Retailer Feature: Frank & Oak
CUT & SHOW contributor Vanessa Tam, recently posted an interview on Vancity Buzz that she did with Ethan Song from Frank & Oak. Vanessa chatted with Ethan about starting his fashion business online and the move to brick and mortar, technology & IPO’s. Vanessa gave us permission to repost the interview. Check it out below.
Image: Frank & Oak
From Vancity Buzz - December 31, 2015
Depending on who you’re speaking to, people either really love clothing shopping or completely dread it. Heading out to the store, trying everything on, lining up to pay – it could all quickly become a little much. Frank & Oak, however, is a company that takes the stress out of men’s clothing shopping by adding technology and seamless personalization to their shopping experience.
Primarily known as an online retailer, Frank & Oak recently opened a new brick and mortar Vancouver flagship store in Gastown in addition to their eight other storefronts now open across Canada. Focusing on providing an experience that feels as local as it does global, Frank & Oak has reconfigured its flagship to offer the same personalized approach to shopping as it offers online. With mobile and online shopping seamlessly integrated in-store, customers will be able to access their past order histories and online style profiles, and can opt for complimentary personal styling appointments with trained style advisors.
Customers will also be able to have products shipped directly to their homes if an item is not available in store, delivering Frank & Oak’s focus on connected retail. The flagship will carry Frank & Oak’s monthly menswear items, limited run collections, and will host a variety of community-oriented events. The 2,400 square-foot space will also house a full service barber shop and juice bar helmed by the team at local juice emporium Krokodile Pear. The space is intended as a community hub to meet, connect, and linger.
We recently had a chance to chat with Ethan Song, CEO and co-founder of Frank & Oak, to talk about the company’s growth, their technology, and their plans for the future.
Ethan Song - CEO of Frank & Oak
Image: Frank & Oak
You guys recently topped the Technology Fast 50 program in Canada?
Congratulations! Number one in Canada, whereas Hootsuite is number seven, right?
This year, but I think they were higher up last year. Basically the way it works is, it’s your growth rate over four years that puts you on the list. We’ve won a few awards but that’s not really what drives us to do what we do. I think that building an interesting and culturally relevant brand and a great experience for our customers is what drives us. That being said, I mean, I think it’s good to get recognized once in a while.
“Frank & Oak isn’t a clothing company that excels in online retail, it’s a tech company that excels in online retail.” Would you agree with this statement?
Who said that? You said that or I said that?
I said it, I just made it up.
You know what, I don’t know that either of those two statements are true. The way that I see it, is that we’re like a relationship company that sells cool products with the help of technology. That’s the way I would describe it; experience has always been a big part of our business.
You know that our initial vision was like, how do we make shopping better and easier for men? That was how we started this business. Then we leveraged what the digital world had to offer, content, personalized recommendations, algorithms, to do that. So I think that’s how technology plays into it, but ultimately all that is to service the relationships we have with our customer.
Tell us about your experience in tech from the past and how it applies to Frank & Oak.
I studied in computer software engineering, at UBC actually, and then I worked for a technology strategy group for a while. But the technology strategy group was more about applied technology, like how you apply technology to solving business issues.
So I definitely had a strong understanding of what we could do, but what I was more passionate about wasn’t tech specifically, but more so about the digital internet. Like what could you do with media in a world where there are no limits. That’s what really drives me and passions me; we have the tools for storytelling that brands used to never have before.
Image: Frank & Oak
Do you think that you have a formula here with Frank & Oak that could apply to other products like footwear, womenswear, bespoke tailoring, or suiting?
I think that the concept of vertically integrated branding online that’s driven with personalization can apply to anything. I think within the Frank & Oak brand, like being very specific about what we’re doing, it does work. We can include a lot of [products within the brand] but it needs to be something that’s impactful and relevant to our brand values.
I don’t know if I’m answering your questions, I think I am. So the answer is yes, but in a certain way. I definitely think that it’s a new retail model for this generation of customers.
Last year, you guys got a second round of funding totalling 15 million. Would you have any plans to ever release an IPO and become a publicly traded company?
I mean, you never say never you know, but I think that we’re far away from that. I think that right now, as I said, we’re really focused on building a relationship with our customer and growing what our brand and our technology can be. So no, it’s not in our short term goals. I think that we definitely want to stay independent; we’re not looking at selling the company. We definitely want to continue to grow from within.
Would you ever consider licensing your algorithm or the technology behind Frank & Oak?
Yeah, I don’t think so. In that aspect we’re a little bit like Apple in that we like to create our own environment and control that environment. Our technology is unique to us and our brand is unique to us, as in you can’t buy Frank & Oak via another retailer. So, as I said, our philosophy is to remain independent and continue to grow within that.
Image: Frank & Oak
I read in another interview that you’re launching a bunch of brick and mortar stores, both in Vancouver and in the U.S. as well, and that you’re treating the physical stores as well as the new magazine that you just launched as more of a marketing move opposed to a retail move. Do you expect your brick and mortar stores to impact your online sales in a negative or positive way at all?
I think we expect it to be positive. I think that despite the fact that we’ve grown tremendously in the last couple years, it’s a big world out there and there’s a lot of new customers for us to discover. I think that we’re definitely using our stores to create more of a sense of community, have events and more content.
But it’s also a way to introduce our product to new people and I think that ultimately if we do that well, it’s only going to grow our business online as well. So I think that’s what the purpose is. If I had one chance to sell you what we stand for, how do I do that? That’s the way we designed our stores.
What are you guys working on next? Besides all the new retail locations that you’re opening.
I would say that I can’t tell you in detail, but I can tell you the direction we’re going in. We’re really focused on actually making our services more locally focused. You know the e-commerce world is very globally focused, so we’re actually finding ways of how do we partner with local businesses. How do we go about creating brand awareness locally in, let’s say Gastown? Then how do we use our stores as a platform for our online world? That’s what we’re working on right now.
From a product and brand perspective, we just launched a grooming products line that’s for skincare and hair. It’s extending our brand out of apparel and into products that make you feel better, which was always part of our mission so I’m really excited about that. And, lastly, when it comes to actual fashion, what we’re doing is really refining our product. Like how do we make it even more clear with what’s there for the customer, and so that’s that.
Frank & Oak Vancouver Flagship Store
Where: 316 West Cordova Street, Vancouver
Monday to Wednesday: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Thursday to Friday: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sunday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.