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CSA Exclusive: Q&A with upscale menswear retailer Alton Lane

Alton Lane is on a mission — a mission to make shopping "a more enjoyable experience” for men.

Founded in 2009 by Colin Hunter and Peyton Jenkins, the New York City-based menswear retailer of custom-made modern bespoke suits, blazers, trousers, tuxedos, and shirts operates 13 stores and a website. Always on the hunt for more options to make shopping more convenient, Alton Lane recently added a subscription box offering to its mix.

“Every guy wants to look good, but hates to shop,” Hunter told Chain Store Age. “We built our brand by offering services that make it easy for busy customers to shop for custom merchandise online or in-store.”

Since its founding, Alton Lane has made it a point to keep up with its customers’ expectations — and take their feedback to heart. Based on this data, the company has made a variety of improvements that include, most recently, a just-in-time shipping solution that has cut its delivery time in half, according to Hunter.

“In 2017, our average delivery time for shirts was four-and-a-half weeks, and now we average 16 days,” he said. “Suits and blazers are already down to an average of three-and-a-half weeks, and we anticipate a further reduction in the coming months.”

The company is also lowering its prices by sourcing a wider range of fabrics across luxury mills worldwide including northern Italy, England and Portugal. By combining these relationships with new partnerships among top pattern makers in Europe, Alton Lane continues to refine the proportion of garments, a move that delivers a more precise and consistent fit.

Hunter discussed Alton Lane’s new subscription service with Chain Store Age and how it enables the company to better serve its customer base.

What led to the new subscription offering?
Our feedback showed that customers wanted an easier way to “refresh their wardrobe.” Knowing a new dress shirt is an easy way to do this, we wanted to make the process of ordering a custom-made shirt even easier.

We designed a subscription program that is comprised of a box of up to 20 hand-curated, seasonably relevant swatches that enables customers to feel the fabric, and get input from loved ones and friends. Once they choose their favorites, customers can email, text or call us with the swatch number to place their order. Then we create a custom shirt made from the fabric of their choice.

Customers can choose to receive between one and four shirts a season, up to 16 garments a year. Based on our investments in our supply chain, customers can be wearing their shirts within eight and 10 days of placing their order.

When did the service launch?
We introduced the first swatch boxes in early December. We were excited to beta test the program during the holidays as a way for customers to treat themselves or gift the service to someone else. We were so overwhelmed by the response that we are now offering a rolling enrollment, and plan to send the swatch box four times a year, in February, May, August and November.

What is the fee for the service?
Pricing coincides with the number of shirts they receive each season. For example, package 1 (one shirt seasonally; 4 shirts annually) is $495; package 2 (two shirts seasonally; eight annually) is $995. Package 3 (three shirts seasonally; 12 annually) is $1,395, and package 4 (four seasonally; 16 annually) is $1,695.

Since we are buying the fabric in advance to share the swatches, the shirts are discounted between 28% and 35%. (Typically, shirts range between $155 and $195 each.)

How do customers ensure the fit of their garments?
We work from our existing customers’ fit profiles, however we give new customers options, as well. They can share their fit preferences online, or if they live in a city where we operate a showroom, they can visit to get measured — a process that takes less than 10 minutes. Customers can also send us their favorite shirt to so we can match the fit. We pay for shipping both ways, and within 24 hours we match the fit.

What kind of results has the service produced so far?
We had early boost. Only three weeks into the program we sold between 80 and 100 boxes, which exceeded our expectations since it was only a beta launch.

What is the next step with service?
We want to make sure the program is rolling out well, and we are gathering and evaluating feedback.

Later this month, we will be expanding our overall product assortment online and in showrooms with shoes handmade in Europe. Looking ahead, we may have the opportunity to share swatches of the different leathers we use for shoes to create customized belts. However, we want to let our customer dictate future category expansions.
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