March 17, 2005

history of english cut

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[UPDATE: Big Kudo's to Rober Scoble for linking to English Cut. Thanks, Robert!]

With all the English Cut business going crazy at the moment, it suddenly made me think of all the feedback I received about the idea of a blogging tailor, before I had convinced Thomas to start a blog, when I first broached the subject with my readers here and here:

"It seems to me that a blog is pretty inappropriate as a website for a tailor. Perhaps it's appropriate to use a blog engine to maintain his website, which will make it easier for him to maintain the content, but I fail to see why a tailor would want to keep an online diary as the online face of his business."

"I guess what I'm afraid of is that we're talking about a small niche market. Lots of people online like to talk about computers, gadgets, movies, and all kinds of things. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't imagine that too many people have much to say about suits (as nice as they are, and as much as I'd like to be able to afford one)... If Tom starts a blog, and there's no conversation, that's going to look kinda silly. Wouldn't that be detrimental to business?"

"I don't hear that many people talking about suits, especially online, and I'm don't believe that starting a blog about suits will change that."

"People like Tom need a blog as much as a fish needs a bicycle... The typical Saville Row customer is not a blog reader. He, in all likelyhood, doesn't even know what a blog is. And even if he'd knew, why read about what one's tailor has to say? He's there to make suits, as long as he does that well he'll have a market... Tom needs to offer superior service and style to a market that tends to be extremely loyal to 'their' taylor, once that relationship has been built."

"Directing a conversation with your customer base is a great idea. Assuming people fly to London to buy a hand tailored suit because they want to intimidate their beta male counterparts is silly... 90% of the suits on Savile Row are good enough for the most discriminating buyer. Its the buying experience that will make one tailor more successful than another."

"A blogging tailor is not what is needed, however the concept of being the subject of conversation is. I'd have thought that, with Savile Row tailors and that ilk, word of mouth is the key in the bespoke suit buying Alpha-male market. I just don't think that blogging is the be-all answer to that."

It's amazing to think that these comments are only a few months old. But that's internet time for you.

So Robert, what did they say to you when you said you were going to start blogging about Microsoft from the inside?

Posted by hugh macleod at March 17, 2005 10:56 PM | TrackBack
Comments

The flaw in the above was where you said "The typical Saville Row customer is not a blog reader." Was the goal to get Saville Row customers to read the blog, or get the blog readers to become Saville Row customers? I've recently had a reader of my blog post a comment about how much he's learned from the English Cut. If markets are indeed conversations, then giving people the vocabulary to join in is by definition a market-expanding activity. That's the lesson I've taken out of your experiment - it's not about preaching to the crowd but about getting new people in the pews.

Posted by: Dave at March 18, 2005 2:53 AM

So Hugh - do you have any figures on how blogging has improved Tom's business?

(Extra business brought in by blogging) -
(Cost of starting and maintaining blog) = ?

Posted by: Stewart Johnson at March 18, 2005 4:37 AM

Hi Hugh -- another great post. I echo Dave's blog's reader's view that English Cut is massively educational; not just about bespoke suits, but also as a wonderful real-life example of Hughtrain marketing. On that topic... I'm not sure if other readers would be interested in this (and maybe this is what we're going to see with your move into Wine blogging), but I think more perspective on how the Hughtrain
'methodology' (if it can be called that) applies to less 'unique' businesses would be informative. As an example, how could the Hughtrain be applied to an otherwise fairly standard web hosting company? Blogging seems to be a smart idea there (the process is indeed fascinating on many levels). But is that really all that's needed? It seems certain businesses are just a more natural 'fit'? Or is that a mistaken perspective?

Posted by: Reece at March 18, 2005 6:33 AM

Why yes, Stewart.... the blog hasn't brought in any new business at all, whereas setting it up cost a small fortune ;-)

Posted by: hugh macleod at March 18, 2005 9:21 AM

Who knew I wasn't supposed to buy a bespoke suit from a blog?

Silly me! I have approached Thomas about making a suit (now I'm thinking two) from reading his blog.

The bespoke market is not about rich, alpha males. My wife and I are solidly middle-class. But we have no debt and own our house and live on about $2200 a month. That leaves quite a bit of money as disposable income. Some of that money I choose to spend on bespoke suits.

The market for bespoke suits is any person (why limit yourself to guys?) with cash to spend who wants to look good.

Most American white men (and quite a few women) I know dress like shit. Off the rack suits are made out of shit and fall apart faster than shit. And this shit isn't cheap, either. Upwards of $1000 in some cases. For another $1000 I can get a suit that is unique, made by an artist and fits me exactly.

The English Cut story is an authentic one. Thomas' conversation is easy and friendly with no bullshit.

Coming from a country that produces and exports bullshit ad naseum I will gladly pay for the English Cut story.

Posted by: Jay Sennett at March 18, 2005 2:12 PM

Reece and Jay,

There is a phenomenon I call the "unfamiliar cafeteria factor." When you walk into a new cafeteria style place, you never know which way to go through the line, where you pay, do you get the food yourself or ask someone to dish it for you, what? I've walked out of places because it seemed like too much trouble to figure it all out while right next door was a restaurant I already knew how to work.

There are definitely times when I have money in my pocket but the threshold to get me across to a purchase is enough to keep me out of a store. Not knowing exactly what you are doing and not relishing the possibility feeling like a dunce for trying to shop there (not uncommon in high end stores in the USA) is a threshold big enough to often keep me out of a market.

Suppose I was vaguely interested in a bespoke suit but didn't feel like having someone look down their nose at my ignorance and thus never bothered walking into a Saville Row shop. Where Thomas has changed the threshold is in two ways - 1) He has educated me enough to know the basics to start the process without feeling like a total dumbass and 2) he has let me know that he personally and his particular business cares enough about me to get me to that point. Thus, me and my money in my pocket is gravitating directly to him for my virgin bespoke suit experience.

I'm a shlub and not in the market for this particular product (today), but I am smarter and more interested because of the English Cut blog. In fact, I might one day enter the market for the product *because of* English Cut. The key here is that this is replicable, and is particularly useful in any business where this threshold exists, highbrow and low. Comic book shops, banjo stores, hothouse flower nurseries, etc. Any place where having the ins and outs explained increases the odds of you entering their store can potentially benefit from explaining to you how to become a customer.

Posted by: Dave at March 18, 2005 3:13 PM

Dave and Reece,

Dave, you are right on when you say that Thomas explains to us how to become a customer. This fact alone is one reason why Thomas' blog works. He demystifies a heretofore upper-crust process. In doing so, he does two things for me: he earns my trust and understanding. Now I know why he charges what he charges.

Reece, I think a Hughtrain approach to a web provider works. The conversational style is,again, key. Web nerds don't educate me on how to become a customer (see Dave's earlier points on this behavior). So I'd probably switch my business to a provider that makes all processes associated with web pages/blogs etc transparent, treats me like an intelligent customer and shows me how easy it is to be one of their customers.

Posted by: Jay Sennett at March 18, 2005 4:20 PM

If you don't think people are interested in this online check out www.styleforum.net. This is all these guys talk about at were even featured in the NYTimes. (Yes, I am "one of these guys")

Posted by: J.P. at March 18, 2005 9:38 PM

question: how would english cut have fared if its author did not have a friend who was a very well-known blogger plugging him?

Posted by: cynthia at March 20, 2005 12:35 AM

Actually I was blogging before I got to Microsoft.

So, they sorta knew what they'd be getting before inviting me up.

Posted by: Robert Scoble at March 20, 2005 2:04 AM

Hugh:

I loved the transition from the cartoon about getting Scoble to link, to the question at the end, to the comment by Scoble. A brilliant demonstration of the mix of humility and hubris that makes your writing/cartooning so worthwhile. But the comments pooh-poohing The English Cut are even better. The negative energy exuded by the naysayers is a lesson for us all to push through when we believe in something.

Posted by: Eric E at March 20, 2005 3:04 AM

Robert, I know you were blogging pre-Microsoft. I was thinking more about your non-Microsoft peers' reaction.

Cynthia: Without me English Cut would never have existed, with or without me plugging it.

That being said, most of the traffic doesn't come from gapingvoid now... maybe it in the first week or two (late January), but it was really getting mentioned on BoingBoing (February 13th) that REALLY got the word around.

Posted by: hugh macleod at March 20, 2005 6:35 AM

Reece, Dave, Jay: Thanks for the comments. Some interesting points.

The plan was never to turn bloggers into Savile Row customers, or vice versa.

But a blog seemed to us the best way to get the information "out there" in an entertaining and educational way.

Much better than the usual "Providing the finest traditions of Savile Row since 1911" blether that most of his competitors' websites have.

I'm seeing two things starting to happen:

1. We're starting to get e-mails from already-serious buyers who say "I've been reading your blog for a while, and would like to buy a suit from you."

2. We're getting a lot of e-mails saying, "I've always wanted to buy Savile Row, but never knew exactly how to best go about it. Now I do, and would like to make you my first port of call."

Both are seriously good markets to have a relationship with.

Posted by: hugh macleod at March 20, 2005 7:25 AM

Eric, that's very kind of you to say. Thanks =)

Posted by: hugh macleod at March 20, 2005 8:59 AM

Oh, Eric, another point:

To be fair on the "naysayers", the idea of a blogging tailor back then was pretty "out there", even by blogging standards. Heh.

We didn't know if it would work or not. One never does, of course.

But when Tom first started telling me about his job in detail, I was invariably telling him 50 times a day, "You should be telling people about this stuff! It's utterly fascinating, dammit!"

I think he started the blog just to shut me up.

Posted by: hugh macleod at March 20, 2005 9:23 AM

Reviewing the naysayers cheered me up no end.

As well as reminding me of my own ability to get into the heady space of second guessing the universe.

What I keep (re)learning for myself is the value of trying stuff out over theorising.

Posted by: Johnnie Moore at March 20, 2005 1:06 PM

Johnnie, I think you've hit it. As brilliant as we all think we are, we've seen over and over again that many successes are things nobody thought would fly. At heart I'm an empiricist. No amount of theory and conjecture will be as compelling to me as the act of throwing against the wall, and the sticking thereto or lack thereof.

Put another way via a quote from the Butthole Surfers - "It's better to regret something you have done than regret something you haven't done."

Hugh, it may not have been the original plan but it ought to be the plan next time. "Hmm, there are people out there with money in the pocket and a vague possibility of purchasing my thing/service/whatever but currently lacking the impetus to do so. If I tell them what they need to know to unload that cash on me and entertain them while I do, perhaps they shall."

Posted by: Dave at March 20, 2005 3:07 PM

And to be fair on me, Dave, that was kinda the idea. "If I tell them what they need to know to unload that cash on me and entertain them while I do, perhaps they shall" etc.

;-)

But, like I said, you never know if it will actually work or not until you try.

Posted by: hugh macleod at March 20, 2005 6:16 PM