STORES Magazine - May/June 2017 - 42
Frank + Oak and the Machine
Montreal clothier tries AI suggestions to increase online sales
by JOHN MORELL
t first glance, Montreal-based Frank +
Oak looks like just about any other
successful clothier focused on the tastes of
Millennials and wannabes. With a dozen
stores in hip neighborhoods of Canadian
cities and three more in the United States
(Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C.),
they expressly focus on the experience of
shopping as much as on their products.
Co-founders Ethan Song and Hicham
Ratnani created the company in 2012
after experimenting with other retail
concepts. In their early days they modeled
and took their own pictures for Frank +
Oak clothing. Today they've grown to
250 employees and more than 3 million
customers. With a strong emphasis on
personal service, Frank + Oak doesn't
just sell their products to anyone. Online
customers need to sign up as "members"
to buy, which is intended to create the
sense of a unique club.
STORES May/June 2017
Their men's and women's line has a
big emphasis on "lifestyle," and tries to
capture the work clothing tastes of young
creative types. Some of their larger stores
feature barber shops and coffee bars.
They've also been known to host events
such as whiskey tastings and art shows.
The effect is to broaden the definition of
a retail experience in the same way that
Disney Stores and Bass Pro Shops do for
their market segments.
Personalization is a company mantra.
Each store has stylists available to assist
in clothing selections, and staffers
include a handwritten thank-you notes
before online orders are shipped (about
50 percent of the company's sales are
through its website).
It's only natural, then, that when Song
was presented with an idea to increase
personalization for its online customers,
he said yes.
"From our research we know that
customers often may not know what to
buy, maybe they don't shop for clothes
that often," Song says. "But they want
to look good, and they appreciate good
Song's interest dovetailed with the work
of Eric Brassard, who formed Propulse
Analytics in 2015. Brassard, a former
marketing executive with Saks Fifth
Avenue, saw the impact of personalized
service when he started in retail.
"In the early 1990s I saw that some
Saks salespeople were extremely efficient,
earning nearly $200,000 per year in
commissions," Brassard says. "I spent
some time watching how they worked,
and noticed they had an ability to size up
clients very quickly."
As a customer looked at a few items in a
department, the salesperson would gather