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The ascent of The Idle Man

Idle man guide store (1)

Oliver Tezcan has caught the wave of rising interest in menswear with his affordable premium retailer, The Idle Man.

It may only be 10am, but a heady aroma of street food is seeping in at the glass door of menswear etailer The Idle Man’s first – and only – bricks-and-mortar store. Inside the unassuming, minimalist exterior, set within east London’s trendy Leather Lane food market, is a website and brand brought to life: racks of clothing hang from pale wooden walls; folded hero items take pride of place on a neat trestle table, lit by the glow of exposed bulbs; and a neon sign sits at the back of the store, emblazoned with the The Idle Man insignia.

Idle

Idle

The location and store epitomise the aesthetic, allure and evolution of the business, set up by Oliver Tezcan in 2014. Understated, stylish, modern and cool, the store has become a destination in its own right since it opened in October 2016.

Before founding the site, Oliver Tezcan had built impressive credentials in the menswear-buying world. Joining Asos as buying manager for men’s brands from River Island in 2006, he was tasked with launching the etailer’s now hugely successful menswear offer. It was during his eight years at Asos that he started to think about launching his own business.

“Menswear grew very fast, and what struck me was that it was perhaps a bigger opportunity than we’d realised,” Tezcan recalls. “You looked at the retail landscape and it felt like people weren’t really catering to menswear that well. There were some really nice things going on at the luxury end, like Mr Porter and End, but there was an opportunity to launch a cool menswear retailer that’s reasonably priced – the idea being that cool doesn’t need to break the bank.”

Menswear grew very fast, and what struck me was that it was perhaps a bigger opportunity than we’d realised

Since its launch four years ago, The Idle Man’s popularity has become the go-to destination for style-smart, young consumers and a sought-after stockist for mid-to-premium-level brands.

Juls Dawson, managing director of Just Consultancies, describes the brand mix as “one to be reckoned with”: “It is a unique menswear retailer – to be admired in today’s difficult times. Jumping on brands as they rise to the top, while stocking a strong stable of established and up-and-coming cult labels, is one of the key factors to its success.”

By choosing labels such as Nicce, Fila Black Line, Rains, The North Face, Carhartt and Alpha Industries, as well as its eponymous own brand, The Idle Man has captured a young, urban consumer, and its focus is paying off. Tezcan anticipates that he will report net revenue of around £2.2m for 2017, and predicts this will reach £3.6m in 2018.

Sweet spot

Tezcan describes his typical customer as a “sweet spot” in the market, hovering between high street and luxury: “Typically, it’s an urban, roughly 25-year-old guy who works in a large city, in an office where you don’t wear a suit. They’re not the scene setters – but they want to look cool and need a little guidance, help and information on how to dress the way they want.”

idle man aw17

The Idle Man autumn 17

“The Idle Man appeals to a younger customer who cares about their overall appearance as opposed to wearing one brand head to toe,” says Connor Poole, international brand manager for Luke 1977, whose brand Alpha Industries is one of the top three sellers for The Idle Man. “It showcases a large selection of brands, with a great number of them offering a more premium look and feel.”

Men don’t see shopping as a pastime – they see it as a task to be completed

Charlotte Henshaw, wholesale representative for Woolrich, which is also stocked by The Idle Man, agrees: “The Idle Man supports the consumer who buys into quality and longevity – a person who is interested in looking to the past for inspiration and who understands the indulgent contemporary mix of buying into investment pieces.”

Male order

The Idle Man has further carved its niche by ensuring it maintains a laser focus on the habits of its male audience.

“Men don’t see shopping as a pastime – they see it as a task to be completed,” explains Tezcan. “When we built The Idle Man, we really wanted to have a ‘less-is-more’ approach – helping guys through to the final purchase, like a cooler older brother,” he adds. This is mainly accomplished through the blog that runs alongside the site. With its “how to” features and style advice it attracts 2 million hits a month.

“If you become that authoritative voice for menswear, then customer loyalty is far greater than in womenswear – partly through laziness, partly through the fact that menswear is so much less saturated than womenswear.”

Tezcan sees this tight focus as a natural evolution for ecommerce, following on from the success of giants such as Asos, Zalando and Amazon: “It’s the next step in the online retail journey. The first step was building these platforms, and the exciting thing was that you could buy clothes and they would get delivered to your house – it’s like magic.

We were almost willing to do [the store] as a loss and take it as a marketing cost

“I think what The Idle Man is part of is this second wave, where it is a lot more localised to a particular customer group, just specialising on them”.

Boohoo and Missguided have already tapped into this: “That’s kind of what we’re doing. We’re a slightly different pitch, but similar in terms of focusing on this guy, and trying to give him what he wants, without trying to be this broad platform that does all things for all people.” 

As Tezcan leads the business forward, his ambitions lie in strengthening and communicating The Idle Man identity, to fuel its continued growth and keep a competitive edge over the ecommerce behemoths. This has given the business an unconventional approach to bricks and mortar. The first store, which opened in October 2016 in London’s Clerkenwell, is a “try-before-you-click” space, which has limited stock, but allows customers to order in store, as well as to pick up click-and-collect or return online orders. The store accounts for around 3% of total sales, and also hosts brand parties and evening events.

“We see it as a marketing tool rather than anything else,” explains Tezcan. “We were almost willing to do it as a loss and take it as a marketing cost, but actually we are pretty much breaking even, and for autumn 18 we expect the store to make a profit.”

“We started looking at stores really as an opportunity to tell the brand story. What does The Idle Man actually stand for? Creating that physically is much easier than it is on a website, the brand advocacy is so powerful.”

Idle man guide store crop

The Idle Man store

Tezcan says the experience has whet his appetite for more stores in the future, but is adamant the business will remain digital focused, and the stores will act as an extension of the brand. Manchester, Peckham in south London and international locations are all potentially on the horizon.

Vertical axis

While stores are a powerful way to communicate brand identity, the ultimate goal for Tezcan is for The Idle Man to become a vertical brand. Currently, own brand makes up 20%-25% of total sales, and 450 SKUs are available on the site. By the end of 2018, Tezcan hopes to see that grow to 600 SKUs and 50% of the business. Retail prices for own brand currently range from £6 for a T-shirt and £350 for a shearling jacket, but are edging up as the business focuses more on the label, with quality also improving.

“It’s about exclusivity,” he says. “Our brand portfolio is very strong, but with the best will in the world we don’t sell anything that you couldn’t buy anywhere else. Own label is the only way we feel you can really build a lasting emotional connection with the customer. We want to get to a point where men are a customer of The Idle Man, they want to buy our own brand clothing and that’s what they’re searching out.”

With its mix of own label and cool, third-party brands, The Idle Man has already carved out a clear and appealing image, so much so that the business has found itself organically growing internationally.

“We didn’t do any marketing outside the UK, but we found that the biggest single country for traffic on the blog is the US,” says Tezcan.

“That blog traffic started turning into revenue. We got to a point when we were doing 15%-20% of revenue from the US without doing any marketing there, no delivery offers, we didn’t do local pricing.”

We were doing 15%-20% of revenue from the US without doing any marketing there, no delivery offers, we didn’t do local pricing

To take advantage of this, The Idle Man launched its first international site for the US market in July. The site offers localised pricing, free returns, free delivery over $75, more cost-effective  expedited delivery and location-specific blog content.

As a result, conversion rates have risen by 50%, and the US now makes up 25% of the business. In coming years, Tezcan sees France, Germany and Australia as natural opportunities, and is optimistic about future international plans.

“If you look at what a cool guy wears in New York, Melbourne, Berlin, London, it’s basically the same thing,” he says. “It’s a global look and feel. If you can crack it in London, you can crack it globally.”

For now, however, the US and UK remain the core focus, although Tezcan tentatively says that Australia could launch within the next year – depending on learnings from entry into the US.

Fast developer

As The Idle Man swiftly evolves and grows, it is easy to forget the business is still less than four years old. Currently run by a team of 25, out of a shared office in Whitechapel, east London, Tezcan says the retailer achieved its first “break even” month in November 2017, and for 2018 he expects the business to be in profit for the first time – something he describes as a “massive milestone” for an online retailer, which until now has been funded by a diverse combination of crowd-funding and outside investors, including Peter Mullen, founder of Thomas Pink.

The Idle Man has hit its stride and is well placed to continue to lead the way in the youthful side of the premium menswear market. With a calculated plan of expansion internationally, in own label and in stores, all geared around driving growth and awareness of the brand’s identity, there are busy times ahead. The last thing Tezcan will be is idle.  

Readers' comments (2)

  • You can only judge a business as being successful when it is consistently making a profit and they aren't there - yet. They seem to be very keen on price online, so margins will inevitably have to rise if this is to be achievable for the longer term. I'm sure investors will want a return at some point!

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  • Very deep pockets required to reach traction and the tipping point that enables them to be self financing and reach a profit, def heading in right direction, just hope the pockets are deep enough because margins can be paper thin even with own label.

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