How an idea no one believed led to 8 million shirts and 88 stores for the UNTUCKit retail phenomenon

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Recently, I had the chance to meet Chris Riccobono, the co-founder of New York-based retail brand UNTUCKit. As a concept and brand, UNTUCKit has been credited by The Wall Street Journal by accelerating the trend (or threat) of the Untucked Nation.

Courtesy of UNTUCKit

Ten years and 8 million shirts after its launch in 2011, “Great Untucking” has become a phenomenon. Even after the pandemic, 88 physical stores dot the physical landscape (81 in the United States, four in Canada and three in the United Kingdom). Additionally, three new stores opened in 2021 in Long Beach, California; Sarasota, Florida; and Manchester, United Kingdom

Everything Riccobono needed was a good idea

Eleven years ago, after graduating from Columbia Business School, Riccobono worked as a healthcare sales representative for GE. His dream, of course, was to start his own business. All he needed was an idea. From 2003 to 2010, he worked his way through multiple ideas and a few small businesses while still keeping his day job at GE.

But nothing worked. He considered going into finance, but that idea was quickly stifled by the collapse of the markets in 2008. He toyed with the idea of ​​starting a wine blog. He was passionate about the subject, and it would give him the chance to learn how to market online and build an audience on social media.

Then came his entrepreneurial epiphany: men’s shirts with shorter sides, specially designed to be worn naked. It sounded brilliant – an idea any man would understand and a set of products he could market online. What could be better? While a shopkeeper had to work in an office all day, he explained, a salesperson could work both his day job and his home job. Yes, it would require almost 24 hour effort. But it could be done.

So now he should find a sample. As he roamed the New York Fashion District and met manufacturers, Riccobono soon discovered how little he knew about something as basic as making a shirt. He needed help. So he called Aaron Sanandres, now CEO of UNTUCKit, a friend who had been a classmate at Columbia, and pitched his idea to him. Sanandres loved the concept and said, “I was waiting for someone to start a business like this. The partnership was in place, and a year later the two were ready to share the idea with others.

Related: The Emotional Moment That Sparked A Winning Business Idea For This Entrepreneur

But investors refused

In the early iterations of the business, investors completely missed the idea.

“The older guys who had the money said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,'” Riccobono recalls, “and the younger guys didn’t think that would ever happen.”

And investors not only hated the idea, they hated the name UNTUCKit as well.

“A fashion brand needed a fancy name,” they said, such as “The Chris Riccobono Shirt”. But UNTUCK is the opposite: simple, focused and straightforward. Riccobono held on, realizing that in a sea of ​​elite brands, the name and brand “UNTUCKit” would stand out from the crowd. It was also a brilliant SEO strategy.

Today, the UNTUCKit brand is one of the few illustrious products with such a familiar name that it is almost generic, such as “Jello” or “Kleenex”. The processing of the logo is also ingenious; the simple flag is bright, straight to the point and unique a branded touch on a non-tucked tail, giving a factor of freshness and a subtle connection to the increasingly popular brand.

At first, however, Riccobono and Sanandres faced the daunting challenge of launching a national and global menswear brand with just $ 150,000.

“We didn’t have enough money to market,” says Riccobono. “All we could do was hire a very small PR firm. We were making 1,000 shirts and would see how far we could go before we ran out of money.

And, of course, the $ 150,000 should also cover the construction and launch of the company’s website.

Related: 4 Tips for Successful Breaking in a Saturated Industry

Throwing small was a blessing

Upon launch, Riccobono resisted the canonical tendencies of raising a cargo of money through private equity and relinquishing 50% ownership, acquiring Class A office space to make it look and feel really important. , and to hire to solidify the feeling that this was a real business. The co-founders agreed that they would not have an office. Riccobono will not quit his day job (which he did not do until the sixth grade). They would “work until we get sick,” they agreed, and protect their equity by not doing any more fundraising until the need to start opening physical stores arises.

By the time Riccobono resigned from his previous job, the company was operating at a level of over $ 20 million with just himself and Sanandres without an office or fundraising. The first ascent seemed bitterly slow, but the two didn’t care as they still had full-time jobs. Interestingly, they remember that about one in ten customers wrote thank you notes to the company for releasing the product, despite a learning curve that resulted in the first generations of the products being, in the words’ own words. by Riccobono, “really terrible shirts. . ”

Riccobono attributes part of the company’s success to sheer luck. “If we had raised a lot of money we would have done a lot of marketing and the quality of the first shirts was terrible. we would have been bankrupt, ”he said.

So why do men love UNTUCKit?

The same the Wall Street newspaper The story that lamented the casual unfolding trend noted that for many men, “especially those who haven’t seen the inside of a gym since 08”, the unfolded shirt provides some camouflage for a. carrier who has a bit of guts. Skeptics lament that when the wearer sits down, the knees of an unfolded shirt become so crumpled that it looks like “you dragged it across the floor.” UNTUCKit’s answer to crease propensity is with specially chosen fabrics and fits that put the shirt at a bit higher price. The attention to design and function is clear.

After the pandemic was locked out, it became even more apparent that un-tucked shirts are here to stay. As people return to work, even older and more traditional employees have switched to more casual work clothes. By mid-2021, UNTUCKit had surpassed its pre-pandemic 2019 performance. Sales doubled between May and July, and the company’s 2022 revenue target is north of $ 300 million.

Why physical stores?

My last question for Riccobono is why the e-commerce brand has also spread through a network of traditional stores and how this strategy has worked. Ultimately, Riccobono says, “A lot of men need to see and smell the shirts in person.” However, he points out that constructions and decor for the brand’s predominantly male clients require little space and can be surprisingly spared.

The stores have been good business, although Riccobono admits that during the worst of the foreclosure, “80% of my time was spent negotiating postponements and reductions in leases.” This has made it an interesting time to open a new store in Florida, he concedes, but luckily everything is going according to plan.

“To survive during the coronavirus, we needed shopping malls to cooperate,” he said. “And luckily almost all of them did.”

Related: 7 Qualities Every Entrepreneur Should Look For In A Co-Founder

Expect the unpredictable

UNTUCKit anticipates further significant expansion into international markets. I ask Riccobono if manufacturing and trading will return to normal. He laughs, remembering a time before the pandemic when he and others were thinking about ways to prepare for every possible crisis.

“What’s the worst thing that can happen?” ” They asked. The answer was ‘supply chain disruption’. It was a nightmare that seemed unfathomable, but in 2020 it happened. But in the same way that the company overcame its past challenges, it not only survived, but thrived as well. Despite all the humiliating ups and downs of the crisis, UNTUCKit’s first decade has been a stunning victory for resilient and creative entrepreneurs.


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