Customers snapping up Frank And Oak’s sweaters made from oyster shells or pants using fibers created from wood and pulp are now seeing the brand’s sustainability efforts trickle over to the last mile.
The Montreal-based fashion brand and retailer has linked with last mile services provider GoBolt on same- and next-day deliveries using the latter’s fleet of electric vehicles. Plans call for carbon offsets to be purchased in cases where an electric vehicle is unavailable, as GoBolt works on expanding its fleet of EVs to the streets for the U.S. and Canada by the end of next year.
For Frank And Oak, a certified B Corp, the last mile piece and partnership with GoBolt is just one part of a broader sustainability lens through which it views the entire business.
“When you talk about sustainability and awareness with customers, there’s always a spectrum,” said Dustin Jones, who serves as CEO of the retailer along with its parent company Unified Commerce Group, which he co-founded in 2019. “There are the 10 percent that are enablers of change, promoters of change and the greatest critics of companies who have not changed. Then there’s the opposite, which are those that don’t care at all and don’t see the value in what you’re doing and then there’s that group in the middle. So what we think about doing is, on one side we’re innovating and innovation for us is not just cross-selling product or logistics. It’s looking at our entire business and saying, ‘How can we do better?’”
Part of that strategic thinking is fueled by the customers and just how many are actually aware of the different pieces and players that comprise first to middle and final mile, the CEO went on to say.
“When it comes to consumers and awareness about logistics and the carbon impact of logistics and the number of packages that they receive, what I would tell you is that there is a very, very small segment that is aware of all of those things that exist in the system, but many maybe are aware that inefficient packaging is a negative thing, but there’s so many layers of what goes into that box,” Jones said.
That’s why the company’s approach to sustainability takes into account multiple factors, including use of sustainable materials, materials science, the right supply chain and production partners and promoting circularity, Jones said. All those points are what fueled the move to work with GoBolt, a company that provides services to other businesses in the way of warehousing, picking, packing, shipping and final mile delivery.
From a business perspective, GoBolt co-founder and CEO Mark Ang said logistics can be a point of a differentiation.
“With this partnership, we can do even more to demonstrate that sustainability and an intelligent logistics system can be a competitive advantage and beneficial to the environment at the same time,” Ang said in a statement announcing the deal.
Frank And Oak closed its distribution center in Montreal as a result of the partnership with GoBolt, moving into a new facility in Toronto that is operated by the last mile and fulfillment company. The move and the GoBolt integration allows the company to cover the three major markets of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, Jones said.
The company’s previous life in the subscription business required different fulfillment needs that justified company-owned fulfillment centers. That’s no longer the case with an omnichannel business that counts an online store and nearly 20 brick-and-mortar locations, Jones said.
Merchandise is now centralized in the GoBolt-operated facility, while product is allocated to stores that also serve as mini warehouses.
“In a way, it protects the customer experience on both sides,” Jones said.
Technology helps determine whether an online order is fulfilled in the warehouse, a store or if a transaction will be a split shipment.
Returns for online orders can be handled by stores, or customers can return merchandise to the Toronto facility.
Jones said Ontario, Canada is currently the company’s top sales market, making reverse logistics back to the Toronto warehouse optimized by reducing costs, processing returns faster and getting the inventory back into the selling system.
Part of the company’s bid to engage its customer base in a holistic approach to sustainability with their fashion purchases is encouraging consumers to utilize the stores for returns when one must be done. Reducing returns in general is another way the company’s looking at making the last mile more green.
“We just launched a loyalty program and that loyalty program is all tied back to giving a chance to participate with us on our impact journey,” Jones said. “What we’ve tried to do is encourage this connected behavior. We know that when a customer is connected to a store and makes a shopping experience in our store or online, the lifetime value of that customer increases exponentially. So we haven’t tested yet, let’s say giving them some form of a discount [for returns in store], but that doesn’t mean we’re not open to it.”
Although Frank And Oak was launched in 2012, it’s a new business in some ways.
The retailer filed for bankruptcy protection in 2020, with Unified Commerce Group announcing plans to buy it later that same year. The deal marked the first purchase for Unified Commerce Group, which aims to build out a brand portfolio and touts veteran industry experience. Its advisory board includes former Macy’s Inc. chair and CEO Terry Lundgren, Lever Style Inc. executive chair Stanley Szeto, Nicole Richie and Good Charlotte singer and MDDN CEO Joel Madden.
Steering the ship is Jones who most recently served as managing director of Fung Retailing Group before starting Unified Commerce Group with chief operating officer and chief financial officer Greg Freihofner. Jones had previously served as an executive of Macy’s Inc., having held several positions including ready-to-wear general merchandise manager and senior vice president of licensed business.
For Frank And Oak, more stores will come, particularly in new markets such as the United States. New doors in Canada will be more strategic in a bid to further optimize the broader network, Jones said.
Coming out of the pandemic, the company is now working with about half the supplier base it had pre-Covid in an effort to reduce its risk exposure, while also nearshoring as much as possible.
At the same time, Unified Commerce Group continues to eye prospective acquisition targets with Jones saying the company expects to make an announcement on that front by the end of the year.
Unified’s aim is to be the platform for many of the millennial-founded brands started by entrepreneurs that were armed with less business experience and more motivation to start something with a purpose. The platform would offer brands the operational and tech backbone to help run the backend operations that have hampered many younger brands’ ability to scale.
Jones said his previous experiences working at larger, heritage businesses came in handy in solidifying that decision to create a fashion platform that sees the potential in born-online brands to help them navigate tough times and, as he said, “not only survive, but thrive.”
“These large companies that I worked for were like freighters in the ocean: large, stable, hard to turn. Not that sexy, but stable,” he said. “These young brands that we’re acquiring are like yachts: everybody wants to be on them. But when a storm comes, nobody wants to be on one.”