Tommy Bahama: Storyteller

Editor’s Note:
This article is an excerpt from one of RetailWire’s recent online discussions. Each business morning on, retail industry executives get plugged in to the latest news and issues with key insights from a panel of retail industry experts.

Tommy Bahama knows the value of a good story.

“If anything, our brand is based almost all on storytelling,” Doug Wood, President and COO of Tommy Bahama, told RetailWire. “There is no Tommy Bahama. When the company was founded, it was really built up by a story, and what we’ve done over time is we’ve kind of built out the story with the idea that the purpose of the company is to enable the world to relax. So we talk about it all the time, but you also have to do it casually because if you look like you’re trying too hard, that’s not very relaxing.”

The art of storytelling is not just a one-way communication.


“The Internet really offers a way for people to interact with your brand candidly; that wasn’t there three to five years ago,” Wood said. “In the world of e-Commerce, the Internet and social media, you have to allow your guest to interact with you. Stories are one strategy; product reviews is another way; Facebook is another.”

One of the ways Tommy Bahama has encouraged its customers to tell their stories is through a joint program with Major League Baseball. Now in its third year, Tommy Bahama has created collectors’ versions of the company’s traditional camp shirt with a unique graphic developed for select teams, including the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.

The retailer makes and individually numbers between 250 and 1,000 shirts, depending on the team. This year, in a new twist, customers were asked to tell their favorite stories about the team they love. All visitors then voted on their favorite stories, with the winner receiving a free collectors’ shirt and a $500 Tommy Bahama gift certificate.

“People are so emotional, and into what they’re writing,” Wood said. “Some are funny, some are sad, but all of them are really reminiscing about some experience they had at the ballpark or at the game. And they’re just wonderful. We’ve had a lot of fun with it, [but] we’re always trying to think of new ways to engage with our guests.”

A lot has changed in the 11 years Wood has been with Tommy Bahama. The company, which includes retail stores, restaurants and a wholesale business, has expanded into new categories as the brand and its customers have built on the Tommy Bahama story. The company, which started out as a men’s brand, now sees women’s wear as the fastest growing piece of its business.

Tommy Bahama also has moved from simply a summer brand to one that connects with consumers year-round. Today, its number one selling item is a reversible half-zipped sweater that retails for $98. The company also has embraced denim, which was not part of its original resortwear heritage.

Article Comments Focus On Building Communication And Loyalty
In the comments following the article, retail consultants and executives remarked on the growing importance of brand storytelling. However, to ensure customers are engaged, merchants must be on point with their story messaging, key themes and imagery.

“I think storytelling increasingly is becoming an important part of retailing,” said Nikki Baird, Managing Partner of RSR Research. “It has always been, but the stakes are higher now than ever before.” However, consumers often are unsure what the story is, she added, “either because it’s too subtle, or the story is told in the wrong medium and the shopper misses it.”

As consumers, we are wired to understand and respond to stories that are relevant to us, explained Max Goldberg, Founding Partner of The Radical Clarity Group. “Retailers and brands can connect with consumers through their stories,” he said. “Without a story, the retailer/brand is simply a cold corporation.

Consumers should be encouraged to interact with the brand through the story, building on the brand image.”

Retailers such as Nordstrom, Starbucks, Tiffany’s, Walmart and Zappos have utilized storytelling to create stronger connections between their brands and target audiences, according to Verlin P. Youd, SVP Sales and Marketing for SCOPIX.

Although shoppers are continuing to communicate across channels, “the principle remains the same,” Youd reported. “However, as social media continues to become part of the fabric of our lives, storytelling will be increasingly important.”

By optimizing storytelling strategies, retailers will achieve shopper loyalty, according to Ralph Jacobson, Global Consumer Products Industry Marketing Executive for IBM. “The more you can build positive conversation about the brand, rather than just pushing the product,” he noted, “the better the true loyalty will be for retailers and brands.”

Click here to access the full video interview with Doug Wood, President and COO of Tommy Bahama.

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