Focus on the founder: exclusive Q&A with Matt Bird

From understanding the customer to the greater desire for sustainability, Matt Bird answers our questions on some of the challenges and joys of founding a brand.

Focus on the founder: exclusive Q&A with Matt Bird

We here at Mallzee Insights are fortunate because not only can we help retailers improve their product offerings but also every day we get to meet and work with the most amazing people and brands.

The lessons, insights and anecdotes we pick up from our retail colleagues power our working week, and being the type to share, we are conducting a series of interviews to post here. Following is the first in our new series of retail Q&A posts featuring Matt Bird who talks about how he founded We Are Gntlmen.

Over the next few months we will be talking to numerous innovators working in retail. Whether this is a company founder or a product designer, they are all experts in their own right.

To kick off Matt, what was your eureka moment?

With We Are Gntlmen, our most defining moment was in 2015. We’d been trading for 2 years, selling all sorts - t-shirts, polo shirts, jumpers etc. In late 2014, we introduced our first shirt, a navy poplin, dress shirt. We sold out of them within a couple of weeks and the demands for more shirts started coming our way. In early 2015, we introduced another four shirts, more casual oxfords and through 2015, 68% of our revenue came from those four styles of shirts. Thats when I knew we were onto something - we’d built a great quality, great fitting bank of shirts and I knew that’s what we should focus on moving forward.

What makes your product offering unique?

Our customer really appreciates quality and attention to detail. I think we’ve seen success from our shirts by providing both at a very high standard. We use some of the best cottons we can find and we really pay attention to the finer things like button thread colours and hidden embroideries. This transfers over to our service and the customer experience too.

Every customer receives their order in a bespoke box, with a hand written note. I think that helps our brand stand out with our customers. Moving on from that though and as we’ve learnt more about our customer and their habits, our product and service is evolving into something that really stands out and is different. We’ve built a model that isn’t being done in our space at the moment and have built a proposition that extends from our current offering.

What has been the toughest part of your entrepreneurial/business journey?

Simply, I think just keeping it going is super hard. Social media can make business and entrepreneurial endeavours look really glamorous, but the reality is that it’s really hard work, day in, day out. We’ve run out of money a couple of times which adds to the pressure and being resilient enough to see those hard times through can be quite the challenge. Competing for online sales is also super tough these days. It takes something special to convert a customer from a brand they’ve been shopping with all their life.

What is your favourite part?

My favourite part is actually interacting with our customers and listening to what they have to say about our shirts. Good, bad or ugly - I love hearing it. We’re fortunate to have a very satisfied customer base who feedback positively on a regular basis. By listening and talking to our customers over the past 5 years, I’ve really been able to build on our business and we’re soon to introduce our new offering that has literally been built around our customers' pain points, their frustrations and what they actually want to see.

Biggest lesson you have learnt?

Cashflow is king. Without it, you’re goosed!!

Most valuable piece of advice?

Yesterday was yesterday and tomorrow is a new day.

Both in a good and bad context. It holds you back dwelling on yesterdays mistakes and relying on yesterdays successes can make you complacent. Tomorrow is a new day - leave the shit day behind you and make a fresh start tomorrow. Treat every day differently.

I’ve been guilty of doing both, having a bad day and then letting that make the rest of my week bad and also getting complacent on successes that quickly dissolve by the end of the week. I’m still learning to take it day-by-day and not letting these extreme feelings dictate the next steps.

What tool/software/solution do you find most useful?

Actually, right now, Facebook Messenger. It’s the only real time chat we have installed on our website. We’ve seen a shift from customers in their communication. No one wants to wait until the next business day to get an email response for a product that they want right now. Having Facebook Messenger has meant that we can talk to customers in real time, which has actively improved our conversion. Sometimes, it has meant being woken up at 2 am from a customer shopping from Melbourne though!

How well do you know your customer?

I feel that we know them quite well. I make an active effort to roll my sleeves up and talk to them face to face. It became apparent that my customers wanted something more than we were offering. By knowing what they want and how they shop etc, it’s allowed us to develop and build something more.

Has your customer changed over time?


When I launched We Are Gntlmen I had the idea that our customer was young, really in touch with fashion, lived on social media etc. Over time and with constant learning, we’ve realised that they’re not our customer at all. Our customer tends to be a little bit older, typically 28-35 age bracket. They’re not fashionistas but they love style and looking good. We know what kind of job they do, what their lifestyle looks like and that is totally different to what I had in mind a couple of years ago when I was launching the brand out of my bedroom.

How do you keep in tune with your customer?

Just by communicating, I think. We’re not the quickest with product releases we’re sometimes restricted with our marketing, but I know our customer is loyal, because we make an effort to talk to them and let them know what’s going on. They’re part of the business. When we have new product coming out, we tell them first and give them first dibs. Also by having an offline presence. Our customer sits in a certain professional demographic, so we’ll do pop-ups at their offices and showcase the brand and products further, but this also lets us talk to them in real life and  these days, that’s really appreciated and goes a long way.

How do you reach your customers?

We do mainly use the relevant social media channels for online reach. Again, hosting pop-ups and meet-ups tends to work best. Our word of mouth contributions are pretty good too. Our customers talk to each other, recommend our brand and encourage people in their circle to get in touch with us. Reaching more customers is always a challenge and the hardest part of business. If it were easy, everyone would have tonnes of customers and every business would be flying.

What changes have you seen since you started your business?

Speed - customers want their items quicker than ever. When I started we offered a 48 hour shipping service, now some customers want their items on the same day, within the next 3 hours. Amazon has introduced a new efficiency in shipping and distribution that hasn’t been seen before. It’s amazing, but at the same time causes challenges for those who don’t quite have the same infrastructure!!

Loyalty - I think this is more prevalent in menswear than womenswear, but guys are spending more than ever on fashion and grooming items. I think they’re investing more into the brands that they like, rather than spreading their cash across several brands.

Desire for quality and transparency - everyone is a little bit more aware of the items that they’re buying now, making decisions on information like where it’s made or how much plastic or carbon the production cycle emits, which is great and will hopefully have a really positive impact on the industry and the wider environment.

Thanks for sharing your insights Matt!


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Tags: Founders, Fashion

Heather Darwent

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