As Gant opens a brand new concept store on London’s Regent Street, Drapers spoke to chief executive officer Patrik Nilsson about the ethos of the brand.
Starting life as a shirt retailer in 1949, lifestyle retailer Gant has come a long way since it was founded by Bernard Gantmacher at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. With a headquarters in Stockholm and 750 store worldwide, it now sees itself as a global brand and is active in 70 markets. From its origins in shirting, Gant now comprises three sub-brands: Rugger, Originals and Diamond G, which launched last year. As Gant opens its new 5,170 sq ft concept store on London’s Regent Street, Drapers spoke to CEO Patrik Nilsson, who joined the company in 2014, about the brand’s heritage and development, and how the company ethos of “never stop learning” has made the jump from manifesto to store design.
What is the ethos of Gant, and how is it reflected in the new store?
We are a global brand, linked by the idea of “never stop learning”. The brand was founded at Yale University and that’s where we took our ethos from – being curious, being innovative, always trying to push new things.
One of the things that we are excited about in the store is how it links to how people experience the brand digitally. If you look at the market today, a lot of it – about 60% of shopping – is researched or done entirely online. When you see a brand on a website you want to see it the same way when you come into the store. In this store, if you look at the busts and the front-facing products, that is how you would see products online.
Storytelling is also important. For example, the wood fittings are oak, which is the most prominent tree in Connecticut – we have used brass, like the library at Yale; and the diamond pattern in the floor reflects our quality stamp.
What are the other key elements of the store?
One of the important things we had to realise was that we are in the business of selling clothes. You’re supposed to see the clothes, not the fixtures, and here you see the product first. We have digital screens, because we need to link to online – they create an experience and let people learn about the brand. We don’t look at the store of the future as a place that’s open between 10am and 6pm. It needs to be living 24/7 – there needs to be speakers, engagements at night, things happening all the time.
Menswear and womenswear are mixed together in the store. Why?
More and more couples want to shop together. Men like the advice from their better half when they’re buying something and here that is made a lot easier. If you went to our old store, women’s was upstairs and men’s was downstairs and that interaction was not easy to do. Wherever we can, we think it’s a better way of presenting it.
Gant Diamond G launched last year. How does it tie in with the rest of the Gant brands?
When I arrived as CEO in August 2014, I felt that [younger brand] Rugger was very cool, but it was an island, separate from the main brand. We were making lifestyle products and we were making very cool products, but we weren’t really making products for the young professional. Shirts are the foundation, but then we make products that are purposefully made for certain activities that the consumer is doing. It’s not about demographics anymore, it’s about psychographics [the study of values and attitudes]. If I’m 50, I might buy some Rugger products, because I like it for a certain occasion. Diamond G has brought a new dimension to Gant, from a brand and a quality perspective, but also from a business perspective. It brought new consumers to the brand and it brought new energy to the brand. It created a link between Rugger and the original collection that wasn’t really there before.
What is next for Gant?
The store concept will be rolled out worldwide – we have a lot of stores opening next year and around 150 more will be refurbished. We are also rebuilding the culture of the company. We have high ambitions of where we want to be by 2020. We’re already successful but we want to be leading by 2020, and the employer of choice in our industry.
In a way I’m not the chief executive officer, I’m the chief consumer officer. I think of the consumer every day and we all need to think that way. That’s one of the benefits of being a privately owned company. We only need to take care of the consumer. If we do the right thing for our consumer and our employees, then everything else will take care of itself.