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, Ben Houston, chief technology officer of product configuration and visualization platform Threekit, explains how value shapes how he seeks value when shopping and why companies should stay open to new opportunities, even during the pandemic.
Name: Ben Houston
Title: chief technology officer
Which other industry has the best handle on the supply chain? What can apparel learn?
Some of our clients in the furniture industry, such as Steelcase and Herman Miller, have very clear and predictable supply chains. I guess in many ways, their industries are more predictable because they reuse the same components across many items, and their furniture designs generally last many seasons if not many years.
How would you describe yourself as a consumer?
I seek quality and value-oriented products, also ones with the latest high-tech features. I tend not to be that trendy as I do not follow trends that well.
As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?
I like well thought-out product lines where everything fits together and the more that you buy of that brand, the more value you get from the overall product line. For example, Alexa home automation products—you get more value as you buy more into it. Or say, the Milwaukee Tools M18 series, which allows you to share batteries and tool attachments.
What’s your typical uniform?
More often than not, a black T-shirt and straight-leg jeans.
Which fashion era is your favorite?
I guess the 1980s. I’ve been rewatching many of the greatest 1980s movies with my daughter, and it’s been fun to see the styles.
Who’s your style icon?
I relate well to Steve Jobs’ no-frills black turtleneck sweater and blue jeans every day. I like the simplicity of it.
What’s the best decision your company has made in the last year?
To be cautiously optimistic about growth during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is hard to not shut down and take a bunker mentality in these unprecedented times. But to take a bunker mentality precludes growth and does not let you take advantage of any opportunities that may present themselves.
How would you describe your corporate culture?
I would say that it is a calm, controlled and focused company culture. Nearly all of our leadership team has experience in multiple high-growth companies. They have seen it all and know what is needed for success.
What can companies learn from Covid-19?
The surprising learning for me was how well working from home works. I think a lot of other companies realized how successful this can be when the whole company truly buys into it. I think many companies would benefit long term by staying remote first.
I do think that maximizing remote collaboration effectiveness is still a challenge, however.
What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?
I think that augmented reality and other forms of visual-based configuration is key to growth. Store traffic is down, especially in the many companies that have gone into a second full or partial lockdown. But bored people at home still love to shop.
What keeps you up at night?
Questions like, “Are we doing the right things now that ensure that we will continue to grow smoothly for the next few years?” Often, the impact of a bad decision now will only be felt some time in the future, and when you finally realize you’ve made a mistake, it is harder and more costly to unwind.
What makes you most optimistic?
The impressive resilience of children in the pandemic.
Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction:
We have recently introduced Layering to our Virtual Photographer product. This new capability reduces the cost of creating photorealistic, configurable imagery with tens or even hundreds of thousands of production combinations. In the apparel space, this is especially relevant to mix-and-match offerings, when you want to visualize for a customer different pairings of tops with legwear or accessories.