Posted // 2013-10-25 -
For well-dressed men looking for something finely tailored, it's safe to say that Mr. Mac isn't going to be your first choice, and the selection at Nordstrom and Macy's also leaves much to be desired. When you want something that doesn't just fit, but fits you, you find a small shop that has a fine attention to detail, color scheme, fabric and style; something original that didn't just fall off a rack or was mass-produced for every missionary about to head for the airport.
Beckett & Robb have made it their goal to create fine clothing for men, everything from a three-piece suit to just the right accessory to make every man who pops through the door a standout. Today, I chat with co-founder Jason Yeats about his career and creating the custom tailor shop with Derek Bleazard, its growth and expansion, thoughts on the future and a few other topics -- all with pictures of the downtown Salt Lake City location for you to check out here
Jason Yeats (right, with co-founder Derek Bleazard)
Gavin: Hey, Jason. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Jason: I'm Jason Yeats, one of the co-founders of Beckett & Robb. I live in Salt Lake, I'm married, and have two sons. Besides running our business, my biggest passions are golf and travel.
Gavin: What got you interested in fashion, specifically, high-class men's wear?
Jason: I've always been interested in clothing, even as a kid. I've always been very aware of what I was wearing, what I liked and disliked. As I got into my career and began exploring the idea of starting my own company, I was focusing on categories that I was passionate in. Menswear was at the top of my list. It was an easy decision and a a natural fit for both my interests and many of the skills I'd developed in the first 10 years of my career.
Gavin: You originally attended the University of Utah and received a bachelor's in finance. What made you choose the U, and what was your time like there?
Jason: I wish I could say that it was based on a bunch of soul searching and research. The truth is that it was a good school and it was near where I lived and worked. I was working full-time and going to school slowly; my junior and senior years took almost four years to complete. Consequently, I didn't engage in much of the traditional college experience. I went to my classes and not much else, socially. I had a great experience there, though, and feel like the quality of the education was very high.
Gavin: For several years you worked for Del Sol. During that time, you went back to the U and earned your Masters in business administration. What made you head back for that specific degree?
Jason: For my MBA I did do a lot of research. I liked the idea of having a Masters from a different school, but the U's EMBA program is head-and-shoulders better than any other program in the state, so I returned to the U. I pursued a MBA because I wanted to have the broadest possible knowledge base to draw from as an entrepreneur. I wanted to prepare myself to run an enterprise and a MBA is the only degree that can do that.
Gavin: When did you first meet Derek, and how did the two of you become friends?
Jason: Derek and I met while working at Del Sol. I spent 10 years there in a variety of roles, including marketing and product development. Derek ran some of our stores for a few years, then joined me in product development. He and I worked side by side, developing a new brand. During that year, we spent months on the road together, literally globe trotting, developing products, building out stores and more. Today, we laugh about it and say that working so closely together was bound to either make us absolutely hate each other or become close friends. Fortunately, it was the latter. We also both love to golf and we spend a lot of time playing together. That's another source of our bond. Our wives and families are very close. And finally, we discovered a mutual passion for menswear. We had a lot in common, and somewhere along the way began dreaming of starting our own brand. That's where Beckett & Robb was born.
Gavin: At what point did you start planning to start your own business, and what drew you to men's clothing?
Jason: Like many entrepreneurs, I have stories going back to being a young kid. I did the lemonade-stand thing many times; I was always scheming up something -- a door-to-door car wash service when I was 8; I started a mini landscaping service when I was about 12, and numerous little things along the way. My first real attempt at starting a company was when I was 18. It's laughable now, but at the time I thought it was brilliant. I'm embarrassed to share it. Let's just say it didn't last long. I've started -- and closed -- several other things: window washing, lawn aeration. So, it was something I was drawn to. When I got hired at Del Sol, I put the entrepreneur thing away for a number of years; I think it's because I was able to, essentially, start my own thing in so many ways internally at Del Sol. It was a start up when I joined and we wore so many "hats." I had a lot of latitude to try new ideas, launch new programs and departments. It's like it satisfied that need in me. Around my eighth year there, the business was no longer a start-up and our roles had become big and formal. That's when the entrepreneur bug bit me again; I started dreaming of starting something of my own. Fortunately, I was much better prepared to do it right because of my experience there. I was also in the middle of my MBA program. I was married, with one child. The stakes were much higher and the decision to leave and take the risk was very difficult. Armed with a good plan, a supportive wife, and a business partner, I took the leap of faith. That was nearly five years ago.
Gavin: When researching the kind of clothing to sell, what caught your eye about Portugal?
Jason: Actually, we don't buy any materials in Portugal; we cut and sew our suits in Portugal. We build our shirts in Spain. But all of the raw materials -- the cloth, the buttons, etc. -- all come from England and Italy. Most people know that England and Italy are where the best suit cloth is milled. We visited many of the mills and chose a select few to develop partnerships. Today, we offer cloth from about a dozen mills, but our deepest collections are with just a few: Loro Piana, Ariston, and Huddersfield. These mills represent the best cloth on earth. Through them, we have access to thousands of choices, in every conceivable color, weight and pattern. It's amazing stuff.
Gavin: What made you decide to open up in SLC rather than start on a coast? And where did the name come from?
Jason: We started in SLC because that's where we live! It may seem random, but for us it was sort of the only option. We didn't want to move, so we launched in our home city. We plan to grow, but SLC will always be our headquarters and home. The name Beckett & Robb is truly made up. It's a long story, but the short of it is that we didn't like how our names sounded; they were easily misspelled, etc. So, we brainstormed until we found a name that felt right. It met our trademark requirements and the domains were available. Today, we're very fond of it, but back at the beginning it was just a name.
Gavin: What was it like for you setting up shop and opening that first year in 2009?
Jason: It was scary. We didn't have any funding. Our story is a true "started in our basement" story. We went without taking income for about a year and a half. We lived off of savings and scraped up every sale we could, trying to build something. Slowly, the momentum grew, but it took time. Without savings and wives who shared our vision, we never would have crossed over to being a sustainable business.
Gavin: What did you think of the early response to the shop, and how was it for you competing in a city filled with Mr. Mac shops and Woolen Mills only a couple of blocks away?
Jason: We talk about this concept all of the time. While in the most basic sense we compete with anyone who sells a suit, including places as inexpensive as H&M and Target, we really don't have any direct competition in Utah. We are the only place in Utah that you can get a custom suit built of legitimate European cloth cut and sewn in Europe. There are several options for a lower-priced Asian custom suit. And there are a lot of places that build off-the-rack suits. Our product is different than all of that, and so is our process and experience. What we do isn't for everyone, and we're okay with that. Beckett & Robb exists for the guy who is looking for a perfect fit, for unique cloth, for total control of design and for a personalized experience. There are plenty of guys in Salt Lake who would prefer that experience over an off-the-rack option.
Gavin: When someone comes in, what's the routine for finding them the perfect suit?
Jason: We start by trying to understand the client's needs. How do they wear suits in their life? How will this fit into their existing wardrobe? We help them choose their cloth from thousands of options. Then, we take them through a design process where they can control a vast array of design elements, including the lapel, pockets, linings, buttons, thread and much more. Finally, and most importantly, we conduct an extensive fitting. We develop a digital pattern for each client, so we require a few dozen measurements and other notes about their body type. This process takes over an hour and is extremely detailed. Hopefully, when a client is finished he gets a sense of just how personalized and unique his suit or shirt will be.
Gavin: How detail oriented is the process for you and the staff when fitting someone from size all the way to color?
Jason: At one point, I was doing the math on the number of combinations we offered our clients. I was hoping to come up with a number, like "over 500 combinations." As it turns out, there are billions of combinations, since we touch so many parts of the suit. Once you factor in over 15,000 cloth choices and all of the measurements, the true number is astounding. So, we don't publicize it because it's overwhelmingly large. Needless to say, our process is very detailed, and very custom. There are different custom suit programs out there, but I'm not aware of any that come close to ours in terms of how detailed we are. And the results show it.
Gavin: When you're looking for new products, how do you decide what to incorporate into the catalog?
Jason: For better or worse, Derek and I really trust our gut; we include what we like and exclude what we don't like. We attend many of the major men's fashion events in Europe. We spend time in London, Milan, Paris, New York and more. From there, we get a real sense of trends, in terms of color, cut, patterns and more. Utah lags well behind these trends and many of them never make it to SLC. We try to bring as much of that European flavor to Utah as we can.
Gavin: In the past few years, you've expanded to have another store in Provo, as well as one in San Francisco. What made you decide on those two locations?
Jason: Opening in San Francisco was a long process. We have ambitions to expand into other major markets across the U.S. Going to the Bay Area was our first one; it's the largest market in the West if you exclude Los Angeles. It's a huge market with lots of competition. Figuring out how to compete in that market has made us so much better as a brand and retailer. It's further distanced us from would-be competitors in Utah. We have San Francisco to thank for that. Opening in Provo was a much easier decision. It's natural to grow further in markets where we already are established. We do a strong business from Utah County at our Salt Lake shop. Now, we can serve that client closer to his home.
Gavin: Do you have plans to open more shops in Utah, or are you looking to keep it the shops more exclusive?
Jason: We will open up at least one more location in Utah in the near future; beyond that is unknown at this point. As long as we feel there are under-served sub-markets within Utah, we'll work to find ways to serve them.
Gavin: What plans do you have for national expansion, and where do you hope to take the company in the next five years?
Jason: We have a broad growth plan that includes both brick-and-mortar and online expansion. We'll open a few stores each year for the foreseeable future. We'll take on new major markets. We'll be announcing an exciting new division of our online strategy in the coming months, something new and truly groundbreaking. We also have a growing wholesale business. We're working with a few major retailers, and I expect our brand will become known nationwide over the next five years.
Gavin: What can we expect from both yourself and B&R over the rest of the year?
Jason: By the end of 2013, we'll have four stores and a relaunched website. Our stores will have a deeper ready-to-wear collection than ever before, starting this holiday season. We're also about to launch some new custom-product categories. There are a lot of new things in the pipeline. We're busy and it's definitely a fun time for us at B&R.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?