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Vineyard Vines—a brand built on a dream
#033 : Quitting the nine-to-five grind to chase a dream is the story on which the legendary apparel maker Vineyard Vines built its brand—and it’s an authentic one, not one woven by a marketing department.
Vineyard Vines’ success story began humbly after its two founders, brothers Shep and Ian Murray, tossed in their uninspiring desk jobs to recreate the ‘good life’—the happy and carefree days of their childhood summers spent on the iconic New England coastal island of Martha’s Vineyard. They started making ties so they didn’t have to wear them.
The original designs for the ties were fun and quirky, symbolising the ‘good life’ so that while people were at work, they would be reminded of the cool stuff they did on their vacations or the fun they had on their weekends. A noble notion that grew into a full range of apparel for men, women, and kids.
How did they pull it off and how hard was it to realise (or rather, “realize”) this American dream?
Overdose Americas MD Gary Benerofe chills and chats with Vineyard Vines’ Vice President of Creative Strategy, Jory Benerofe (yes, same name—they are cousins), to discuss the brand’s strategy, and its successes and challenges along the way.
Jory joined Vineyard Vines in the early days when it was merely four to five guys in a two-bedroom pseudo-office—the modest beginnings of a big dream. Jory had fortuitously met one of the founders who hired him on the spot because he knew a bit about Photoshop.
Fast-forward two decades and Jory has transitioned from tie designer to overseeing a team of 28 including designers, copywriters, content creators, photographers, videographers, social media content developers, print editors, and digital editors—the full spectrum as everything is done in-house.
Although much of the brand’s creative success can be accredited to Jory and his team, he humbly suggests it boils down to the authenticity of the founders’ story and the fact the company has always stayed true to their beliefs.
The building of the brand––from the beginning
The story was simply two guys quitting their jobs to start a tie company, making a product that reminded them of growing up spending summers in Martha’s Vineyard—fishing, boating, swimming, and enjoying the good life.
“In the early days,” Jory reflects, “We didn’t have money to advertise; we had to pitch our story to magazines and other outlets that were interested in it as a human-interest story…you know, just two guys chucking in their jobs to follow their dream. We ended up getting editorials, and it was far better than paid advertising.”
The ‘accidental advertising’ helped grow the brand better than in any other way—the authentic ‘following the dream’ story really resonated with people.
Another example of this authenticity-factor occurred next “when we shifted from just ties to making apparel,” Jory explains. “We couldn’t afford models, so we used employees. We would shoot the product on ourselves or on our friends, and that really created a foundational element of highlighting and profiling real people.”
It was this ‘celebrating real people’ that became a core pillar of the brand, and it worked seamlessly with the founders’ story.
The ‘feel good’ brand
Vineyard Vines found their sweet spot; lifestyle-centric clothing was the focus and business began to prosper. They became renowned for their classic lines, everyday wear, work clothes that are functional and comfortable, and weekend wear in which to unwind and have fun. In other words, clothes to feel good in.
The brand’s tagline, ‘every day should feel this good,’ was born.
“We call it our ‘state of mind’,” Jory explains. “We make product for ‘every day should feel this good’ moments. The hope is, when you put on our clothing or interact with the brand in some way, you make a connection between those great moments in your life and our product.”
The building of a community
The brand’s ability to connect with people has created a powerful Vineyard Vines community. A community that is all-encompassing; no matter what you do, what you’re into, it doesn’t matter—it’s the feeling you get from doing it that’s important. This makes the brand widely relevant, open, and welcoming for people to take it and interpret what it means to them.
Early on, this community was doing ‘social media’—well before social media (as we now know it) was even a thing. People were taking photos of themselves or their friends wearing Vineyard Vines while doing something they love and mailing them in. As the pictures funnelled into the Vineyard Vines’ HQ, the marketing department would pop them into catalogues, add a caption, and in turn share them back out. This sharing of their customers’ lives became a marketing cornerstone and showed the community how important they were to the brand and vice-versa.
Other key factors of Vineyard Vines’ success
- Offering value through their price point. When Vineyard Vines started, they were the little guy, in the shadows, up against some of the greatest American apparel brands. They opened up to a whole new customer base by offering a more affordable luxury product.
- The brand is built on an emotional connection. The brothers began by selling a lifestyle—a frame of mind, an emotion, an aspirational mindset. Consumers connected with that mindset. They aspired to live the ‘good life.’ The products connect to memories, nostalgia, family road trips, and summertime at the beach. It’s more about the experience than about the clothing; it’s about what you’re going to do and how you’re going to feel in that clothing.
- Having a broad customer base. Vineyard Vines has a wide appeal range—men, women, children, grandparents. It’s always been inclusive, open, and welcoming to everyone, and it’s become intergenerational.
- Never failing to deliver. It’s always been a mindset within the company that no matter the challenges, they will always deliver to the customer, and when problems arise, everyone in the business has to come together to figure out how to get the job done.
- They’ve always gone out of their way to make people’s lives better. If they’ve messed up with a customer, they’ve not rested until they’ve won them back.
- Vineyard Vines have always stayed true to the brand. In their dealings with potential new partners, suppliers, and vendors, everything must feel authentic to the brand. They won’t engage if it doesn’t feel right.
Coping with challenges
Having a can-do attitude ingrained in the business culture has helped with absorbing the speed bumps along the way. It’s an attitude that gives the confidence they can always make it work, even in unpredictable territories like global recessions or pandemics.
As for most businesses, the panic button was hit when Covid came to town. In the early days of the unknown, worried consumers were conservative about their spending.
After initially being reactive and just dealing with it day-to-day, Vineyard Vines then went into hyperdrive with their sales channels. Priority was given to the website—they already had a robust omnichannel retail site with buy-online and pick-up in-store, so they were well-placed to function in the new retail landscape. New initiatives were rolled out, such as Curbside Pick-up; Virtual Assistant (an online appointment with a sales assistant); and Smart Gift (like a gift card, but the giftee chooses the size and colour, and it gets delivered to them directly).
The company’s strong emphasis on health and safety meant they were recognised as one of the top ten safest retailers in the country.
It’s not surprising Vineyard Vines has carried on through, finding a way to keep connecting with their customer, and always believing their customer should feel good, no matter what. Living the good life is, and always will be, the fabric of the brand.