Frank & Oak, an online retailer of men’s fashion, who have successfully transitioned to brick and mortar, have taken innovative measures to personalize the entire experience for their customers. I had a chance to catch up with Ethan Song, the CEO and Creative Director of Frank & Oak to discuss the future of the retail world, as well as Frank & Oak’s plans and products.


Alfred: What was the inspiration behind starting Frank and Oak?

Ethan: Yeah, when we started Frank in 2012 our idea was to really help guys dress better.  So we realized that there was a whole new generation of men that were passionate about clothing and lifestyle but didn’t necessarily have the right tools and that guys typically have that information or follow trend a little bit less than their female counterparts.  So we realized that with the help of the Internet and those personalized experiences we could actually create both a brand and a product that helps men dress and feel better.  So that was the gist behind Frank and Oak and of course, especially at that time there was tremendous growth in the e-commerce space so we felt that doing that online made the most sense.


A: What challenges did you face in the beginning and how did you overcome them?

E: Yeah, I think that some of the challenges in the beginning, a lot of it has to do with when you’re trying to create a product, when you’re also trying to create a digital experience there’s a lot of different things that you have to get right and I think that’s how we overcame all those different elements is by saying, “Well, we don’t need to get everything right, but what we need to get right and that is our focus.  In our case it was how do we help men to dress better?”  So we basically challenge ourselves every day to create experiences and products that helps guys dress better and I think that’s how we were successful in the beginning.


A: What are your thoughts on the various physical store closures that we’re seeing?

E: Well, the one thing I know that people often say — are stores bad?  I think that’s the first thing I want to say that stores are definitely bad.  Now if you look at at least 90 percent of clothing is still bought in physical retail stores.  Now, maybe 10 years ago that was 95 percent.  So I think what’s interesting is that definitely people are buying more and more online and therefore traditional retailers used to have thousands of stores.  Ten percent less is maybe 100 stores less so I think that people are just finding out that they need less stores than they used to and that’s obviously causing some closures especially in some of the more established brands.  I think it’s a normal transition but that’s said, I think that stores will still play an important role in both the growth as well as the experiences that brands offer.


A: Any advice for these retailers who are shutting down some of their stores now?

E: Yeah, I mean I think that the thing is I definitely think that I would try to get those stores that are underperforming closed as fast as possible because it won’t get better.  It’s almost like if you need to swallow the pill you might as well do it as fast as possible and the second thing is I think where the physical retail experience is going is there will be less stores but each store needs to be more impactful.  So what kind of experiences are you creating in that store?  What kind of interactions do you have in that store with your customer that you can’t replicate online and that becomes the destination?  I think the issue with a lot of stores in a lot of malls and a lot of locations is that once it becomes and experience that’s pretty much a commodity then it’s just very easy to open your browser and buy online.  But when there’s a unique experience or unique service that’s being offered in a physical space I think people not only would enjoy that but are creating that and will definitely find you.


A: Many speak of the in store and e-commerce being at war with each other.  What things need to be in place for the in store to co-exist with the e-commerce?

E: Yeah, I mean for us I think the pillar of our experience is really the fact that customers, whether you’re buying online or you’re buying in store you’re integrated to the same customer profile.  So that, you know, basically when you’re buying in store we have all the data that you saved online whether it’s your credit card for making payments easier or whether it’s your style preferences in terms of what products you’re shopping for and what products you like.  So that information makes it really easy.  That information allows us to do services like order online and pick up in store or you’re in store and the product is not available and therefore you can have it shipped to your house.  So that’s the pillars of our experience and that’s what allows us to have that personalized experience.  I would say that is basically almost the cross-channel CRM is the core of the channel experience.


A: If you could have any type of technology imaginable at your store what would the ultimate shopping experience look like?

E: I think that, you now, to me the ultimate shopping experience is having products delivered to me — one, infinite inventory so that the products that you want are always available.  The sizing and the product is always available so there’s no hassle of not finding what you want.  I think the second thing is recommendation.  I don’t want to have to see a million products.  Can you only show me the ten products that are most relevant to me as a shopper?  And lastly, it would even be better if I didn’t have to go to the store and you could deliver me the product within two hours of me ordered at my office.  So those are three things that I could think of that I would like to see and that are hard to do and I think no one has done yet.


A: How did the ‘The Hunt Club’ get started? You send the customer a package, they pick what they want and usually it’s catered to their needs and then they deliver what they don’t want.

E: Yeah, that’s right.  So I mean, one of the things as I said before is one of our main focuses is on making the experience more personalized so providing product recommendations for our customers is very important to us.  The second part is we also want to offer you a really easy, painless return process where you’re basically encouraged actually to take chances on new styles so that’s what — the program achieves both — personal styling and with the help basically of having a very easy return process.


A: How do you deliver that personalized experience in store now?

E: So we have basically in store personal style advisors that you can book by appointment via your mobile phone or that you can just show up and speak to them.  They have access to your customer profile and they’re basically able to make product recommendations based on what you like, what brands you like, what products you’ve shopped in the past, what occasion you’re looking at buying for.  So we realize that the people in store play an important role.  So not the entire experience is digital but the experience is powered by the data that we have on you.


A: What aspects of your brands are millennials most impressed by?

E: I mean I think that we’re really targeting a new generation of customers and that generation is often defined as millennial but I think that ultimately our brand is built for a creative professional so people that work in the arts, that work for a start up or that work for technology companies.  That’s really the target that we’re after.


A: What role do you see a customers’ mobile device playing in the whole shopping experience?

E: I think everything is going to mobile.  I think that mobile growth is increasing.  I think that mobile can both be the link to physical and the digital but it can also be a personal wallet meaning that it has all your personal information and digital information meaning.  I think when it comes to shopping your mobile is your identity and I think that that’s how it’s powerful.  How many questions do you have left?


A: What is your company’s focus in the near term?  

E: I think that the theme around making shopping easier for men is our core focus so I think that for us it’s about how do we deliver a more personalized experience?  How do we deliver a better product?  It’s much more about refining what we’re doing and we do see a world where most of the e-commerce will go to mobile and where Frank and Oak will be an advisor on your mobile and you won’t have to go to malls anymore and we will be able to service you digitally.  That’s the future we’re looking at.


(Image sourced from

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