Meet Goorin Bros: The 126-year-old Business That’s Gotten an Operational Facelift

Resilient Retail - Goorin Bros

We spend a lot of time on Resilient Retail talking about storytelling, branding, and customer interactions. But we don’t always get into the other side: the operations that underpin those flashier processes.

So let’s flip focus for a minute.

Goorin Bros started selling hats off of horseback in 1895 (yeah, you read that right) and 126 years later they’re still going strong.

That’s because they understand the fundamental importance of growing and changing with the times. They’ve weathered a huge range of market conditions - including both the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic and the COVID crisis.

Their secret? Flexibility.

Controller Aaron Wyse came aboard a couple years ago to help the legacy brand build out stronger omnichannel processes. Coincidentally, he’s an amazing resource for understanding the ways that brick’n’mortar retail and ecommerce work together.

Defining omnichannel

Aaron works from a pretty specific definition of omnichannel when it comes to Goorin Bros.

For Aaron, omnichannel is less about selling on every single social channel, and more about the interweaving nature of the different parts of your business.

“So I break down omnichannel selling, you know: inventory from any location to any customer in your direct channel. If you add a wholesale aspect of that, you're ahead of the game. Most people don't have like a direct channel that you can buy into wholesale.”

“So, your direct channel, you have inventory in stores or warehouses and you're selling to your customers either through your website or through your brick and mortar locations. So that's what I define it as. You know, you can sell the inventory at your retail store to your web customer and retail customer and then your warehouse customer, your retail customer and your web customer can access that.” 

Basically, what’s important about Aaron’s definition is that it’s grounded specifically in the ways that the customer accesses your products and how best to build out fulfillment methods that meet those needs.

Plan for complex realities

Goorin Bros has thrived for so long in part because of their flexibility. A portion of that strength comes from the enormous amount of data and past experience they have to work from. Basically, they understand the volatility of the market, and they’ve built that into their operations.

When Aaron joined the company a couple years ago, we were already experiencing the Retail Apocalypse, and his focus was on creating better tools for working in a tough market.

“These shocks and awes in retail are becoming bigger and more sustained. So we needed to be flexible, and understand that we'll have these big periods of growth and then there will be these big periods of contraction.”

“And what you see in retail is that a lot of retail companies fail because they get death by overhead. They ramp up so fast and have such a big overhead that once sales drop, they don't have the cash flow anymore to meet their liabilities. They get into debt agreements with private equity that are very hard to get out of, and then it becomes a very hard situation to get yourself out of.

So it was looking at what was going on in retail and saying look, this is just this is the nature of the business now. And we have to plan for these. So when Covid happened, it was something that, you know, we weren't planning for Covid, we're planning for retail apocalypse 3.0 or whatever. So when it hit we were already kind of planning for it.”

So on the one side, we’ve got an incredibly tough market. Resilient brands like Goorin Bros are the ones that plan for hard times.

That same flexibility also relates to their processes. Aaron understands that things always shape up differently in real life than they do in the lab. He approaches their software with the same mindset, which prioritizes the complexity of human interaction.

“That's when you run into the complexity of scaling these things because you have the technology aspect and the other operational aspect. And those two usually are never (aligned) - the engineers that designed the applications typically aren't really using them in real life.

They kind of expect that how they design it is how they think. And then you use them and then you have your customers use them completely different from your intentions. You run into these really fun situations that become very complicated.”

You can’t be everything to everyone (and that’s okay)

No one likes saying no to their customers. But scaling a brand means making hard decisions around the ways that your specific business operates. That means recognizing that even when there’s demand, if the fulfillment process breaks down, it’ll end up being a bad experience for the customer.

“You have to ultimately pick and choose and be smart about how you do these things, how you invest in them. And you have to be realistic about what things you can and can't do...”

“And that's ultimately where I think a lot of companies are running into difficulty right now, because you have to realize, if you want to do these technology things, here are these technologies.

But you have to be very conservative and constrained. You have to operate within the structure. And if you want to operate outside of it, you run into these problems or if you want to scale beyond what you can because they tell you you can doesn't actually mean like operationally you can support it.”

This doesn’t mean that you can’t take exciting steps into the unknown. The trick is realizing that even decisions made with the customer in mind can lead to bad experiences if they aren’t fully built out on the operations side.

Manage your inventory specifically for omnichannel

When your brand straddles the digital and physical space, you need to make pretty specific decisions around inventory. That means asking important questions about your operations.

It’s very nuts and bolts, but in the end, the choices you make here lead directly into customer experiences.

“[Fulfillment] is the stuff that you're going to operationally have to figure out between the retail and ecommerce teams. How do we link this?

Because the technological aspects can be like, how do we reserve inventory allocations? How do we distribute this? How do you want to protect inventory? How do you want to ship things? What do we want to have that are, you know, features like buy online pick up in-store? Are these, you know, exchanges where they can buy online return in store? How do we want all those things to work because they all become complicated.”

Key takeaway: ecommerce and retail cannot be siloed. Omnichannel only works if teams are consistently in communication. That means building out new workflows that connect these different parts of your organization.

“You have to balance like, well, we can do all these things technology-wise, but we have to balance operational aspects and the operational aspect of the staff. And it's creating the workflows.

“How do you organize your stores and work through retail teams? How does ecommerce communicate? Our customer service, they support the entire omnichannel… You have to bring together ecommerce and retail and you really have to walk through these processes together because it's omnichannel.”

“So everyone has to talk to each other. You know, some duties that were here maybe merge together with someone else's duties. And it's walking through and thinking through all these scenarios.”

Working with an ERP

So what’s the fastest way to break down the boundaries between different parts of your business? Aaron’s advice is to look for systems that can pull everything together.

Goorin Bros use the Netsuite ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system to tie all of the pieces back into a single hub.

“When we switched to the Netsuite ERP system, that was a big thing for us. It made things a lot easier. The other systems that we use are far more complicated. So for us to have everything in an ERP system that was relatively easy to use allowed us operationally to see everything. Because all of these applications, you know, they're just kind of passing information through to the actual ERP system.”

“We were able to customize it to make it a lot more accessible. So people don't have to have a computer science degree, or you didn't have to have a really sophisticated understanding of finance to be able to navigate a system like that.

And because, you know, systems like NetSuite, which is -- everything is on that system and that's why it's an omnichannel solution, because everything is running through that system. That was a really big game changer for us.”

The beauty of an ERP is the ways that it takes complex data from a range of sources and pulls it together. That makes it much easier to act on really specific parts of your business.

Get creative within your limitations

If there’s a theme to my conversation with Aaron, it’s working within tough limitations. That doesn’t necessarily sound exciting or aspirational, but let’s think of it this way:

Goorin Bros has survived (and thrived) for decades because they expect things to be tough. They plan around that, and set priorities that open up space for creative thinking.

Here’s how Aaron put it:

“Sometimes working within the box and having those constraints will make you be more creative and think through your business processes to be more effective than just doing everything outside the box.”

There’s a lot of attention paid to game changing innovations and industry disrupting brands and there are good reasons for that. It’s also important to think about the ways that businesses can grow and change when they’re built on a legacy.

Goorin Bros is still going strong today because they’ve learned to work effectively through limitations.

What’s the old saying? Necessity is the mother of invention.

Goorin Bros can pivot, stretch, flex, and grow because they’re masters at understanding the world they’re selling in.

It doesn’t take 126 years to get there, but boy howdy it sure helps.

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