton of choices), how we assort (not a ton of categories) and finally how we price (never sales, just volume based pricing all the time). This is important strategically because guys typically buy this stuff on sale, so what we do is mitigate having to cheapen our brand and play pricing games by just allowing you to save all the time based upon your cart size. That is a win-win scenario for the customer and Mack Weldon.

The last piece is the fact that we are entirely direct to consumer. This is important for two reasons: 1) it allows us to consistently invest in producing the highest quality product (due to our margin structure) and 2) we get a chance to foster long-term customer relationships in a category where guys buy on a regular cycle. By having this customer dialogue, we can help facilitate reorders, learn their preferences and get feedback on how to improve the product.

You said that once men have the product, they are more likely to buy consistently. How do you know that?

Well this is a category with a lot of loyalty when guys find a brand that they like.
Our customer data supports this - over 50% of our first-time customers become repeat customers with 20% reordering within sixty days. Guys will typically leave this stuff in their drawer until it wears out. But once you start wearing better quality items, you really understand and gain an appreciation for the fact that there is a benefit to having new, fresh basics.

So who would be your competitors?

When we think about competitors it's generally not our peers in the category. I mean, Calvin Klein is the eight hundred pound gorilla in terms of premium men's underwear and it seems we are grabbing some share from them - but I would say it's more companies who we compete with for marketing mindshare. So, there are a lot of companies (that we are huge fans of) chasing the same guy--that could be anyone from J.Crew to Harry's or Casper.

All of us are competing for that customer in terms of how much we're bidding for ad placements but trying to engage busy prospective customers who have limited disposable time (for shopping).

What was your breakdown to breakthrough moment?

Well when you do something like this, you're faced with breakdowns all the time. But I think what it boils down to for any first-time entrepreneur is to learn to trust your instincts. Any time you spend laboring over a decision is time that could be spent helping to build your business in some other area.

Having more confidence and appreciating that you've been able to make the right calls a majority of the time makes the process much more efficient.

What kind of legacy do you wish to leave behind?

When I relate this question to our business, first it's really about building something that is authentic, sustainable and reaches a point where it can live beyond me.

The nice thing for Mack Weldon is that the products we sell will always be in demand and the method by which we sell will be around for a long time to come. There's a lot of pressure to do more, more, more, but for us it's really about staying true to our values and making sure to build and execute something that is real and sustainable.

The second piece is creating an environment that attracts the best people. At the end of the day, companies like ours are all about the people. When employees feel trusted and accountable, they do their best work. Of course we focus on operating results but for me a big barometer of our success is do people want to work here and when they do are we helping them be successful.

If your life were a book, what would the title be for 2015 and what is it for 2016.

For 2015 it was "The Fast and the Furious". Last year we had a small team and we accomplished a lot--we re-launched the website, almost doubled revenue, doubled our customer base, launched five new products, doubled the size of our team, moved offices, etc.
For 2016 it's "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," which was one of my favorite books. We have a similarly ambitious plan this year in terms of the business growth and also in terms of product and technology milestones. The word "genius" is important here because we have to be smart about where we spend our time and resources.

If you talk about foresight, Mack Weldon is sure to be first to come to mind. Talk about finding a niche in the industry and doing it with the utmost elegance and relevance. In such a complex world with so much product, it is nice to be reminded that being true to self and keeping it simple is a basic necessity.

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