Mack Weldon CEO Brian Berger thinks of the pandemic in three stages: triage, the new normal and the steady state.
Not every retailer's path through the pandemic is the same, but just about every business can identify with the first of those stages, when U.S. retailers closed their doors in rapid succession, made tough decisions on employee furloughs and layoffs, and struggled for breathing room on rent and other costs.
Berger also pointed to the difficulties of switching to a remote work environment and keeping employees motivated as the world changed around them. Then came the new normal, when Berger realized that the men's basics business was going to be OK, and that in fact, many of its product categories were now well positioned, including sweats and T-shirts.
"The new normal was really adjusting to that and figuring out, 'What are the opportunities? How can we capitalize on this? How can we accelerate our business?' and there's a lot of things that we did during that time," Berger said. Among them, the retailer launched a mask, going from concept to commercialization in 90 days (and selling several hundreds of thousands of them), and tested out new advertising channels.
Now, Berger thinks of Mack Weldon as being in the third and final stage he's identified (so far): the steady state. There's increased demand for Mack Weldon's products and the retailer has a handle on its operations, so now Berger is tackling questions like: Should anything change in the company's long-term strategy? What does the future look like?
"This period has really showcased what is unique and differentiated about digital-first brands specifically and sort of the categories that we operate in, like consumer apparel, and what makes our business special vis-a-vis a more traditional type of branded retail approach," Berger said. "And those are things like: not having gigantic retail exposure, because even in good times, you have stores that do well and you have stores that do poorly; having centralized inventory, so that you don't have to make silly decisions around pricing and promotion that drive near-term opportunities but ultimately dilute your brand and really take things down to the lowest common denominator, which is price."
Berger also highlighted having immediate access to consumer data and being able to act on it in real time, as well as being able to engage with customers directly.
"Those are all things that are core characteristics of companies like ours that go well beyond the fact that we don't have stores and we largely drive our business through an array of digital marketing playbooks," Berger said. "These are all things that are real strategic differentiators for us and that I think have proven in many cases to be success stories over the last eight or so months, irrespective of category."