Episode 132
November 1, 2019

Tracksmith: Unapologetically Premium

A NEW FORMAT. BOOM! In part 1 of #132: Matt Taylor created something special when he created Tracksmith. Based on heritage and collegiate styles, Tracksmith has redefined outdoor apparel in a space that is dominated by household names and global retailers. In the second half: LVMH bids on Tiffany and Sucharita Kodali of Forrester gives us the low-down on 180-year-old brand.

<iframe frameborder='0' height='80px' scrolling='no' seamless src='https://simplecast.com/e/997cf2d4?style=light' width='100%'></iframe>

this episode sponsored by

Matt Taylor created something special when he created Tracksmith. Based on heritage and collegiate styles, Tracksmith has redefined outdoor apparel in a space that is dominated by household names and global retailers. In the second half: LVMH bids on Tiffany and Sucharita Kodali of Forrester gives us the low-down on 180-year-old brand.

Show notes

Main Takeaways:

  • Brian and Phillip are joined in today's episode by Matt Taylor, the Co-Founder and CEO of Tracksmith and they are recording today's episode at the Trackhouse in Boston.
  • Tracksmith is geared towards dedicated runners and has fostered a dedicated fan base based on those values.
  • With customer acquisition costs on the rise, where should your brand focus its efforts to make the most out of your hard-earned dollars?
  • Capturing the passion you have for your brand helps identify your ideal customers, and is invaluable when it comes to developing your brand's identity.

Heritage: An Accurate Description of Tracksmith of a Brand:

  • Matt recalls the first time the brand was in the Trackhouse back in 2015 when Tracksmith used the building as their first pop-up location.
  • As a runner for his entire life, Matt has been involved in running since middle school, which makes running a big part of his life.
  • After college, Matt got more and more interested in running, and before starting Tracksmith, he was the Head of Marketing for the Running and Training categories at Puma.
  • He built an iPhone game with Usain Bolt before the 2012 Olympics that gave him a bridge to take a year to work and develop Tracksmith.

A Powerful Combination: Fusing Interest and Passion:

  • Tracksmith is described by Matt as a combination of personal interest and passion, but also a representation of his years of experience in the industry.
  • There is a lot of talk about timing within the market when it comes to starting a business, but very few people talk about the importance of timing in a founder's personal life.
  • There is always a risk when starting your business venture and everyone's situation is different.
  • What personal factors contribute to an ideal environment if you were to leave a corporate job and start your own venture?

That Tracksmith Feel: Diversifying Against a Giant:

  • Hailed as an Anti-Nike, Tracksmith has developed a unique feel and has a special way they have decided to tell their story.
  • You can't manufacture authenticity, it has to come from a sincere place and for Tracksmith, that authenticity comes from a genuine passion for running.
  • As other running brands have grown, they have left behind a void in the market that is comprised of the core, committed running consumer.
  • Tracksmith has made it a mission to serve the dedicated running audience, and it is something they constantly check in with to make sure they stay on message.

The Pressure to Grow: Navigating a Harsh Environment:

  • There is a lot of pressure to grow in the current environment, especially if you are venture-backed.
  • Brian asks Matt if he thinks that it's inevitable for Tracksmith to broaden its horizons given the constant push for growth.
  • Matt doesn't think that will happen any time soon because there is such a consistent market in the running vertical so there is no pressure to build a multi-billion dollar brand in the immediate future.
  • Where is the line drawn between staying true to a core customer and growing to reach other customer sets?

Who Is and Who Isn't?: Identifying Your Customers:

  • There is a very strong feel to Tracksmith, so Brian asks if Matt thinks that this strong feel is exclusionary in any way.
  • Tracksmith does not view their brand as exclusionary, but rather aspirational which can sometimes feel far away for some people.
  • People tend to think negatively first instead of coming together to build something up.
  • Tracksmith is geared towards people that have made running a part of their identity, and overcoming obstacles is especially poignant to that group.

Selective Partnering: How to Choose Compatible Brands:

  • Phillip is interested to know what Tracksmith's approach is when it comes to partnering with other brands.
  • Tracksmith partnered with Rowing Blazers after they did a pop-up close to the Trackhouse and quickly realized that both brands shared a passion for their respective sports.
  • Team endurance sports specifically become harder post-college due to the difficulty of finding a crew, so there was hope for discovery in partnering with Rowing Blazers.
  • Tracksmith just announced a partnership with outerwear company Boathouse as well as a partnership with Article One Eyewear.

Facilitating Community: How To Foster Relationships With Your Brand:

  • From the beginning, physical interaction was very important for Tracksmith for their customers to connect with their product.
  • Most brands in most spaces don't have an opportunity to create a community, but the running community already exists even before they purchase anything.
  • Tracksmith was hosting runs from inception, but having a location in Boston facilitates the community even further.
  • Boston is unique in the running world as it holds a special space in the minds of the running community.

CAC On The Rise: What It Costs to Run a Business in 2019:

  • A connection that is outside of the purchase experience is trending to be the main way that brands are reaching their customers.
  • There is an opportunity for Tracksmith to build longer-lasting relationships via print due to its very visual nature.
  • Over time, unselfish content builds a stronger connection with your brand but is very hard to draw a straight line back to your revenue.
  • Tracksmith's biggest driving force for content is photography; pictures and words drive everything else they do.

Patience is a Virtue: Emotionally Capturing a Brand:

  • Tracksmith specifically takes extra time to highlight the runner themselves, and that is comprised of more than just the run itself.
  • If you do care deeply about something, there is a process that you go through that bypasses our current world of instant gratification.
  • Matt grew up in a family of makers, and when you grow up around that, he was immersed in the value of something that is handcrafted with time and love.
  • Running is in such stark contrast to the world of today where everything is so instant.

Building Up Your Employees: A Major Key to Success:

  • Employees are the face of your brand and provide your customers with their experience with the brand.
  • Relationships with customers are starting to supersede your story when it comes to building brand loyalty.
  • Tracksmith naturally attracts employees who are passionate about running, and that passion comes across in customer interactions.
  • Phillip has personally experienced the employee passion at Trackhouse when an employee recognized him from an interaction that was months ago.

Pursuing Your Passion: Advice for Other Founders:

  • Phillip asks Matt if he has any advice for other founders that are considering taking a risk and pursuing their passion.
  • A lot of people want to give you advice, but a lot of that advice is specific to their personal experience, and this doesn't necessarily apply to you.
  • Absorb as much information and advice as you can, but you need to discover what makes your situation unique.
  • Identifying what makes your brand unique will help you form your voice and brand identity,

Brands Mentioned in this Episode:

As always: We want to hear what our listeners think! How can you capture the passion you have for your brand and impart those feelings in your content and product to truly impact your customers?

Let us know in the content section on Futurecommerce.fm, or reach out to us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Linkedin.

Have any questions or comments about the show? You can reach out to us at info@futurecommerce.fm or any of our social channels; we love hearing from our listeners!

Retail Tech is moving fast, but Future Commerce is moving faster.

Download MP3 (69.5 MB)


Brian: [00:00:00] Welcome to Future Commerce, the podcast about cutting edge and next generation commerce. I'm Brian.

Phillip: [00:00:01] I'm Phillip. And today we have a very special guest, Matt Taylor, who is the founder and CEO of my personal favorite running apparel brand, Tracksmith. We happen to be at the Trackhouse in Boston.

Brian: [00:00:13] Yes.

Matt: [00:00:13] We are.

Phillip: [00:00:14] This is awesome. Thank you so much for having us.

Matt: [00:00:15] No worries. Thanks. Thanks for coming in.

Brian: [00:00:17] Yeah, it's a really cool space. I was just blown away. The wood and just the the Boston feel. It's all there.

Phillip: [00:00:27] There's a lot of heritage, which I think is actually, if you had to...not to tell it for you, but I think that might be a word that would accurately describe Tracksmith as a brand.

Matt: [00:00:36] Yeah, it would. And I think it's interesting. We kind of lucked out in the space. I'm glad to hear you thought that when you came in, because we actually used that space in 2015 for our very first pop up. So this building was owned by Life is Good, which is...

Phillip: [00:00:52] No way.

Matt: [00:00:53] Yeah. Yeah.

Phillip: [00:00:53] Oh wow. The company that I thought was peanuts for the longest time.

Matt: [00:00:57] Yeah. So the two brothers built out the space. So when people walk in here, if anyone that knows retail, thinks that we did this massive build out, and it costs us a ton of money. But all of that wood and all of the beauty and the brick was all here. We just did some painting and some touch ups, but we walked in here and it was like, this is us. You know, and so it's an amazing space. We're really lucky.

Brian: [00:01:20] That's so cool.

Matt: [00:01:20] Yeah.

Brian: [00:01:21] Yeah. Tell us a little bit about how you started Tracksmith. How'd this get going?

Matt: [00:01:25] Yeah. So, I mean, I've been a runner my entire life. And so I've been involved in and a participant in the sport going all the way back to middle school is when I first started running and, you know, got more competitive and better in high school and then was fortunate enough to run in college and still train and race today. So that's been an important part of my just my identity, you know, for a very long time. And then after college, my career started in sort of general sports marketing. I worked at IMG as my first job in college and sort of as my career progressed, I just got more and more interested in running specifically. I knew that's where my passion was and what I knew the most about. And so I guess my sort of last real job prior to Tracksmith was at Puma. I was the head of marketing for the running and training categories. And it was an incredible experience to be at a brand like that and be immersed in a global brand in that type of function. And I used it to learn as much as I possibly could about how brands operate. Obviously, at a much greater scale, but there's a lot of learnings you can take from that, which I did. And then the fun little story of post Puma and and pre Tracksmith was to sort of build myself a little bit of a bridge. I, at the time married and had one child at the time and didn't want to just walk home one day and say, "Hey, I'm quitting my job," and so I was fortunate enough to have worked with and gotten to know Usain Bolt pretty well during my time at Puma. And so we built this little iPhone game that we launched right before the 2012 Olympics.

Brian: [00:03:12] What? That's crazy.

Matt: [00:03:13] Yeah. So that gave me a little bit of a bridge, both from a time perspective and also a little bit of cash to sort of give me a year to really start to work on and develop the idea for Tracksmith.

Phillip: [00:03:24] Would you describe what you've done here is like a passion project?

Matt: [00:03:29] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:03:30] Are you trying to meet a need that you saw a gap?

Matt: [00:03:32] Well, for sure. I think both. I mean, it's sort of a combination, I think, of definitely personal interest and passion. But also having worked in the industry for a really long time, I think that was the unique sort of... [00:03:44] There was no light bulb moment for me. It was just sort of an accumulation of all of these different touch points throughout my life, both as a consumer, but also working in the industry, that I just felt like there was an opportunity, there was a void that existed. I think starting a company also relies heavily on timing, you know, and the timing was also right in my life to be able to take that risk and try to do it. And so I think all of those things just finally converged enough that it was time to do it. [00:04:13]

Phillip: [00:04:14] People talk a lot about the product market fit, the timing of the market, the need of the market or a gap that's in the market. Very few people talk about the timing in the founder's life or the person's life. I kind of pull on that thread a little bit.

Matt: [00:04:30] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:04:30] When you're deciding to leave a corporate job or corporate life and you're going to start something of your own. I'm sure that comes with a lot of consternation. You yourself are making a decision, you and your family. Talk a little bit about what that is as a founder and how you sort of alleviate some of the risk. Aside from having a little runway, who's to say that this is going to take off? Right?

Matt: [00:05:01] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:05:01] There's still risk.

Matt: [00:05:02] Yeah, there's absolutely risk. And I mean, everyone's individual situation is different. For me personally, I thought there were two times in my life that would make sense to start a company. One was right out of college, which actually I did. I started a company two years out of college, so I got a corporate job right out of college, left with two guys, tried to start sort of a web services firm. It didn't fail, but it didn't succeed. It was... One guy actually ran it as a lifestyle business for many years. And so but at the time, I had very few responsibilities. Right. So that timing was good. And I learned a lot from that. And then the other timing for me was just when I was a little further along in my career, my wife at the time had a very good job and still has a very good job. So that de-risked for sure, for us. But yeah, there's I think a lot of risk. There's a lot of stress financially even reputationally and sort of ego wise. Right. People don't want to fail. So you're putting a lot at stake to do that. And, you know, you're obviously in the very beginning, going out talking to a lot of people, telling them about your idea. And 80 percent of them tell you it's a bad idea.

Phillip: [00:06:11] Oh yeah. {laughter}

Matt: [00:06:11] "Don't do it," right? So you have to be able to absorb that and keep your head down and keep going.

Phillip: [00:06:17] People probably still tell you how bad of an idea it is.

Matt: [00:06:18] For sure. Yeah. Yeah. Is doesn't stop.

Brian: [00:06:22] I think it's interesting. You've come through such an authentic place. It's I think... Digiday recently said you're sort of the anti-Nike.

Matt: [00:06:31] Yeah.

Brian: [00:06:33] I think it's interesting being in this space, and then having just been in the Nike innovation lab store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

Matt: [00:06:46] Yes.

Brian: [00:06:47] It is quite...

Phillip: [00:06:47] Stark.

Brian: [00:06:50] Very stark. There's a big dichotomy there. So tell us a little bit about the particular feel that you have and why you decided to tell your story the way that you've told it.

Matt: [00:07:02] Yeah. I think maybe that the things that separate us and Nike are like thirty four billion dollars and 40 years.

Phillip: [00:07:11] It's a rounding error, really. {laughter}

Matt: [00:07:12] But [00:07:14] honestly... I've read "Shoe Dog." I obviously wasn't there at the time. But I'm sure that in the beginning we probably felt very similar to what it was like there. And I think, you mentioned authenticity, that is sort of like you can't really manufacture that. It has to come from a pretty sincere place. And I think that most of the running brands that we know today that have been successful all started from a very similar place, which is this real passion and sort of desire to support and help and make better the running industry and the running community. And so our approach is really not that dissimilar from all of those brands and how they started. I [00:07:59] think what happens is to all those brands you grow and I'd say, pre Internet era and e-commerce era, the pressure mainly came from your wholesale partners and that mainly for running was the specialty running channel. So those brands were able to grow in that channel until they reached a certain point where they couldn't really eke out much more growth in that channel. So then that forced them into big box sporting goods stores. And to do that required, you know, various things that changed the way they operate, changed the way they communicate as a brand. And so all of those brands have gotten to where they are because they've reached those different levels and have succeeded. [00:08:37] But for us, that's also left a void because as they've grown in scale, they've sort of left behind what we view as a very core committed running consumer, because as they've grown, they had to to continue growing, you have to sort of broaden your message. Maybe it gets a bit watered down. You know, Nike is still an amazing brand. And obviously every four years around the Olympics, they'll bring out the Prefontaine, and the origin story, and the waffle iron, and it's incredible. And that legacy and history are amazing. But the other three and a half years out of the four year Olympic cycle, they've got other things that they're focused on. And so and that's true of a lot of the running brands as they've scaled. And so for us, we see this opportunity and a clear path. And if we're lucky and we execute well, maybe someday we'll be talking about, you know, have we left this consumer behind because we've had to continue to grow. But we have plenty of room. [00:09:33]

Phillip: [00:09:33] Shouldn't you be asking yourself that all the time? You were talking about authenticity, I know that part of that would be to constantly question every decision you make. If you have a mission statement, your mission statement, when asked as a question back to any opportunity should qualify whether that's something you should be doing. So I wonder how that changes over time. The older you get, the broader your category gets...

Matt: [00:09:55] Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I mean that's true. I think the way I've approached this is that [00:10:05] I think the opportunity in running is obviously large enough that we can stay very focused and vertical within running. So if I had to paint a "What's Tracksmith 30, 40 years from now," I don't think it's in other categories necessarily, but it could be really deep in running. It could be apparel and accessories and footwear, but it could also be media and technology and events and travel and lots of other things, because I think those opportunities exist. I mean, running is a global sport. It's very easy to access. You know, it transcends geography and everything else. And that's unique about running. It's also one of the few adult sports that really has a 50/50 gender participation ratio. So there's just so much opportunity within running without having to think about maybe what comes next. [00:10:56]

Brian: [00:10:56] Yeah, instead of going super broad, you're looking at going deeper in, and  expanding into other things that runners like, appreciate, and need.

Matt: [00:11:04] Yeah, absolutely.

Brian: [00:11:05] That's great.

Matt: [00:11:06] Yup.

Brian: [00:11:06] Yeah, I think that that seems like that would be easier to maintain authenticity if you do that. I think there's a lot of pressure to grow right now in this environment, which...

Phillip: [00:11:19] Especially if you're venture backed, which you know, that might be a thing they have to think about.

Brian: [00:11:24] Right. Exactly. Venture's looking for 20 X growth. If you're public, you're looking for consistent climbing to the right. And so I think my question to you would be, do you feel like it's sort of inevitable that you have to broaden your horizons if you want to fulfill that?

Matt: [00:11:45] I don't think that's anytime soon. It's a good question. I guess my answer would be there are running brands that have reached you know, if you look at a Brooks. Brooks is at, I don't know, six hundred million ish, roughly, on their way to a billion. They're still a pretty pure running brand. They haven't had to broaden outside of that.

Phillip: [00:12:07] Very much so.

Matt: [00:12:07] Saucony is 300 million maybe. So there are examples in front of us. If we were a 300 million dollar brand in running, we would be extremely happy. Right? So it's not... There's no pressure to build a multi-billion dollar brand at this stage. So I think there're enough examples in our space of brands that have done it. And the market is large enough to do that, that it's just not something that we're thinking about.

Phillip: [00:12:36] Can I come back to...? I also read the headline on the Digiday article, and getting deeper into it. I was curious what your take is, Matt, on that one liner about "anti-Nike" or maybe the people dressed up like Power Rangers. Do you think that, first of all, I would ask you directly, does that come from you yourself? Is that something you are saying about who you are? Because that feels very competitive. Whereas I might have a totally different viewpoint. Having read "Shoe Dog," I feel like the the origins of Nike... You kind of are playing the Nike playbook in 1972. You're just not the Nike of 2019.

Matt: [00:13:21] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:13:22] What do you think about that?

Matt: [00:13:22] Yeah. I don't disagree with that at all. The anti-Nike thing doesn't come from me directly. The Power Rangers thing does. {laughter} That is the reality of... That is what... If I could show you the images that I took of of men's running apparel in running stores in 2011 and 2012, that's what it looked like. And obviously that has changed a bit. But that was the landscape at the time. But I don't know... [00:13:51] In some ways, I like that comparison because they are the leader. And as a young brand, it's amazing to even be talked about in the same breath as a brand like that, right? [00:14:05] So it's the classic Apple going after Microsoft when there were six other computer brands in between the two of them, right? And so to even sort of have those conversations, I'm not opposed to it. But as a human being, I grew up in the heyday of Nike sports marketing, and I had all the products. I loved the brand. I was into sports. And so I'm a huge fan of the brand, especially from that 80s, 90s era.

Brian: [00:14:36] Totally. You have a very strong feel to your brand, obviously. We talked about the robot runners versus your look and feel. So you have such a strong story. Do you feel like it's exclusionary in any way? Like who is your customer versus who is not your customer?

Matt: [00:14:58] Yeah. I mean, we don't view it that way. And it's not in any way the intent to feel that way. But I think it is aspirational. And oftentimes that can feel far for some people. And so, again, we talked about people wanting to think negatively first and try to pull something apart rather than build something together. But to answer the question directly, [00:15:24] first and foremost our consumer as a runner. And we don't ever talk about how fast or how far somebody runs. For us it's much more about... We find the strongest connections happen with somebody who has made this sort of conscious decision to commit to running. It goes from something that was an activity to something that they view as part of their lifestyle. Maybe it's part of their identity. You've mentioned your journey with running. It sounds like you've... It's sort of like... I mean, running is not easy, right? Especially from the beginning. And that beginning can be you've never been a runner, and you're in your 30s and you decide to start running. Or you could be a lifelong runner and be injured for six months, and you have to start up again. Those first few weeks and months it sucks. It's not comfortable. And it takes a period of time, which makes running unique. It's not something... You don't go out the first day and set records. It takes a period of time. And you have to go through that period that doesn't feel good to get past that threshold to where you feel comfortable, start to feel fit, you know, and you feel good. And then once you cross that threshold, it opens up this whole world of possibility around pushing yourself and really testing your own personal limits. It's a very sort of, I think, a very personal pursuit. Running is. Although you can wrap community around it. Deep down, you've got to be the one sort of driving to want to do it. So that's certainly who we are right now wanting to engage with and communicate with and build community around. It's those people who have sort of made that sort of jump from running as this thing that's a form of exercise to "I'm in it. It doesn't matter how fast I am or how many races I've run, but this is something I want to get better at." And so that's who we are targeting and who we talk to. [00:17:13]

Brian: [00:17:13] So I think that the exclusion is really you're after people who really want to run.

Matt: [00:17:20] Definitely.

Brian: [00:17:20] They've actually made that commitment in their minds. And if you haven't made a commitment in your mind, you're probably not going to spend the kind of money that you would spend at Tracksmith.

Matt: [00:17:31] Yeah.

Brian: [00:17:32] Because it's not important to you.

Matt: [00:17:33] Yeah. I mean, yes, I agree with that. But I also think there are people who maybe, they still like to discover new brands, discover new products. I think in any consumer goods category, you have that spectrum of consumer who, and there might be someone who is really committed to running, but maybe in running specifically, they shop by price. And so they wouldn't potentially be our consumer. And that's OK. Right? [00:18:04] We could all find examples of categories, whether it's coffee or beer or food or furniture, where some of them we just view it all as the same, and we just may be shop by price or convenience. And then there's some that we feel invested in. You know, and you want to learn more maybe about the brand or the quality of the product or any of those things that get you a little deeper. And so you make different decisions and sometimes those can be more expensive purchases. Sometimes they're the same. But there's a different decision making process that goes into it versus just price.  [00:18:34]

Phillip: [00:18:35] Yeah.

Brian: [00:18:35] That's awesome.

Phillip: [00:18:35] I always love seeing the ads on Facebook for Tracksmith and looking at the comments. Don't ever read the comments. {laughter}

Matt: [00:18:44] Yeah. {laughter}

Phillip: [00:18:44] But I love reading it because inevitably there's somebody who will criticize the price point. And it always leads me back to something I had heard someone say from Harper's Bazaar many years ago at a conference that we'd attended, said that the best compliment that you can pay a premium brand is to tell them they're too expensive.

Matt: [00:19:05] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:19:05] And I find that that, not that you're trying to do that, but I think that there's something to be said about... Aiming your category to be elevated sometimes requires elevated materials, and elevated design, and elevated delivery, and all of those things that drive price point. I'm curious, you talked about the discovery of other consumer brands. I personally have discovered other brands via Tracksmith. So Rowing Blazers is one that I've found via your collaboration there. I'm interested to know what your approach in partnering with companies like Rowing Blazers. How does that come about and like how do you approach that as a brand? And do you see an overlap in the Rowing Blazers customer with a Tracksmith customer? Tell us a little bit about your thoughts in that regard.

Matt: [00:19:59] That one was a case where... So Rowing Blazers did a pop up actually up here on Newbury Street, and our Head of Communications rowed in college, and knew of Jack, the founder of Rowing Blazers. And so we went to check out the pop up and sort of met and quickly just sort of realized we both shared this sort of passion for our respective sports, the heritage and the history of them. And so we just connected on that level. And, you know, obviously founders in the apparel space just starting out, you automatically have this shared bond with someone over that. And then fast forward a bit, they were opening a pop up store in New York City. And they had this idea because the space they took over was quite large, to bring in other brands to sort of complement what they were doing on like a rotating basis. And so it just so happened that the timing coincided with the New York City marathon. We were already planning to do a pop up in relatively that same neighborhood. And so we were looking at space. And so it sort of seemed like a no brainer to do that. I think there is an element, like the reason behind it. Obviously, there was one of sort of convenience, but also shared sort of passion and vision. But we also expected a little bit of discovery. I think endurance sports specifically, as people move beyond college in most of those other sports, they become a little bit harder to keep doing. So it's hard to row. It's hard to be on an eight person boat when you're not in a collegiate setting because you got to find the seven other people, and you're all busy.

Phillip: [00:21:39] Sure.

Matt: [00:21:40] And so a lot of athletes, collegiate athletes that we're in sports like that...cycling is another one...a lot of times they come to running later in life because they still have that competitive desire. They still want to be active and fit. And so we see a lot of that. We see people who are athletes in other sports that take up running later on. So for us, that also made a little bit of sense. [00:22:03] But in general partnerships for us, we try to find things that are distinct from a product or storytelling perspective. We just launched a partnership with Boathouse, which is an outerwear company in Philadelphia. [00:22:17] They've been making team jackets, specifically, for decades. And many of us here had a boathouse jacket in high school or college on our team. And so, you know, we reached out to them because we were looking at an old, I think it was my wife's jacket from college that was sitting in the office somewhere here. And, "I wonder if we could do something with them," you know? So it still has that. It's rooted in the sport. They have an amazing history and legacy, and that made sense. Another one, we did a pair of running sunglasses with Article One. The co-founder of Article One is a runner, was here for the Boston Marathon, came into the Trackhouse. We met, you know, again, shared passion over running, also sort of crafting. They make beautiful product out of Italy. And I was just lamenting that running sunglasses are usually very... The old Oakley styles coming back again. A little robotic and futuristic, and why can't they be a pair of sunglasses for running that just look like normal sunglasses? And so that sparked the idea. And so, yeah, let's just, let's do it. And we launched that last year, and it's been an amazing piece for us.

Brian: [00:26:32] You talk about shared passion. You talked about how running is an individual choice. There is a community that comes around it. How have you, as a brand, been able to facilitate community with your customers? I think about this building and the Linden Lounge that you have. Can you talk to us a little bit about how you've built up a community here in Boston and with your brand in general?

Matt: [00:26:57] Yeah. [00:26:58] So from the beginning, for us, the sort of physical interaction was really important. So we weren't one of the e-commerce brands that said we will never do retail or physical activations. Running is a sport that people are participating in. They're consuming media. They're traveling all over the world for events. They're joining clubs and crews. They're hiring coaches. They're tracking on Strava. And community is such a buzzword, obviously, that we hear a lot. But I think that most brands and most spaces don't have an opportunity to actually create community. I [00:27:36] mean, if you I don't know, make pants... Outside of when you need a new pair of those things, it's hard. How do you really... There's no natural community built around that. [00:27:47] But running is different because the community is already there, and it already exists, and people are participating in it actively. And so we started, even from the very beginning, doing runs when our office was on the halfway point of the Boston Marathon. Now we're down at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and we used to host runs from there, and people would come out. And so we were doing that literally from week one. We were hosting runs and sort of being engaged in the community. [00:28:16] And then we did our first pop up around the Boston Marathon that first year we were in existence and it's kind of grown from there. And then as we were able to open this store and this community space on a permanent basis, that's obviously just sort of amplified what we've been able to do in the community.

Brian: [00:28:37] Very cool.

Phillip: [00:28:39] Do you find that being in Boston gives you a little street cred or is that just where you happen to be? And you were rooted here?

Matt: [00:28:48] Yeah. And I mean, it's definitely where I was and rooted here. I mean, you know, I grew up in Pittsburgh, but I've been in New England since 1995 or 1996. So it feels definitely like a second home or maybe even first home. And I still love Pittsburgh but Boston is unique in the running world, right? It is the heart and soul of the running community. There are maybe more splashy races or other things. But Boston really holds a special place, I think, for a lot of people. And the Boston Marathon being, let's say, the pinnacle of that or the best representation of that. But if you look at, you know, all the way down to the sort of club and collegiate system and infrastructure that exists here and the history of the races and things like the Elliott Lounge, which was this amazing runners bar that shut down, and Franklin Park, this amazing venue for cross country racing and all of these different things just make Boston pretty unique in that regard. And we're lucky to be here.

Phillip: [00:29:47] There's a conversation that we've been having about just the tactical sort of what it takes to be a brand and a consumer brand in 2019, and customer acquisition costs are on the rise. I notice you all are in my direct mail a lot more than other brands. So it seems like your strategy to engage with customers, especially in the launch of like a magazine, the launch of online content, it seems like it's trending more towards connection that's outside of the purchase experience and more towards more touchpoints that allow you to be top of mind. Maybe you could talk a little bit about how you're approaching that and combating the Facebook advertising model and maybe a way that Tracksmith is trying to buck that trend.

Matt: [00:30:41] Yeah, I think it goes back a little bit to what we were discussing around community where there is just an opportunity for us to build longer term. And I don't know, stronger relationships with customers. We are, I think, a very visual brand. I think we are a storytelling brand. And those things lend themselves much better to print, to experiences in person versus a banner ad or a tweet or an ad on Instagram. And certainly we do those things, and they're effective for us. But it's clear that those things are getting more expensive. And so I think we're in a good position because we don't rely exclusively on those channels, and we have other ways to engage with our consumers. But it's certainly something that everybody is thinking about and talking about. But [00:31:43] we've had a lot of success with content, community, and events, and those are things that don't have that maybe direct return that you see immediately. You put a dollar in and you get a few dollars back. But over a period of time, we think it's a stronger builds, a wider foundation, a wider base on top of what you can always continue to scale and grow.  [00:32:06]

Brian: [00:32:06] Unselfish content. Something that Gary V has talked about.

Matt: [00:32:08] Yeah.

Brian: [00:32:09] You know, it's a strategy. It's very difficult to... Well if you're in the corporation, to justify.

Matt: [00:32:15] Yeah.

Brian: [00:32:16] Because it's something that's very hard to draw a straight line back to in terms of revenue.

Matt: [00:32:21] Yeah.

Brian: [00:32:21] I love that you're employing this strategy. What are some content types that you found to be really successful or that you've heard good feedback about from your cutomers?

Matt: [00:32:32] We don't do a lot of different types. I'd say our... Really what I'd say at the top of anything that we [00:32:42] do, I think photography drives almost everything. Pictures and words for us are gold, right? And we have an amazing creative team and creative talents that have helped us create that. And so that drives everything else we do. And so that can work really well. And we do a lot of digital lookbooks. We do print catalogues. Those let the photography and the words and the story sort of shine. They sort of play front center and they allow for an experience that's a little bit more immersive than a banner ad or something you're swiping or scrolling. So for us, it's trying to find those opportunities where someone will stop and take a little bit more time. [00:33:21] Video is something we've only done a little bit of, but have had a lot of success with it. I think there is a lot of demand for us to do more of that. And I think we will. As you guys know, it just takes a little bit more investment to do video. But it works, and it works for us. And that sort of, in that same way of showcasing the purity of running and the grind of it and the pain of it and then euphoria of it... To show that in video and in photography is... Again, we have an amazing photographer that we've worked with since day one. And so we're fortunate to be able to do that at a level that I think is, I'm biased, but I think it's better than what anyone else does.

Phillip: [00:34:02] I don't know that you're biased. And maybe I'm biased. {laughter} I don't know. I have, the last couple of years in various client pitches... We do some consulting for in e-commerce. It's the world we live in. And in various pitches, when people say "It's about the experience. It's about the experience." And, you know, you're sitting in front of an ice cream brand and they're talking about the experience, and it's really hard to communicate mouthfeel on the Internet.

Matt: [00:34:26] Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Phillip: [00:34:27] So, yeah, when they're talking about experience, I always come back to Tracksmith as the standard bearer for me of digital experience. It's really hard to communicate the feeling of running and the feeling running in these clothes. But somehow the way you prioritize photography full bleed... It even it takes over the call to action. Right? There's all these like rules of engaging in e-commerce, and you're breaking those rules, but you're breaking them purposefully.

Matt: [00:34:55] Yup.

Phillip: [00:34:55] And that the purchase decision is secondary to the feeling. And I think that that is something that everybody could learn from what you've done online. And I'd love to see you do that in other channels, too. I think that that's really successful. And people are learning from it. And at least I'm talking about it.

Matt: [00:35:15] Yeah. For me, we were on our very first photo shoot, and this was before the brand had launch. We were doing the first photo shoot to launch the brand. And I had a little bit of experience in sort of these documentary style approaches to following runners and like some of the best Kenyan marathoners in the world, some Olympic, US Olympic athletes all in running. And, you know, [00:35:40] when I was thinking early on about Tracksmith, there was this sort of desire to showcase running in an authentic way. How do we do that? Like I had been at brands where you would find a nice scenic spot and you say run past this 10 times, and we're going to spend a lot of money on lighting and capture it. And that doesn't... That's so limiting. Right? And I wanted to do something different, and again, thankfully I had great creative people with me. But we took three athletes our very first shoot. We took three athletes on sort of a mini training camp, went up to New Hampshire and basically said, you're gonna do your training. And our photographer, Emily is going to document it as if she's not even here. And the moment to me, that sort of like it clicked, that I knew we were doing something different, was with the two guys... We had two guys that were there, and they were doing a 15 mile run, and about 13 miles into the run, the one guy just decided to drop the other guy, and we're in a minivan shooting out of the back and I'm driving and looking in the rear view and that image is still one of my favorite images of the entire Tracksmith archive, which is very vast and beautiful. But that one, it was like this moment of like that's it, because there's no other brand that would wait 13 miles into a 15 mile run to capture a photo. But we let this situation unfold. It was very natural. The runners were doing their thing. We were just sort of capturing it like a fly on the wall. And so I think that is what has allowed us to sort of, you know, to be able to present something that I think is very emotional. And I think it does capture you in a different way than your typical super polished... [00:37:13]

Phillip: [00:37:13] That's what I got from the magazine. The name escapes me.

Matt: [00:37:17] Meter.

Phillip: [00:37:18] So it's what I got from Meter recently, especially with the fall launch. A good portion of the back half of of photography is the post run like cereal on the porch.

Matt: [00:37:31] Yeah, exactly.

Phillip: [00:37:32] I can identify with that.

Matt: [00:37:33] Yeah. Oh yeah.

Phillip: [00:37:34] Yeah. It's you know, something happens before and after the run, too.

Matt: [00:37:38] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:37:38] And I think having that total, that sort of story of being part of the whole runner, not just the run, is a really expert way of executing what you're trying to do.

Brian: [00:37:54] Yeah. It's just having patience. You know, like I think there's a lot of brands they're just looking for the quick click moment. The quick, I want 180 characters like... To me, what it feels like you're doing is you're the Atlantic of the running brands.

Phillip: [00:38:17] It's always about the Atlantic, huh Brian?

Brian: [00:38:17] Well, you're telling a long form story. You're being patient. You're diving in deep. And you're doing it in a beautiful, artful, expert way.

Matt: [00:38:28] Yeah.

Brian: [00:38:29] And I think that's really powerful.

Matt: [00:38:30] Yeah. [00:38:30] To be honest, I don't think about it any differently than I think about anything that I care deeply about. If it's relationships or parenting or my own running. I think it takes time to do those things. And it's not easy to do those things. And if you really do care deeply, then there's a process that you go through. [00:38:53] And you said it, we live in a world really of like instant gratification. And I think for me, you know, it's not a conscious decision to do it this way versus that way. It's just what I know, and I think it comes half from my upbringing and half from being a distance runner. You know, and I grew up in a family of makers. My mom is an entrepreneur, an interior designer. My dad used to make furniture as a hobby. My brother is an incredible woodworker. He's made the tasting room and the Biltmore Estates in Asheville. He hand makes guitars, bluegrass guitars for musicians, you know.

Phillip: [00:39:27] Wow.

Matt: [00:39:28] And when you grow up around that, you just you see this sort of... I just I was always around the idea of sort of like hand crafting something, you know, and that sort of measure twice cut once approach. And so that had an impact. And then also, [00:39:42] I think as a distance runner, it is delayed gratification. There's no way around that. And I think if you've spent, you know, for me 20, 30 years running, that's just part of how you approach things. And we've we talked about it. Running isn't easy, and it doesn't come quickly, and it takes a lot of time. And so I think, you know, it's in such stark contrast to the world we live in today where everything is so instant. [00:40:08]

Phillip: [00:40:08] A hundred percent. Yeah.

Matt: [00:40:10]  [00:40:10]And for us, this isn't a game. We're not optimizing for an algorithm or a crazy evaluation. We're not trying to hack some viral loop. We care deeply about running. And everybody here just wants to create the best running brand in the world. And I think that's just the reality of what this is. And so I think that leads us to things that maybe are different than how other people are doing it. [00:40:36] And it's not as sexy and we may not get the same attention and love and dissection of what we're doing, but I believe and again, I'm biased, but I do have the confidence that the way we're approaching it, it's not to say it is the right way for every brand, but I certainly have a lot of confidence that the way we're approaching this is the right way to build a brand that I think could still be around 30, 50 years from now. And only time will tell. We could be wrong, but it certainly is... It's the way I know to do it. I don't know any other way to try to approach it.

Brian: [00:41:08] You mentioned your employees. We've been talking a lot about how employees provide your customers with your customer experience. They're the face of the brand. We just talked about unbelievable storytelling, and how powerful it is, and the feel when you come to the website, or you open to Lookbook. But something we've been talking about for this year is how relationship with customers even starting to supersede brand story in terms of importance. And one of the ways to best invest in your customers is to invest in your employees.

Matt: [00:41:45] Yeah.

Brian: [00:41:46] And to really build a culture that is passionate about what you have, passionate about what you're building, and can partner in the same way that you would want to partner with your customers.

Matt: [00:41:58] Yeah.

Brian: [00:41:58] So maybe talk just a little bit about how you see connecting the customer evolving and how your employees play a part in that.

Matt: [00:42:04] Yeah, that's certainly for us a huge priority. And I think that, you know, it's probably very natural, but we attract people who are interested in running also. And so that passion comes across in consumer interactions. And, you know, certainly we have a customer service team that is handling all of what you would normally consider the customer support and service experiences. But we also do a lot of physical activations. We have a run club that leads from the store three days a week. We do pop ups in lots of different cities now around the world. We went to London this year. And so the employees also have the chance to work in some of those environments. And so you always see these really amazing sort of interactions when a customer is talking to someone from our team and somehow it comes out that maybe they're the product designer, and then the customer is like, "Wait, you're the one that designed this? Tell me more about it." And so it's great to be able... We're small. We can do that at this size and this scale. But certainly having that passion come across is, I think, really important. Our customer service team, there's really only two of them full time. They sit here next to us. They're sandwiched between the product and the marketing teams. So, you know, sometimes they'll be on a call and they'll be like, well, I'm sitting right next to the product person. Let me ask them for you. So that that's hard to... Again, we won't be able to do that forever, probably. But at this size, that's I think a great experience to be able to deliver to someone.

Phillip: [00:43:35] I personally have experienced this. I was in the Trackhouse here a month ago, and I was here for maybe 20, 30 minutes at the most, tried on a bunch of stuff, bought some stuff. And when I walked in this afternoon, is it Fred?

Matt: [00:43:52] Jeff.

Phillip: [00:43:53] Jeff. Yes. He recognized me right away.

Matt: [00:43:56] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:43:57] He knew exactly who I was.  And I thought that that... That is really hard to do. It's really hard to do. And it's really impressive when it happens, and it makes... I think everybody wants to be known. And at least in a business like this, something is known about the person when they're walking in is that you share some sort of love or spirit around something.

Matt: [00:44:20] Yeah. Yeah.

Phillip: [00:44:20] That's really impressive. I have to ask you before we close... Thank you so much for your time. This has been awesome.

Matt: [00:44:25] No worries. No worries.

Phillip: [00:44:25] What are you training for?

Matt: [00:44:27] Oh, the mile. In college I ran middle distances, mile and steeplechase 5k. After college, I sort of did what most people do and went up to the marathon and know enjoyed running a few of those. But as life started to get in the way, starting a company, two young kids, it became harder and harder to sort of do that type of training. It just takes more time.

Phillip: [00:44:51] Sure.

Matt: [00:44:51] And the mile, which was my love as a high schooler and in college, is shorter and more intense. And so the training, you know, I can jog over to the track in the morning and, you know, run hard for 15, 20 minutes doing intervals and be done. Whereas, you know, a marathon, you've got to put in the time and you're out there for two or three hours on the weekend and stuff. So I've decided to come back down. I'm over 40 now, so I'm in the Masters Division and Boston is amazing during the indoor season, in the winter, because there's a bunch of indoor tracks that are all really, really good. And so there's indoor track meets all the time. And so I haven't run on an indoor track. I haven't raced on an indoor track since college. So I'm really excited to sort of get back at it and probably December or January.

Phillip: [00:45:35] That's awesome. If you had any advice to lend any other founders or any other people that might be thinking of pursuing a passion or taking a risk like you. What would you tell them? Or what would you tell yourself if you had to go back to the beginning and do it again?

Matt: [00:45:52] Yeah. It's a good question. I think the thing that I learned... I'm lucky I think I learned it relatively quickly, was that [00:46:00] I think a lot of people want to give you advice, which is great, but a lot of their advice is so specific to their experience. And I think that I learned really quickly that, you know, we all hear this, right? Oh, you know, "Bonobos did it this way. So all these brands just run and think, 'OK, we have to do this thing that they did.'" And it just doesn't always... That's not always the case. And so I think you want to like obviously absorb as much information and advice as you can. But I think ultimately you have to figure out what's unique about what you're trying to do, your situation, the variables that you have to play with and try to just formulate that into a path and follow that. [00:46:40]

Phillip: [00:46:40] That's amazing. Well, thank you so much. This has been fantastic. And thank you all for watching. Thank you for listening. And if you would like to lend your voice to this conversation, you can do that at FutureCommerce.fm And like and subscribe everywhere with podcasts are found, or on YouTube, or Instagram, or anywhere else that people are trying to capture all your attention these days. And please, visit Tracksmith when you get a chance. Tracksmith.com  Thank you so much, Matt Taylor.

Matt: [00:47:06] Thank you. Appreciate it. Thanks. It's great to meet you.

Brian: [00:47:07] It's great to meet you.


Recent Podcasts

Recent episodes

LATEST PODCASTS