Despite the meteoric rise that's taken Luxury menswear brand Ledbury from tiny shop to a global awareness, from small Virginia artisanal shirtmaker to outfitter of Anderson Cooper and the Morning Joe crew (and, by our count, roughly half the men on any given morning's Acela Express from D.C. to Manhattan), the company has held onto the authenticity that won it deeply loyal customers in its early days.
In other words, it has mastered what every fast-growth venture struggles with: How do you scale up aggressively while maintaining the kind of customer intimacy you enjoyed at the start?
Paul Trible, co-founder and CEO of Ledbury, programmed a customer connection strategy into the company's DNA. Here's how it did it, how he's maintaining it during his company's extraordinary growth and diversification, and how you can apply it to the business you're building. (Plus: Check out the video below for an exclusive interview with Trible at the Ledbury studio in Richmond, Virginia.)
1. Inject your personality into your brand.
At Ledbury, the founders are part of the storytelling, and central to the branding. The website's voice is their voice. The style recommendations are theirs. "By interjecting ourselves into the branding process, it made it very personal to people from the start," Trible says. "This wasn't an anonymous shirt company; it was human-centered, and driven by the taste and desires and determinations of two guys in Virginia. That opened up a relationship with customers that started on day one and carries through today."
Google Ledbury and whatever you find is never far from the story of the two Paul's (Trible and co-founder Paul Watson) and their journey from the American South to London's Jermyn Street and back. That anchor is imprinted on everything Ledbury speaks and sews.
2. Don't be afraid to tell hyper-localized stories.
Everyone comes from somewhere--and the more place-based your approach to brand stories, the better chance you have of connecting customers to your roots, backstory, and persona. "If marketing is about storytelling, then you better be telling stories about something you know," says Trible. "We're in Virginia. We're in the South, and so we'll tell stories about that--about the world here, the life here, the things that matter to us, the people that influence us, the people we interact with."
Ledbury's latest iteration of this: The Easy Goer, an online journal of journey and experience. Click over to it and you'll see Trible's theory of placed-based storytelling at work, as well as profiles and conversations and discoveries -- from chefs to mixologists to designers to musicians to tattoo artists to fishermen and artisans of all kinds. This is the company Ledbury keeps. And if you see this tribe, you'll know immediately whether it's your tribe too.
3. Spoil customers--even if it takes a crazy amount of time.
"We called the first 1,000 customers personally," says Trible. "Spoke to every one of them. And we still send handwritten notes to the top 100 customers every month." Why? Trible: "In our world, with web platforms as our communication tools of choice, we usually perceive people over vast virtual distances. But then people receive this card, that's written in ink, on paper, by a human. And they sense there is something different about this company."
But Ledbury is beyond a few hundred superfans now. It's nice to be warm and approachable at the beginning, but how do the founders maintain it across more than 30,000 customers? "People say you can't scale this kind of personal connection," Trible says, but "I think you can. I know you can. Here's how we did it: We took our customer service team and made them simply customer experience devotees. They do only what only we can do. And we outsource everything that someone else can do: fulfillment and returns and picking and packing. And we make our customer service team about only one thing: getting to know the customers and spoiling them so they keep coming back."
And come back they do: Ledbury's top 50 customers have more than 75 shirts a piece. "We have a customer with more than 300," Trible adds with a grin.
4. Go quail hunting.
On Trible's desk when we interviewed him were a couple hand-written notes he'd just received from customers, in response to his. The customer connection strategy that Ledbury deploys so naturally has a byproduct: It makes customers want to reciprocate. To participate. That's why Trible has his marketing team focus a good part of their job on designing and hosting in-person events for Ledbury's customers. A place to gather, swap tales, clink glasses.
Every fall--including this past weekend--Ledbury invites some of its most prized customers and valuable partners to gather among the colored trees of Orapax Hunting Preserve. The program: a day of quail-hunting, craft brew, custom cocktails, a seasonally inspired menu, and the elegant, functional fashion that's become Ledbury's hallmark.
Ledbury's annual quail hunt has become of the most sought-after invites in Virginia, a communal experience full of camaraderie and a shared appreciation for a particular lifestyle. But it's merely the most visible instance of the company's tireless high-touch customer strategy.
"We're in a very simple business. We make shirts." Trible's line belies the difficulty of the extraordinary craftsmanship that goes into each shirt--but that's another article. The simplicity Trible calls out isn't about production anyway. It's about relationships.