Interview: Rhone's Nate Checketts on the Importance of Sincerity
The co-founder and CEO talks about how to wear a brand's values on its sleeves.
Welcome to Direct-to-Conversation, a recurring interview feature from DTC Magazine. These conversations highlight insights, advice, and innovation strategies from leading thinkers in the DTC, eCommerce, and retail space. Our most recent interview was with with Phoebe Yu, who is the co-founder and CEO of ettitude, the DTC sustainable bedding and loungewear maker.
In this Direct-to-Conversation, we catch up with Nate Checketts, who is the co-founder and CEO of Rhone, the DTC premium men's performance lifestyle company.
DTC Magazine: We're coming out of Black Friday and Cyber Monday and all the madness of 2020, so I want to ask what was Rhone's strategy for this particular Black Friday/Cyber Monday?
Nate Checketts: Well, I think we've seen an overall trend over the last few years of companies just acknowledging the fact that Black Friday and Cyber Monday exist and that they're coming and there are going to be deals, and just saying, "We're not big fans of people camping overnight, risking their health or family time just to get a deal. Let's just give it to them now and acknowledge that that's the phase that we're in."
We saw a lot of earlier deals this year, and so we decided to be really honest and sincere with our customers and say, "Here's what we're doing and we're not going to do these gimmicks and change the deal on Black Friday, make it better or change the deal on Cyber Monday. This is the deal and it's running through Cyber Monday, and then when Cyber Monday ends, it's over." And we've tried to kind of honor that, and it's been interesting to watch how the customers have reacted.
I always try and take at least a couple of days during this time and actually work our customer experience chat. I get such a rush from doing it, it's kind of weird. Customers will start asking, "Well, is the sale going to get better? Are you going to add something?" And we did add new products along the way. We created some interest with GWPs [Gift With Purchases], but we said, "Nope, this is the deal and you can expect it and it's going to be here until 12:00 AM Pacific Time on Tuesday. Overall, it was a great success.
For my own sons, I want them to see great examples of men standing up and getting men to be vulnerable with each other and talking about the challenges that they face and feelings of inadequacy and trying to appropriately combat the toxic masculinity that has existed for far too long, and we've tried to weave that into the branding.
DTC: That's obviously important because this was a particularly stressful year so I think given the manic nature of the crazy sales season, it probably helps to have something clearly defined.
One thing I've noticed and appreciated about Rhone's branding is the depth of the message. There's a subtlety there. I'm talking about the Captain's Stitch logo instead of a big overbearing logo and also your Outliers influencer program and looking at the collection of people you have that you choose to promote and involve in the branding. So, can you tell me a little bit about the specific concept for Rhone and where it came from?
NC: The Captain's Stitch is a great example. When we were looking at different symbols and ways of messaging what the brand was really all about, it illustrated what 2020 has come to symbolize, which is we're stronger together than we are apart. Stitching is such an interesting concept because you really start to see that a stitch only works if it overlaps and the farther it goes, the stronger it is. And a single stitch by itself is really easy to pop.
And growing up, my dad would wax philosophical at any opportunity, and I remember me and my two younger brothers we were out, we were getting into an argument and he told us to go and grab two sticks. We came back and he said, "All right, now take one stick and see if you can break it over your legs," which all of us could do and it was easy. And then he said, "Now, give me the other three sticks."
He took the other three and asked us to try and break it over our legs and none of us could. He said, "You have to remember that when you guys are separated, when you divide yourself, you're easily broken but when you stick together, no one can break you." And he talked about how much he loved his own two brothers and what a strength they were for him in his life and that he wanted to raise us that way.
One of the things that we thought about in starting the brand, is men are at such an interesting intersection from a gender perspective in human history, and I think in the world that we live in today, we certainly embrace gender diversity, but one of the things that we don't think a lot about is I think men are dealing with a lot of self-doubt and a lot of shame. I think about my own boys being raised in a world where they hear messages of The Future Is Female and messages of shame, of bad and toxic male behavior. And all of those things are true and relevant, but how do we create the other side of the coin that is inspirational because we know that shame doesn't drive positive behavior, it drives more secretive and negative behavior?
So, for my own sons, I want them to see great examples of men standing up and getting men to be vulnerable with each other and talking about the challenges that they face and feelings of inadequacy and trying to appropriately combat the toxic masculinity that has existed for far too long, and we've tried to weave that into the branding, and the messaging, and in the storytelling, and it's something that really resonates deeply with me. Obviously because of my three sons, but we found that it resonates with a lot of people.
If all we're doing is making, building and selling clothing, it just feels like a little bit of an empty existence..
DTC: The messaging is obviously timely and it's important because for the reasons you mentioned. People are looking for a different way to plug themselves into brands, into their lifestyles, into the way that they are without having to make a statement or having to support a brand that maybe doesn't really reflect who they are or who they want to be, and there's a real aspirational tone to it.
And that leads me to my question about The Pursuit, which I'd call the official digital magazine of Rhone. It has a lot of quality and clear investment in bringing in different voices and kinds of stories and that's pretty uncommon—especially for a burgeoning brand—to have this focus on lifestyle, material, recipes, travel guides, interviews, wellness tips. In other words, content that is geared towards men and people who want to live a little bit more efficiently, a little bit better. How important is it to have that outlet for the brand voice?
NC: It's something that I strongly believe in, mostly because at the end of the day, if all we're doing is making, building and selling clothing, it just feels like a little bit of an empty existence, and to me in the world that we live in today, making great products is table stakes. You have to do it, but in order to deepen or strengthen the ties with how you feel about how you feel about a brand, it's so crucial that you really develop a relationship with the customer, and you think about it from that perspective, and content is a really powerful way of doing that.
I do believe in establishing relationships of trust and it's something that I've always been naturally passionate about because I just love people, and I love finding out about them.
DTC: Definitely. I'm biased since this is the content corner of the world, but it's impressive to see the diversity of the content and the depth of the messaging there. Okay, last question: In addition to physical retail stores, I noticed you have a presence in hotels and some chains like Equinox as well as mom-and-pop and apparel shops. A little bit of everything. Without giving away any trade secrets, how would you advise a budding entrepreneur in striking up these kinds of partnerships?
NC: It's a little bit cliché to say, but I don't like the word 'networking' because it feels like such a dirty word. Nobody wants to feel like they've been networked into, but I do believe in establishing relationships of trust and it's something that I've always been naturally passionate about because I just love people, and I love finding out about them. I love finding out what makes them tick or what they're interested in, and what their backgrounds are because I fundamentally believe that every single person has value, and I think that taking that approach, which is really more of a mindset than anything else, naturally leads you to introductions because if you have the service mindset of, "How can I make your day better? What can I do for you?" People tend to really reciprocate that, and so what has happened is doors have been opened and people have said, "You know who I could introduce you to..."
And then also not being afraid to ask. I was definitely raised to be bold and not be afraid to pick up the phone and call someone or write someone a letter, or ask for a meeting, and almost all of these relationships have come simply from having an idea and saying, "You know, a great outlet for us would be Equinox."
And we started the relationship there, where we started to meet some people and they said, "Well, we'll take your product on consignment," which we'd never done before and we were nervous to do, and then we started growing and they started buying, and then we passed Lululemon and I think a year-and-a-half ago, we passed Nike and we became their number one men's brand. But that came from taking the time, building the relationships, going out for lunch, knowing what was going on in their lives and sending notes, and those things matter to people, but not doing it for the method of simply trying to get more business, but doing it because you genuinely love people and you want to be helpful to them, and you know that, yeah, that gets reciprocated when you do it in a genuine and authentic way.