Brooks Brothers is one of America's iconic clothing and retail brands, founded in 1818. On this episode, we learn about the changing retail environment, shifts in consumer expectations, and how this brand is managing digital transformation. Our guest is Sahal Laher, Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer of Brooks Brothers.

Sahal is responsible for ensuring that Brooks Brothers information technology investments, resources and project execution are aligned with its strategic business objectives. Brooks Brothers is the oldest men's clothier chain in the United States founded in 1818 as a family business. Prior to joining Brooks Brothers, Sahal was CIO for Stride Rite Corporation. His experience is deeply rooted in enterprise technology transformation dating back to an ERP consulting background at Deloitte and Accenture.

Transcript

Michael Krigsman: Welcome to Episode number 200 of CXOTalk. I’m Michael Krigsman. CXOTalk brings the most innovative, interesting business executives in the world for in-depth conversation, where we talk about innovation, we talk about disruption, and we talk about leadership. And, on Episode #200, I’m so thrilled, because today, we’re talking with Sahal Laher, who is the Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer of one of the most iconic and longstanding brands in American retailing and American fashion, which is Brooks Brothers. Sahal Laher, how are you, and thanks for taking the time and joining us!

Sahal Laher: Good afternoon, Mike. Good! Thank you! Doing very well.

Michael Krigsman: Sahal, Brooks Brothers was founded in 1818, and we all know the name of brand, but please, give us a little background and history of Brooks Brothers, and then during our conversation, we’ll take it up to the present.

Sahal Laher: Absolutely, absolutely. So, really excited to be on the show, and, share a little bit about our journey. So, we are a 198 year old brand, and have outfitted, you know, 39 of the US presidents. And, as we continue to evolve, we are really moving more towards a lifestyle brand, which appeals to not just people looking for the traditional, formal attire, but also, you know, a recent partnership with Zach Posen, who was signed as designer for our women’s collection, and, you know, really, a lot of the things that we’ve done with our red fleeced brand, which appeals to, somehow, a younger demographic. So, I think our company and our owners have done a really good job of keeping the brand evolving and trying to remain relevant, and remain a true lifestyle brand, as we are in this era of just mass change, competition, and, you know… The change is on many levels, it’s not just the consumers themselves and their expectations changing, but the entire market and the way people shop has changed, and therefore, you know, a lot of the way that we go to market is changing, and obviously digital and technology are very big enablers in that journey.

Michael Krigsman: That’s amazing to think that you have been around for almost 200 years, and you’ve outfitted 39 presidents. And I think it’s pretty obvious that a company that’s been in business for so many years has had to have gone through many different types of changes and reinventions, and evolutions. And so, you were talking about change in the market, change in customers: what are the… Maybe can you elaborate on the market forces, the competitive landscape, the nature of changing customer expectations. And so, what is driving the evolution of Brooks Brothers today?

Sahal Laher: Absolutely, absolutely. So, our business has always been kind of founded on personal relationships, and really the white glove service that works with our customers to really uniquely understand you as an individual and your preferences, and based on that, really curate a look for you, that is, you know, 100% you. It’s not a one size fits all, it’s not what one or five different looks on the shelf, but it’s really, you know, very unique and it really is something that we take great pride in, in working with everyone and their unique preferences. I think the changes that we’re seeing, obviously, are, you know, people shop in different way than they used to. They obviously are a lot more, the customer in general, not just in fashion but really in every industry with the web, is a lot more informed. And, generally, what you find is that people come in now with a much better understanding of what it is that they want, they have a much better understanding of the competitive landscape of where you are in the industry and some of the things that differentiate you. They also are a lot more aware of the brands and brand loyalty, and that, you know, to some extent, brand loyalty is not really what it used to be, so, our Chairman and CEO, Claudia DeVecchio

Michael Krigsman: Welcome to Episode number 200 of CXOTalk. I’m Michael Krigsman. CXOTalk brings the most innovative, interesting business executives in the world for in-depth conversation, where we talk about innovation, we talk about disruption, and we talk about leadership. And, on Episode #200, I’m so thrilled, because today, we’re talking with Sahal Laher, who is the Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer of one of the most iconic and longstanding brands in American retailing and American fashion, which is Brooks Brothers. Sahal Laher, how are you, and thanks for taking the time and joining us!

Sahal Laher: Good afternoon, Mike. Good! Thank you! Doing very well.

Michael Krigsman: Sahal, Brooks Brothers was founded in 1818, and we all know the name of brand, but please, give us a little background and history of Brooks Brothers, and then during our conversation, we’ll take it up to the present.

Sahal Laher: Absolutely, absolutely. So, really excited to be on the show, and, share a little bit about our journey. So, we are a 198 year old brand, and have outfitted, you know, 39 of the US presidents. And, as we continue to evolve, we are really moving more towards a lifestyle brand, which appeals to not just people looking for the traditional, formal attire, but also, you know, a recent partnership with Zach Posen, who was signed as designer for our women’s collection, and, you know, really, a lot of the things that we’ve done with our red fleeced brand, which appeals to, somehow, a younger demographic. So, I think our company and our owners have done a really good job of keeping the brand evolving and trying to remain relevant, and remain a true lifestyle brand, as we are in this era of just mass change, competition, and, you know… The change is on many levels, it’s not just the consumers themselves and their expectations changing, but the entire market and the way people shop has changed, and therefore, you know, a lot of the way that we go to market is changing, and obviously digital and technology are very big enablers in that journey.

Michael Krigsman: That’s amazing to think that you have been around for almost 200 years, and you’ve outfitted 39 presidents. And I think it’s pretty obvious that a company that’s been in business for so many years has had to have gone through many different types of changes and reinventions, and evolutions. And so, you were talking about change in the market, change in customers: what are the… Maybe can you elaborate on the market forces, the competitive landscape, the nature of changing customer expectations. And so, what is driving the evolution of Brooks Brothers today?

Sahal Laher: Absolutely, absolutely. So, our business has always been kind of founded on personal relationships, and really the white glove service that works with our customers to really uniquely understand you as an individual and your preferences, and based on that, really curate a look for you, that is, you know, 100% you. It’s not a one size fits all, it’s not what one or five different looks on the shelf, but it’s really, you know, very unique and it really is something that we take great pride in, in working with everyone and their unique preferences. I think the changes that we’re seeing, obviously, are, you know, people shop in different way than they used to. They obviously are a lot more, the customer in general, not just in fashion but really in every industry with the web, is a lot more informed. And, generally, what you find is that people come in now with a much better understanding of what it is that they want, they have a much better understanding of the competitive landscape of where you are in the industry and some of the things that differentiate you. They also are a lot more aware of the brands and brand loyalty, and that, you know, to some extent, brand loyalty is not really what it used to be, so, our Chairman and CEO, Claudia DeVecchio, is always, “We’re not as good because we’re old, we’re old because we’re good.” I think that’s, you know, a very articulate way of putting it, because, you know, we really do continue to look at what is it that our customers want? What is it the market wants? Obviously, online shopping, and mobile shopping, and digital in general has really disrupted the market, and now you have a number of pure play online retailers that are in the space as well.

But, you know, I think that for the space that we’re in, there’s always going to be a home for the brick and mortar stores, because of the level of service that we provide, and, you know, the white glove nature of how we work with our consumers. The reality is that even if your were to buy, you know, things online, other than probably ties and shirts and, you know, maybe pants, a lot of the other things are going to require some kind of tailoring or alterations anyway. If you’re looking for something that is again, unique, and really is a look that is not, you know, something that, you know… Everyone has different things that they look for, but also, you know, one of my arms is half an inch shorter than the other, and you can take an of the rack item and not alter it, but it’s really, if you want to go that extra ten percent and really have a great look instead of a good look, then there’s an element of tailoring that needs to take place. So, those elements I think, continue to be extremely important, and will continue to be important. And, you know, the store again for us is a very important part of our brand. We have over 600 stores globally, and there are no plans to drastically change that number, neither up nor down. We feel like we have a good mix of, you know, direct-to-consumer online versus the traditional retail stores and also the Brooks Brothers factory stores. So, overall, I think it’s the key message for all retailers, but really also specifically to fashion, is that, I think it’s unrealistic to punt on one of your channels just because the market is shifting.

Michael Krigsman: So, it sounds like customer service and that, the white glove service as you described it, has been a centerpiece of Brook Brothers’ approach for 200 years. And now, what you’re doing, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but it sounds like what you’re doing is translating that into a multi-channel, or multiple or omnichannel approach.

Sahal Laher: That’s exactly right. I think that manifests itself in many different ways. So first and foremost, it requires that we have a consistent customer experience across channels, and that doesn’t apply just to personalization, but it really applies in general, where every company now needs to break down the silos between channels, because I think, traditionally, retailers have thought in channels, and they’ve been organized in channels, and had separate business units for online versus brick and mortar, versus factory, and what is very evident is that the customer doesn’t see it that way. The customer doesn’t think in channels. They think of it as Brooks Brothers. And so, it’s critical that, you know, we have the same products available on all of our channels, we have the same level of personalization available on all channels, and … Most importantly, I think people are really looking at retailers and companies: they’re not easy to do business with. It has to be simple, it has to be intuitive. You know, you can’t have a very complex aggregation on your website, you can’t have extremely long and tedious checkout process, because we’ve all been to those websites, and lost motivation to complete the checkout.

And, I think Amazon really has set the tone, not just in terms of usability, but also in terms of fulfillment. And so, that is the new norm in terms of customer expectations. You know, there was a period in time where you could ask for a ten or twenty dollar shipping charge and people didn’t mind that, there was a time where you could say you’ll get your product in seven to ten days, and people didn’t mind that. But I think that’s really changed, and that’s gone away now. And everyone expects the ease of use and, you know, in some cases, you know, you do want the instant gratification and … As an Amazon Prime member, you know, quite frequently just opting for the next day shipping option. And, you know, obviously Amazon is working on same-day shipping and … But, the reality is that next-day shipping is mobilizing to become the norm, and for all of these online brands, whether you’re a 198 year old brand, or an 8 month old brand, if you aren’t … You know, if it’s not simple and you’re not easy to do business with, and you don’t have a supply chain that can fulfill in a fashion that is geared to give the people the product they want, when they want it, then you’re really going to be at a big disadvantage, and you really are going to go to another site where it’s easier to do business.

Michael Krigsman: We have an interesting question from Alan Bergson on Twitter, who’s wondering, “In a business where there is so much service and customization, how do you maintain that customer experience, especially going across multiple channels?” And then, he’s asking about the role of culture in this as well.

Sahal Laher: So those are both great questions. So let’s talk first about, you know, just how we do that, and how that level of, you know, personalization and white glove service is replicated across channels in a seamless way. So, just to give a little bit of background, right? I think there was a period of time where everyone used to go to their store on Main Street in their town, and they had relationships with the Brooks Brothers associate and they’d probably been going there for many years. And, you know, all your preferences were written down in a black book, and that sales associate that you worked with really knew what you want for a look, they knew everything that you had purchased in the past, and all of that was kind of maintained in that black book, and that’s a great model obviously, because you get a very high level of service, and you have someone that has a personal relationship with you. The reality of the world we live in now is that it’s just not like it used to be in that, now we travel more. We may want to go to the store, not in our hometown, but where we work, or we might be on business at a conference and we might want to go to a store.

And so, what we’ve really been working really hard on in the last couple years is trying to figure out: If John Smith comes to the store, and he’s never been into that store before, but he’s been a customer for ten years, we are missing the mark if we don’t give him personalized service based on the information we already know about him. And so, a store associate at that store in Las Vegas where you are for a conference, in a very short period of time, needs to equipped with tools that can really tell them who is John Smith, and what are his preferences? What are his likes, and what is in his virtual wardrobe in terms of his purchase history? And really based on that; we can mend, you know, equip that associate you have just met you two minutes ago, to still provide a high level of service, because they will have… We will have turned data that we have into actual, actionable insights that you, the store associate, can use to really have a more personalized conversation, as opposed to talking to everyone who walks into the store that you don’t know about the same five products in the Fall collection.

So that’s a very important piece of who we are, and, obviously replicating that requires a lot of translation of this data into insights. And, everyone talks about “big data,” everyone talks about these buzzwords of “big data” and “machine learning” and so on, but this is really a case study where it’s the differentiator, and really in all industries, I think, can be a differentiator not just for personalization but for many different parts of your supply chain and the way that you go to market. If you use the data that you have, and implement machine learning type of platforms, which, in their simplest form, for those not familiar with machine learning it’s: computers now have the ability with these platforms to learn from data and to spot trends in data without being explicitly programmed. And that’s a very powerful trend in the market right now, and really, without that, in the past, you would have to find a specific use case that you are after, and comb through all of your data, aggregate it, and come up with these findings.

And, the way that the machine learning works, is that we can do that on the fly, and we can do that for terabytes and terabytes of data, which, in the old days obviously it’s just not possible, right? Even if we took every single black book, every single store associate’s black book from the old days, where they had customer service and all of that done in paper books, that’s already a lot of data. And now, you multiply it by, you know, everything like your online clickstream, right? So every time you go online and you’re navigating the website there’s a trail of breadcrumbs that every customer leaves behind in terms of what have they browsed, what have the put in a cart and not bought, how much time have they spent looking at a particular item. And so, all of this information, when you aggregate it together, and you have a true big data strategy, that utilizes some of these next generation tools like machine learning and in-memory databases. And, we have the ability to really replicate that service, and now, you can also make that all available online, and you can make more thoughtful recommendations for you online, as opposed to the showing everyone the same five products that have just come out as things that the might be interested in.

You know, the research shows that Amazon has done a very good job with this, Netflix has done a very good job with this, and, there’s an extremely high number of, I think, the number in the McKinsey study was over 65% where things that you buy on Amazon, or shows that you watch on Netflix, are based directly on the recommendation that was given to you by the site. So that’s a fascinating number and has huge potential, you know, when you move past personalization and just, in terms of the challenging market that retail is now, you know, that’s an extremely critical piece, because if you have, again, a personalized way to upsell and cross-sell products, that is obviously going to be a win-win, because it’s going to be things that the customer really sees as being things to augment the existing wardrobe, and obviously from the retailer’s standpoint it’s going to result in additional revenue.

Michael Krigsman: That’s pretty incredible! So, you have adopted machine learning in order to improve the recommendations that you provide online, and I’m assuming that your sales associates can provide based on purchase history, frequency of interaction, I’m assuming in the stores… Can you tell us just briefly about the tools: did you develop the tools in-house, did you buy them? Talk about the technology.

Sahal Laher: So this is an initiative that is ongoing, because as you know, this is a very big undertaking, right? It’s not something that you can spend a short period of time, or your traditional project cycle of 9-12 months and say “We’re done,” right? This is really, truly a dynamic thing that has to become part of your DNA as a retailer and as a company. So, you know, if we just take a step back and provide a little bit of context: When Pandora started, they took a subset of their collection of songs and they took, let’s say, 9 or 10 thousands songs, and they paid professional musicians to come in and listen to all of these songs. and then they had developed this Excel spreadsheet with multiple attributes. So, it had literally dozens of attributes, over a hundred total attributes for every single song based on you know, I’m not a musician and not even qualified to speak to them, but obviously way deeper than what is the gene of the song, who is the artist, etc., but it really got into what is the tempo? What are the instruments in the song? So anyway, they had all of these attributes, and that was really, that project was called the “Music Genome Project,” where they took their products and … Obviously you always have attributes for any product in any industry, right? So in the case of music, they knew who the artist was, they knew the length of the track, but they really didn’t have a lot of meaningful attributes that the consumer could relate to. And that was really what was needed for personalization.

So, after they went through this initial process, and the musicians had kind of populated this entire database of attributes across nine or ten thousand songs, then they ran it through this tool and said, “Okay, let’s see how it works! Tell me a song you like, and let’s see what the engine recommends to you.” And, they found that it was nine or ten thousand songs, sounds like a lot, but it’s really not a lot, it’s a really small sample size obviously, but they were really encouraged by the early results and that’s where they said, “Okay, we have to do this for every single song.” And, that was really the birth of Pandora and the way that it … You know, the premise of all of these platforms is that the more you use it and the more it gets to know you, the more accurate are the recommendations.

So, similarly, what we’re in the process of doing is, we’ve had hundreds of attributes for all of our products in our PLM system, our product life cycle management system, and that’s a tool that we implemented about three and a half years ago. It’s from Vendor PTC, which is a Boston-based company, and very well-known in the apparel space, or apparel and fashion. And, you know, what we looked at is that, you know, yes we had these attributes, and we had these attributes when that system went live, and probably even prior to that.

But, how many of those attributes are truly customer-facing attributes, or ones that would be meaningful to make a recommendation? And, the reality was that there weren’t many, right? There was color, there was obviously the name of the product, and there was a handful of other things. But, there wasn’t… You know, if we want to get to the next level of sophistication, either online or in-store, but, you know, it has to be as sophisticated as being able to ask, “I need a suit for a Cape Cod wedding,” and getting a recommendation. You know, most search engines, most sites, you enter that, you would get a few sites, you would get a few hits for “Cape Cod,” you would get a few hits for “wedding,” you would get a few hits for “suit.” And, they wouldn’t necessarily all be, you know, interrelated to the point where you would have a recommendation or recommendations for a suit you could wear at a Cape Cod wedding. So that’s just one fairly rudimentary example, but the bottom line is that there’s a lot of work to do, similar to what Pandora went through.

There’s work for us to do to really populate those attributes for our, you know, entire collection eventually. But, obviously, you have to start with a subset of the collection. We have a large assortment of over fifty thousand SKUs, so this is not going to be something we can do overnight, but the basics, and you populate those attributes, then you have a very good foundation to come up with these recommendations.

Michael Krigsman: Now, can you talk about the relationship between service, engagement, customer experience, this machine learning project, because it’s all part of a broader perspective.

Sahal Laher: Absolutely. So, you know, I think, again, customers don’t think in channels, right? And so, regardless of what channel they are interacting with you on, they expect that you know… So if I went onto the website and I made a purchase, and I come into the store two weeks later, and you don’t have any information on my order, or don’t even have any information on what’s in my wardrobe, then you’re missing the mark. So, you know, ultimately, everyone … There’s another big buzzword of “360 [degree] view of the customer,” which really applies both ways, and what I mean by that is that it’s equally important for a company to have that, but the customers expect you to have that as well, because, again, if I come into a store today, and I placed an order last night, and you can tell me, you know, my order status, or if I come into the store and I see something else, you can help me change that order based on something else that I found in the store. That then is a customer service process and a customer experience.

So, you know, one of the first things we did a couple years ago was really work on creating this 360 degree view of the customer, which sounds fairly obvious and it sounds fairly intuitive. But the reality is very few people have that all-in-one place, because over time, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in business, and obviously, the longer you’ve been in business, you might have more silos of data. But even if you haven’t been in business for decades, and you’ve only been in business for a few years, nobody has just one sales system, right? You always have at a very minimum have a point of sale system and you have a website. And you may need some kind of system for customer service, you need some kind of system for your store associate, be it clienteling or looking at alterations, or made to measure, or whatever the case may be.

So, what we try to do is all of those systems that I named was one or more different databases when we started, and what we’ve worked to do is really bring all of this into a single database. And that single database now has John Smith’s customer record, it has all his personal preferences, it has his e-commerce transactions, it has his in-store purchases, it has his alterations and measure information, and it also has any interaction that he’s had with our call center is all logged in one central place. So what that allows us to do is obviously elevate the level of service that we can provide, because regardless, again, of what channel is your preference to interact with us on any given day, we will be able to have a consistent view of who you are as a customer, and therefore we’ll be able to better service whatever needs you have on a particular day, and they won’t be these handoffs or, “Let me transfer you to the place you ordered that, let me transfer you to call center or the e-commerce fulfillment team to look at where your order is in the fulfillment process.” It really needs to be, again, simple, right? If it’s not simple and intuitive, people are going to get frustrated and go elsewhere.

So that is really, I think, in a nutshell, the driving forces behind why that 360 degree view of the customer is important. And, you know, again it’s really now something that is a big enabler for us because our call center has tools that they never had before, and it allows them to really provide a level of service to the customer that, from where we started, when they had to alt-tab to multiple screens and transfer people to different associates and to different stores.

Michael Krigsman: So the right type of technology combined with keeping it simple and intuitive makes life easier for the customer and and also makes life easier for people inside the stores, or inside the call centers to respond quickly and in a more appropriate, detailed, customized manner.

Sahal Laher: Absolutely, absolutely.

Michael Krigsman: We have another question from Twitter, and this is from Arsalan Khan, who’s wondering, as the technologies change, and as the environment around you, the customer environment, the competitive environment is changing, how do you plan? How do you go forward and consider this ongoing change in your business strategy?

Sahal Laher: That’s a great question, and I’m glad that it was asked, because one of the things we haven’t really touched on so far is the need for a strong, what I call “digital core,” right? So, in the ‘90’s there were ERP projects and, you know, people moved on to CRM projects and, you name it, there has been multiple waves of kind of software solutions that have been the hot trend that customers and companies have gone after. The reality of it is that, you know, very few people still to this day have that strong digital core, and what I mean by that is that: You know, whenever people think about digital and whenever they think about innovation, they automatically jump to, “How do we come up with the sexy new technology that’s customer facing, and what can we implement, in terms of beacons, or RFID, or IoT that is cool and sophisticated and elevates our customer experience?”

And all of those are great questions to ask, and again, things that everyone has to continue to do because, I think the biggest lesson learned for, you know, for retailers in the last few years is, you know, if you don’t innovate and advance yourself as a company, then you can become irrelevant, right? I mean we’ve seen numerous stores where, you name it, Blockbuster Video, where they thought they had such a good customer base and such a good value proposition that they were invincible and didn’t need to change, and didn’t really buy into the streaming online praise that hit, and that was unfortunately their downfall.

So, you know, I think the digital core, so coming back to that: What that really entails is, do you have a strong supply chain that can allow you to fulfill orders any time, any way? That’s really the bottom line, right? The customers want their stuff. They don’t care where it’s being shipped from, they don’t care how it’s being shipped, as long as you can honor your commitment to get that particular merchandise to the customer on a date that’s promised, then you’re meeting the customer expectations.

So, that’s obviously very difficult, and when we talk about omnichannel, right? And we talked about 360 degree view of the customer. But another extremely important piece that we touched on very briefly was the silos across channels coming down. And as those silos come down, you know, this digital core becomes more and more important, because in the old days it was a fine for you to have a website, and a website only having inventory to your e-commerce warehouse merchandise. But now, you really need to make sure that you have, you know, it’s almost another 360 degree view, it’s also a 360 degree view of product and inventory. And looking at that across all of your channels, and the ability to, you know, come into a store, we don’t have the right size, style, and color of your shirt, which, you know, even in our larger stores is very challenging because again I mention, we have a large assortment, fifty thousand SKUs, so it’s going to be physically impossible to keep in stock every single size, style, color, variation for everyone.

So, you know, there’s obviously tools that allow you to allocate product, and to come up with these assortments, but there’s always going to be times when someone comes in and we don’t have that product, and how do we get you that product? We have fifty of those units in the warehouse that are available for e-comm orders, but it’s a shame if that inventory’s not available to in the store, or vice-versa. So, that digital core and this is kind of, a little long-winded response to the question, but it’s an important context that I think needs to be provided, as if you don’t have that supply chain that’s dynamic and nimble, and you as a company are unable to really react truly dynamically and real-time to customer demand, then you’ve missed the mark.

So, there’s a back-end piece here that’s not sexy. No one, the customer again doesn’t care what you run for a supply chain package, they don’t care what your digital core is. What they do care [about] is if you have a good one, and if you don’t have a good one, then you’re not going to be able to meet those customer requirements.

So I think the key message here is you need the strong digital core, and then you need to augment it with sophisticated and specialized technologies that are sexy and customer-facing, such as beacons and RFID and IoT devices that really enhance the customer engagement process. And, you know, really, those are all possible only on top of that base.

Michael Krigsman: That’s really interesting. So, this view, then, of both the customers and your supply chain means that as you are developing that digital core, it transforms both your front end processes that the customer-facing processes, as well as deep into the back-end processes.

Sahar Laher: Absolutely, absolutely. And that’s a great point. We’ve invested a lot, and I think the other thing I’ll point here is that not all of these are technology projects, right? Before we’ve done an ounce of technology work, we’ve done a significant process re-engineering work to come up with things like global view of inventory in a global trading company where we can really, you know, leverage our inventory and flex it across markets in a way that allows us to maximize the needs of the customer and meet those demands. And just one example that I’ll give there is that, you know, we’re a global company, but obviously a huge part of our business is North America. So, as a result, we have two kinds of product. We have the basics product that’s available year-round, and that would be your white shirts, blue shirts, gabardine pants, ties, etc. And then we have the seasonal product, and there’s four seasons of that product that’s released, obviously based on it. And it follows the season in North America, so it’s northern hemisphere seasons. Now what that means, obviously, is that when our Australian market comes to look at the Fall collection, it’s not going to be Fall in Australia for six more months, but they still need to make an educated guess in terms of how a certain product is going to do in their market, and place a buy, or place an order of that merchandise, so that they can have it.

In the old days, what would happen is that every market can put those requests in, and they got those requests, but a lot can change in six months. We may find that Australia under-ordered, but Singapore over-ordered. And in the old days, there was no way for us to dynamically reallocate that inventory so that we could still maximize the inventory on hand, and still keep the sale, and not lose those sales. So, now we truly have that ability where we have a global view of inventory, we have a team called GIM, Global Inventory Management Team, and they are really the gatekeepers of inventory and they have the ability to do this, and to flex product across markets. And, you know, when the Fall Collection is done for North America, then we have the ability to hold that merchandise, and fulfill demand in Australia 4-5 months from now, if that is where we need it.

So, that piece of it I think is extremely important, and I think it goes back to the original point that you made. And you know, I think the other point that this is highlighting is that this is not all about the technology, right? I mean the technology is obviously a very critical enabler, but again, we’ve done many, many projects that are purely business process-focused and organizational-focused before we’ve launched some of these technology projects, because the worse thing that we could do is just take a hundred year old process and put in a new technology tool, which is really not elevating our brand at all.

Michael Krigsman: So, at first I want to remind everybody that we’re talking with Sahal Laher, who is the Executive Vice President and CIO of Brooks Brothers, and what he’s talking about, breaking down silos and changing all of these things, remember, keep in mind Brooks Brothers was founded almost 200 years ago, and so it’s just amazing to me to hear about a 200 year old company and the way that you are adapting, and remaining nimble. But we have a very interesting comment from Kirk Born, who is the Principal Data Scientist at Booz Allen on Twitter. And Kirk Born makes this comment, he says, quote: “Cross-channel is a type of customer analytics, not a type of customer.”

Sahal Laher: That’s a great point. And I think, you know, again it comes back to, you know just the role that analytics plays in today’s world, and again, it’s really to me it’s cross-industry, right? It’s not just something for retail or fashion companies. And so, I think, you know, that’s spot-on where it’s really mining that information and, you know, let’s not limit ourselves to internal information only, right? It shouldn’t just be about the systems that we have internally, or the order management system, or the e-comm system. You know, nowadays, there’s a ton of information that’s available, that is on external data sources. You have social media, we have, you know, for a nickel you can buy two hundred attributes of data on almost anyone in the US in terms of their buying patterns and purchase behaviors and so on, and that’s already finding widespread use in other industries as well. And insurance companies are using that to do things like lifestyle-based analytics and underwriting.

And so, I think that remark is spot-on, because, you know, you really have to change your mindset as a company to see data as a very critical cross-channel, enabler and differentiator. And instead of just traditionally people have just kind of hoarded data, and like I said earlier, it’s … I’m not being critical, I mean everyone did it; we did as well because no-one is staffed to have hundreds of people in the analytics department that can go do this. And so, it’s only now that these tools are becoming available and we have the ability to be able to run hypothetical scenarios on terabytes and terabytes of data within minutes, based on advances in things like in-memory databases and so-on. And, that in the old days was just not possible. So I think that it’s a very interesting time that we live in right now, and we have great tools available to us. A year from now, if we have this conversation, there will be additional tools that we can’t even envision to today that will have come out to even elevate this further.

But, I think that really is highlighting the need for companies to continue to innovate, and any of these initiatives around customer service, or customer experience, or omnichannel commerce and digital commerce, they can not be a one-and-done initiative where you say, “Okay, our mobile app is done.” The world is never going to be like that anymore. You’re going to need to continue to have your continuous improvement mindset and organization, you’re going to need to innovate, and be testing new technologies in-house and in innovation lab or something like that and seeing which ones work for you, and then adapting those to your brand and then rolling those out across your markets.

Michael Krigsman: Sahal Laher, CIO of Brooks Brothers, we have literally about one minute left, and maybe can you just, can you share with us, or give your advice to other companies who are undertaking various types of programs of change, which clearly Brooks Brothers is in a constant state of reinvention and innovation. So what’s you advice? How to get that done, and make it happen inside an established organization?

Sahal Laher: Absolutely, so I think one of the guiding principles that we as a company have adopted is the crawl-walk-run approach, which is very important because some of these initiatives otherwise can be overwhelming, right? When you try and look at the big picture of everything that needs to be done, and you try and take it all on together and boil it in the ocean, that is not a good strategy for success. And, you’re going to end up with a lot of projects that are kind of disjoined, and you will ultimately not be able to meet the promise to your customers. So, I would really encourage everyone to take that approach, and to really prioritize. And, you know, look at very objectively where you are as a brand in relation to the market, in relation to the competition, and figure out which of the capabilities you’re lagging on that you want to invest more in, which are the ones that you are on parity with the rest of the market that you may want to leapfrog, and which are the ones that you lead on that you want to continue to be a leader in? And ultimately, that roadmap is really going to drive your success.

And, I think the other piece that I would mention again is, we’ve touched on a couple times during this call, but be very careful of getting into the trap of making it all about the technology. So again, the technology, it can be a very strategic enabler, it can absolutely drive some of these initiatives from an execution standpoint, but don’t shortchange the process component, the process re-engineering component, and the change management component of what that’s going to mean to your associates, and to you customer.

Michael Krigsman: Wow. You have given us a real education and a fascinating look inside one of the most well-known, iconic brands in the United States. Thank you so much!

Sahal Laher: Thank you!

Michael Krigsman: We have been talking on Episode #200 of CXOTalk with Sahal Laher, who is the Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer of Brooks Brothers. What an amazing conversation, I can’t wait to go back and listen to it again, and just hear this wealth of knowledge about how a large and very old company has remained relevant and remained current in a changing and highly competitive environment. I’d like to thank everybody for watching CXOTalk, and I really want to give a shoutout to Livestream, who provides our video infrastructure and distribution, because Livestream, it just works, which is the best possible thing I can say. Thanks, everybody! Have a great weekend, and we have two shows this week, so go to cxotalk.com/episodes and please join us again, Bye-bye!