Horizontal corduroy beats vertical integration...


It takes a brave organisation to go horizontal when most others are chasing vertical integration. But in the words of Betabrand, "an evil multinational corporation has to start somewhere". And so what started as a joke between friends became 'Cordarounds' - the world's first pair of corduroy pants where the grooves are horizontal rather than vertical. Apart from the obvious reduction in that annoying 'swish' sound, Betabrand also claim decreased heat generation and a 16.24% reduction in drag coefficient due to the improved aerodynamics. Hot on the heels of this surprise success story, Betabrand released a range of other limited-edition clothing. I could try to explain what this includes, but you're better off seeing it for yourself at their website here. They've also been profiled in the New York Times here.

At a time when many other manufacturing companies are going to the wall, Betabrand has managed to carve out a niche in, well, highly specialised clothing. They now count their revenue in the millions and sales growth of over 10% per month - not bad for a business born out of a joke. They manufacture their clothes in the US for export to the world, with new products released every week. And the secrets to their success may well have lessons for your organisation:
  1. Consistent and unique voice: Betabrand has developed a strong online presence through their quirky website and regular email newsletter (as a side note, their newsletter was developed to try to keep customers happy while they had the clothes made on demand, initially leading to a backlog in fulfilling orders). Building on the previous experience of the owners in web-based marketing, they have used humour to parody the clothing industry and to keep their customers engaged. What's your unique voice as an organisation? Are you consistent in the way you present yourself to the market?
  2. Applying principles from other industries: Making clothing in limited editions is an idea the team drew from the beanie baby phenomenon, where demand for toys was generated by short runs of varied designs. The limited runs of clothing also reduced risk for Betabrand while appealing to customers who wanted to make a unique statement through their clothes. To what extent do your leaders look to other industries for ideas and to identify trends? Are you a leader in your industry, or simply following the pack? 
  3. Involving customers in brave new ways: The Betabrand website doesn't include your typical line up of clothing models. Instead they have asked real customers to send in photos of themselves modeling Betabrand's clothes. This has become one of the more entertaining parts of their website as customers seek to out-do each other with increasingly extreme modeling. Are there new ways that you can engage with your customers? How can you use your current customers to help sell to potential customers?
  4. Experimenting openly: Ideas like the executive hoodie (a traditional pin stripe suit jacket with the addition of a hood, as seen here) are shared with customers on the Betabrand website before they go into production to gauge reaction and demand. It also helps to build a website that is worth returning to. Most organisations hide their ideas away until they're perfect. Betabrand's approach allows them to tweak their designs and generate demand. Are there ways in which you can open up the product and service development process to include your customers?
Betabrand is an unlikely success story - the kind success story that comes about when people are passionate about an idea and relentlessly pursue it. Betabrand has lessons for any organisation that may just be the key to your next stage of growth.