Fueled by Walmart, Bonobos Closes In On 50 Stores


Bonobos Portland Oregon

Hybrid online/offline menswear brand Bonobos is accelerating its growth under new owner Walmart, having established the trend of showrooming, browsing in-store and buying online. Customers shop in-store but leave empty-handed, as their purchases are delivered—quickly—for free.

In addition to refining and pioneering its seamless retail experience—and exploring new delivery options with Walmart sibling Jet—it’s now closing in on 50 brick-and-mortar stores or Guideshops, having just opened its 47th location in Portland, Oregon’s trendy West End.

It’s also expanding its inventory with a natural add-on to its men’s apparel: underwear. Instead of the traditional small, medium and large sizes, Bonobos offers just two styles of boxers— a brief with a 5-inch inseam and trunks that go to 3 inches—from waist sizes 28 to 40 inches.

It’s made from a cotton/acrylic/spandex blend fabric with moisture-wicking and mesh panels, with a waistband that doesn’t fold over while bending and a horizontal fly for quick, easy access. They’re priced at $34 a pair, or $50 for two.

Bonobos launched as a ‘digital-first’ brand actually paved the way for others in the category like Warby Parker, Everlane, Dollar Shave Club and Casper. Purchased by Walmart earlier this year for $310 million in a similar vein to the retail giant’s Jet.com acquisition, Bonobos specializes in men’s suits, pants, shirts and jeans, and their model, eliminates “hassles associated with a traditional retail store” by serving as a virtual stockroom.

So, for example, on entering the new 1,500-square-foot Portland Guideshop, customers are assigned a guide, aka a personal shopper, who offers advice and recommendations. The store takes reservations and welcomes walk-ins. Walmart, by the way, will not be introducing Bonobos items or in-store boutiques; Bonobos will remain independent with its own Guideshops and e-commerce platform.

As Bonobos VP Erin Ersenkal explained in a Strayer University interview below, “Most guys hate to shop. So what we’ve done is we’ve said, ‘Hey, let’s make it better, let’s make it all about you.'”

Bonobos began selling exclusively online in 2007, and launched guide shops for trying on clothes at their brick and mortar store four years later, with purchases shipped to the buyer. The philosophy: “We re-invented the retail store. It’s completely personalized, and we call it a Guideshop.”

Andy Dunn, founder and CEO of the fashion tech startup who’s now SVP digital consumer brands at Walmart eCommerce, discussed the changing retail landscape with Recode. Walmart’s acquisition, it seems, was largely to learn.

According to a recent WD Partners survey of 3,000 consumers, “Showroom stores were viewed as the single most influential innovation driving purchase today.”

As Lee Peterson of WD Partners notes, “these inviting buy-free boutique zones are usually nestled in restive commercial districts — tucked among coffee shops, scented-candle stores and craft breweries. These are the hang-out zones of urban life. In other words, these are spaces where identity-formation and aspirational thinking dominates. Consumption happens, but it’s secondary. This is the essence of a showroom strategy — creating a space where desire rises above need and necessity.”

Walmart boasts sales of nearly $500 billion, and while “Bonobos can’t compete with Walmart’s scale,” RetailDive notes, “it has long beaten the chain in one key metric: sales per square foot, which is likely three times more than Walmart’s.”

Epitomizing the brand’s mindset is brand ambassador Sean Brock, a Charleston-based chef who was featured in its new digital “Role Models” campaign with the copy: “His laid-back yet professional look — fancy flannel shirts, Levi’s jeans, Billy Reid work boots — makes him appear approachable but put together. And then there’s his signature baseball caps. Naturally the chef is photographed holding a chicken, wearing Bonobos’ checked shirt.”



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