What Your Jeans Have to Say About the Future of Retail

Mention Amazon to a tackle store owner and you’ll likely solicit a groan. Along with it, you’ll probably get a begrudging follow-up that yes, their family does order from Amazon and they even have a Prime account. Frankly, the same can likely be said for the industry’s dominant online retailer, Tackle Warehouse.

But what if we told you the future of retail might not be as cut-and-dry as ordering online? And what if we told you the reason rests in your jeans?

Earlier this year, Levi Strauss, maker of America’s most iconic brand of blue jeans, announced plans to open 70 retail stores in 2020. Despite revenue taking a 62% dip in Q2, Levi’s is doubling down on brick-and-mortar retail as an aggressive strategy for combating Amazon.

The strategy is two-fold: Levi’s wants to expand its existing network of about 200 retail stores and distribute online orders through those sites rather than distribution centers. They plan to use curbside pickup as a way to encourage sales throughout the pandemic; and they’re even partnering with Uber to have new bluejeans delivered right to the customer’s doors. The plan isn’t altogether new—it originated from the office of CEO Chip Bergh in 2011; but the ongoing pandemic and a steep decline in denim sales (people want to wear sweatpants at home) has spurned the company to crunch their timeline from years down to months.

The bell cow of the project? A virtual concierge service that helps customers find the right cut and fit for their frame.

If that sounds futuristic, hold on to your cutoff shorts.

Levi’s says their virtual concierge is just a placeholder for the real future of bluejeans—laser scanning technology that will create a custom pair of bluejeans for every individual shopper. As you might expect, it’s a technology that works best in physical stores, not online.

Why all of the fuss? Levi’s has been operating under a wholesale business model for decades. They’ve been hedging their bets on men’s denim and inching across the business landscape with 3-3.5% growth per year, according to the Wall Street Journal. Levi’s wants to change that trajectory by selling jeans retailing for $80 and up directly to consumers. The jeans you can nab at Walmart for $40? They’ll still reside in the wholesale market.

Where does that leave the fishing industry?

Top tackle stores are increasingly turning to apparel as a serious source of profit. We’ve already taken on the importance of selling apparel with FTR contributor Robbie Brown. Suffice to say, if you’re just selling hooks and worms at this point, you’re really missing out.

Now, I’m not suggesting you go strike up a deal with Levi’s, but do consider the apparel brands you already work with and how you might be able to boost these profitable sales even more in today’s times.

  • Can you set up an online chat assistant on your website? Plugins are readily available for that.
  • Is your sales staff educated on helping customers find the right fit for their needs? Sometimes, it takes a fine touch to talk a man from a size large to an extra large.
  • Are you offering curbside pickup? Ease societal pressure to “man up” and expose yourself to COVID-19 by giving customers a touch-free way to pickup their orders.
  • Have you invested in a laser-based body scanning system? Word on the street is the TSA isn’t exactly making much use of theirs at the moment.

I brought you the story of Levi’s today to make a point—America’s legacy brands aren’t all imploding under the weight of online competitors. The blue jean giant is forging a path through the pandemic by investing in its presence and technology. It’s a path we’ve seen before during previous times of civil unrest.

Levi’s isn’t alone, either. Over at Tyson chicken—in the middle of rural Arkansas—a new CEO is taking office. He comes from Google’s moonshot department. Dean Banks has a background in robotics, bioscience, and venture capital. Before taking office, he didn’t know much at all about chicken.

The move should give us all plenty of food for thought.