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Up Close: In Conversation with Lids CEO Tom Ripley

Up Close is Sourcing Journal’s regular check-in with industry executives to get their take on topics ranging from personal style to their company’s latest moves. In this Q&A, Tom Ripley, CEO of hat and sports gear retailer Lids, discusses how his company navigated the pandemic and the importance of fit in headwear.

Tom Ripley Lids CEO
Tom Ripley, CEO of Lids Courtesy

Name: Tom Ripley

Title: CEO

Company: Lids

Which other industry has the best handle on the supply chain? What can apparel learn?

It feels like the shoe retailers have matched pace with demand. I think that Lids and our partners at Fanatics have done a great job of sourcing and maintaining excellent inventory levels.

How would you describe yourself as a consumer?

I shop impulsively and typically with a clear idea of what I am looking for, often down to the vendor and style. I also am a bit of a collector in that I will make a purchase without a need, but more of a desire to have multiple options. I am, however, extremely brand loyal—even down to headwear. Certain brands fit me better than others, and I will almost always default to those brands. No, I am not disclosing my favorite headwear brand. (It would be like telling you which of my children I like best!)

As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?

One-hundred percent, quality of the product drives my loyalty. If the product is well made, and the designer has logic behind their decisions, I fall in love with the purposefulness of that decision and commitment to their process.

What’s your typical work (or weekend) uniform?

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Super casual. I did time in both the U.S. Marine Corps and on Wall Street, so I have had my fill of dressing up for other people. I dress for comfort, although not terribly casual. My mom is still judging me from heaven, so collared shirt, belt and good posture are all standard for me.

Which fashion era is your favorite?

Easy one: the late ’70s. So much cool in everything that they did back then. Track suits (Steve Austin, aka ” The Six Million Dollar Man”), driving jackets (“Smokey and the Bandit” and “Bullitt”), and killer T-shirts (“Starsky & Hutch,” Farrah Fawcett, etc.).

Who’s your style icon?

It matches nothing of the above, but if I am dressing up for a party, there is only one benchmark for a man: Bond, James Bond.

What’s the best decision your company has made in the last year?

What we have tried to be is very open and direct about our business performance to include sales, gross margins and profitability. When people know what is happening in their company, they develop a higher level of ownership. They want to see the company succeed and they want to know that they are making an impact.

How would you describe your corporate culture?

At Lids, we want to be great. Great is aspirational, great takes strain and you must constantly work to be great, often falling short of the mark. Great is something that takes a team to achieve. We are willing to do the work that it takes to be great, often having to re-attack problems over and over to meet our level of expectations. The important step for us at Lids is to constantly challenge each other and push our teammates to be the best possible version of themselves.

What can companies learn from Covid-19?

When Covid hit our business, we acted very quickly. We knew that time was not on our side, and we had to position ourselves for a long and slow recovery. There were so many unknowns. We over-communicated to our partners—landlords, vendors, employees, leagues. The senior team divided up the list and hit the phones. We called every single district manager and store manager—over 1,000 phone calls among just a handful of us. Being busy kept all of us focused and made a dark time productive. It also brought us even closer to our store teams. By September, our business was stronger than ever.

What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?

Ensuring that you keep supply coming and do so in the most cost-effective way possible. As demand increases for product, an increased focus on timely production from our vendors is key.

What keeps you up at night?

Inflation. There are already some strong indicators that it is coming, but fortunately, it has been kept in check so far with strong consumer spending and unprecedented consumer savings.

What makes you most optimistic?

We are seeing extremely strong demand across all leagues and products, and we have just started to return to in-venue events. People miss their sports teams, and that creates an entirely new wave of consumer demand.

Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction:

Lids has always been the “Home of the Fitted.” We commit to fitted headwear like no other company. The latest fitted hat trends have always—and will always—come through Lids. Lids is just now starting to flex our fitted headwear muscle. The industry has awoken the giant, and we are excited about the weekly pace we are going to set over the next year.