Duluth Trading Company CEO Steve Schlecht points to two things at the heart of his retail company’’s success: creating one-of-a kind work clothes, and being “great storytellers” about those products. That storytelling approach explains the tens of thousands of YouTube views of videos for Duluth’s Ballroom jeans to let men “crouch without the ouch,” or for its long-tail t-shirts designed to cover up “plumber’s butt”.
But Schlecht says Duluth, which sells mostly through the web and catalogs, also needs to get better at data analytics to succeed in a retail world that he describes as “omni-channel”–reaching customers via mobile, Web, print catalogs, email, social media, and stores. (Duluth has one store and is planning several more.) This trend of customers shopping multiple channels at once is as big a disruption as any Schlecht has seen in his 42 years in retail.
Today my biggest challenge is this area of analytics,” Schlecht said, speaking to the Fusion CEO-CIO conference in Madison, Wis., last week. “… How can we get in the heads of our customers, understanding how they shop, how they buy, what they’re looking for?”
Listening to Schlecht’s no-nonsense view on retailing’s future is good tonic for any IT leader not moving to steadily improve in-house analytics capability. Schlecht doesn’t consider Duluth on the cutting edge: “We were always following Lands’ End,” Schlecht said of the fellow Wisconsin-based direct merchant. “Whatever they would do, we’d do about a year later.”
But Schlecht built-and-sold his last catalog business, Gempler’s, to W.W. Grainger, and he says Duluth Trading is growing at around 20% a year. Given his track record, and four decades of perspective on the industry, when Schlecht says we’re in the midst of a “total disruption in the way purchases are made,” it’s worth noting why, and how he sees analytics playing into this change.