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Working Against the Grain Works to Untuckit’s Advantage

In 2012, Untuckit founders Aaron Sanandres and Chris Riccobono unexpectedly found themselves at the helm of an apparel brand after having an “aha” moment in an airport. Riccobono called Sanandres and asked if he ever wore his shirt untucked. Sanandres immediately knew where the conversation was going.

Seven years later, Untuckit is known worldwide as the brand that makes shirts that can be worn over the pants rather than tucked in. And Sanandres continues to be astonished by what two business school majors without a lick of retail and manufacturing experience have pulled off.

“Luck is a large part of it, no questions about it,” CEO Sanandres said at WWD’s Men’s Wear Summit in New York Tuesday. “There was no way we could have timed this tectonic shift to the casual that you’re seeing in the U.S. right now and starting to see abroad.”

The duo also made a series of decisions that went against advice they were getting from venture capitalists and marketing experts. “We worked and moved against some of the conventional wisdom,” Sanandres said.

Those unpopular choices, Sanandres believes, have had the biggest impact and are a key part of what’s helped Untuckit become the omnichannel business with the unique proposition it is today.

Getting the right message

Not entirely sure where to begin, the Untuckit founding team started as many might: with PR aid.

“We got a PR firm to help with some celebrity seeding and marketing because that was the way people told us you start a fashion company,” Sanandres said. However, the company learned early on that it would have to retool its marketing message and rethink the channels it was delivering that message to.

“We knew that people who came to our site really connected with the brand. We had conversion rates that were stunning,” he said, but the brand lacked momentum.

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What they discovered, Sanandres recalled, was that they’d have to market function rather than fashion. “Because after all, our function was our value proposition. We were shirts that were designed to be worn untucked and we wouldn’t stray away from that message,” he said.

Back to basics marketing

Following that realization, the company raised just $150,000 before launching—an amount Sanandres said pales in comparison to the millions other startups like Casper and Warby Parker have raised. But by starting on a tight budget, Sanandres said the company made smart decisions, and it still operates with that muscle memory.

“If you’re sitting on $10 million, it’s just different,” he said, adding that every decision the company made was “highly deliberate decision-making.”

Untuckit nailed down its brand message and discovered it didn’t need to enter the retail space digitally like most companies were.

“We didn’t have to compete on Facebook with aspirational imagery. There’s aspirational imagery everywhere, in every medium right now,” Sanandres said. “What we realized is we have channels available to us that just aren’t open for other retailers.”

Instead the company focused on marketing channels where no one was competing, like radio.

“We knew that you didn’t have to see our product to know what we were about,” Sanandres said. “And because radio offered ridiculously low CPMs, especially at the local level, we were able to get in front of a microphone and tell our story more rapidly [and] efficiently than we ever thought we could on digital.”

Untuckit’s website went from having 1,500 visitors in total at that point, to having thousands of people streaming to the site after the first radio read, Sanandres said. “And that’s when the lights went off and I said, OK, we have to lean into this offline channel.”