How Ledbury Knows When to Serve the Unique Me / Behavior & Business 1.7

This is the seventh in a series of ten articles focused on designing better cross-platform retail experiences. To read the complete issue, download it here.

When it comes to Product-Person Fit, brands need to provide a spectrum of fitting experiences from the visionary to the practically applied. Once a loyal customer base has been established, retailers have permission to craft experiences that allow customers to assist and guide product development in more custom ways.

If you’re like us, you may be tired of the buzzwords ‘personalization’ and ‘customization.’ It also gets confusing when people use the terms and tactics interchangeably when in fact they’re quite different. Personalization suggests that brands or systems use data to tailor experiences to you, for you — think of your Amazon homepage and the items that they recommend. Odds are that your items are different than mine because we may be fundamentally different people or we need different items at different times. Customization is when brands give customers agency to change product or experience parameters themselves to fit their own needs — think of using MINI’s site to choose British flags on your side view mirrors instead of just boring forest green.

Side mirror customization at MINI’s website.

Sometimes customizing feels like too much work for customers; simply telling customers what product is best for them might turn out to be a better (and more profitable) customer experience. Which sideview mirrors look awesome with the MINI model that I picked? What’s trending now? What kind of sideview mirrors aren’t people buying? When customizing products makes sense is when the idiosyncratic details of products and services matter to customers and there’s little sense for a brand to guess what those decisions might be.

Sometimes customizing feels like too much work for customers; simply telling customers what product is best for them might turn out to be a better (and more profitable) customer experience.

The best retail brands often combine personalization and customization for different reasons: the overall retail experience and standard product line is better when personalized based on my own past behaviors or the behaviors of customers like me, as well as an in-depth understanding of customer needs and tastes that helps brands stay on the leading edge of inspiration. With products that are frequently used, when comfort and appearance are a high priority, and trial-and-error is a costly endeavor, that’s where customization can help brands differentiate and serve customers better for specific needs.

Business Directive: Craft Experiences that Know When to Serve the Unique Me

Take Ledbury, a fast-growing online shirtmaker based in Richmond, Virginia. Ledbury began in the late 2000’s by two business school classmates who were frustrated with the poor quality and fit issues of higher end ready-to-wear shirts. They decided that the only way to solve their pain was to learn as much as they could about shirtmaking and start a new company. So they spent a full year learning as much as possible from a tailor-mentor on Jermyn Street in London’s famed fashion district. The mentor had one mantra: ‘Be the best, make the best, and the rest will follow.’ Ledbury had a mantra, too: ‘Own shirtmaking.’

Ledbury’s co-founders Paul Trible and Paul Watson.

Three early, customer-centered innovations really helped Ledbury set their ready-to-wear product apart from the competition and still differentiates them today: 1. they add a fused canvas interlining in both the collar and collar band to ensure that they don’t collapse, 2. they use mother of pearl buttons and wrap the shank in tension threading to guarantee that buttons never fall off, and 3. the second button is placed lower than normal so that business casual can be just that. Early on, they found that customers really appreciated these simple design changes and rewarded Ledbury with repeat purchases — as an indicator, the top 100 Ledbury customers each own over 100 shirts. Apparently quality, fit, and innovation all matter to shoppers.

Attention to details, like collar that are sewed separately so they don’t collapse, are innovative signatures of Ledbury shirts.

In the years following the initial stages of growth, Ledbury began to empower customers to play with shirt customization more directly. The company started offering the ability to shorten sleeves as an add-on service. The option took off. Today, Ledbury shortens over 30,000 sleeves of its primary product line and they see it as a crucial bridge from the off the rack product line to a more customized shirtmaking experience. A seemingly simple design option became the moment when they knew that they had to craft new experiences to serve the unique fit needs of customers.

Today, Ledbury shortens over 30,000 sleeves of its primary product line and they see it as a crucial bridge from the off the rack product line to a more customized shirtmaking experience.

In the years that followed, Ledbury began to offer more involved ways to create custom-made shirts through two distinct programs: Made-to-Measure and Bespoke. With Made-to-Measure, a customer is measured at the Richmond, Georgetown, or pop-up store location and then adjustments are made to a series of ready-to-wear block patterns. The shirts are then made in Europe and customers can ‘select from over 700 Thomas Mason and Albini fabrics, in addition to dozens of collars, cuffs, monograms, and many other personalized options.’ The Bespoke process does all of this but with a custom pattern made completely by hand right in the Ledbury Workshop in Richmond, Virginia (formerly the Creery Custom Shirt Company, an American original shirtmaker since 1907, which made shirts for Harry S. Truman and that Ledbury acquired in 2015). A second fitting ensures a perfect Bespoke fit, tailored exactly to a customer’s needs.

Ledbury’s Bespoke factory in Richmond, VA gives customers the chance to play designer-hobbyist.

When we asked Paul Trible, the CEO, who the Bespoke customer is, he said ‘Bespoke is for men who treat clothes like golf — it’s a well-loved hobby. Fit matters to them, but so does getting to play designer. What’s the right collar slope? What added touches make this shirt mine? By committing to the Bespoke process, we’re learning how to be better shirtmakers by making shirts with our most passionate customers.’ What results is a spectrum of product-based shopping experiences from which customers can choose: Ready-to-Wear for those who just want great shirts to Bespoke who want the trappings of self-selected custom details.

Ledbury’s Bespoke and Made-to-Measure services are offered by appointment only.

Paul went on to say that, even though ready-to-wear is still the majority of their business, Made-to-Measure and Bespoke have greatly improved the core product line. Since all sampling is now done at the Bespoke factory on site, it helps Ledbury prototype and create one-off online exclusives. For custom, short-run products that are inspired by customer designs and that quickly sell out, they now have the potential to be added to the ready-to-wear collection en masse.

That’s a virtuous cycle between innovative product design at the core and crafting customization experiences in ways that matter most to customers. The result is customer-centered growth and an always improving product line.

Push the Envisioning Edges of Trial, Shorten the Fit-to-Buy Timeline, and Craft Experiences that Know When to Serve the Unique Me: these are the three business directives for capturing the Product-Person Fit opportunity. Below are five actionable questions you can take back to your teams.

Product-Person Fit: 5 Key Questions For Growth

1. When customers walk into our stores, what are the ways we’re creating immersive fitting experiences and services beyond just providing fitting rooms?

2. How might we leverage the specific ways customers use product(s) in their own lives to help them easily envision how they might use our product(s)?

3. How can our customers’ shopping behaviors inspire new cost structures, revenue opportunities, and budget tactics that evolve and change our core business model?

4. What is the spectrum of customization experiences that we offer? When does it make sense and for what product(s)?

5. How might the ways customers are customizing our products on their own help improve our core product and services lines?

The next post in the series introduces our third opportunity area, My Platform Retail, and the first business directive for that opportunity: Amplify Social Interactions that Inspire and Acquire. It comes out on Wednesday 10/12. If you can’t wait, you can download the entire issue of Behavior & Business here.

About Behavior & Business

Behavior & Business is a series that explores the behaviors of customers and the ways businesses are meeting their needs in innovative ways that drive growth.

About Runyon

Runyon is a design and innovation firm that helps companies grow. Behavior & Business is indicative how we approach our work: we use equal parts customer behavior and business strategy to inspire the market-facing and revenue-generating experiences that we design with our clients.

About the Authors

Anthony D’Avella is the Founder of Runyon. He designs growth experiences with great brands like American Express, Target, and the Harvard Innovation Lab, as well as with amazing startups. Prior to Runyon, Anthony designed, built, and launched cross-platform businesses at IMG and for Fortune 500 clients in IDEO’s New York studio. He holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and teaches venture design in the graduate MFA program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. When he’s not at work, you can usually find him on a beach somewhere with his wife and daughter.

Dr. Nicholas D’Avella is an ethnographer with research interests in markets, expert knowledge, and urban ecologies. His work connects Science and Technology Studies with anthropological themes related to money, exchange, and value. He completed his PhD at the University of California, Davis prior to holding postdoctoral fellowships at the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine & Society at UC Berkeley and at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science & Art. He is currently a Hunt Postdoctoral Fellow and Visiting Scholar at the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics at NYU.