Interview with Ian Tansley, Managing Director
BY SANDY STRASSER
(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 3 2015)
It is the shopping platform for men on the internet – Mr Porter. This is where the fashionable man can purchase labels such as Burberry, Ralph Lauren, Gucci and YSL online. The page is accompanied by appealing editorial content, styling tips, interviews and videos. We asked Ian Tansley, Managing Director of Mr Porter, for an exclusive interview.
Mr Tansley, Mr Porter 2011 emerged from the internet mail order company Net-a-Porter, which has been selling luxury clothes and accessories for women for eleven years. What was the intention behind developing a similar platform for men?
Ian Tansley: Mr Porter was launched globally on Tuesday 22nd February. The plans for the site were announced during the tenth birthday celebrations of Net-a-Porter, as we were of the view that there was huge demand from both men and women for a global online retail destination for men’s style.
The problem previously had been that the online business for menswear was always playing second-fiddle to womenswear. Men would have to search for a button hidden away at the top left or right-hand corner of a womenswear website. The launch of Mr Porter changed that and provided men with a platform that is dedicated to their needs. The environment has now not only made shopping easier and more enjoyable, but it also makes men feel a lot more comfortable to be shopping on a site with its own masculine and intelligent mix of editorial, style advice and inspiration.
What defines your brand and what is your mindset regarding company management?
I. T.: Quality and style. Everything we do is based on these principles. The beauty of our business is that the whole team believe and engage in providing quality and style to our customers.
How much courage is needed to start a project which brings men and fashion together?
I. T.: The most important thing is understanding our customers and what they want. Men, on the whole, are initially more cautious buyers, and will ask more questions. Once a man likes your website or brand, he’s very loyal. Men want to make an informed decision when making a purchase, so we had to ensure that we were able to provide them with unparalleled customer service and access to the right information in a truly unique and approachable way.
How was the response to the top brands at the beginning? Are there also companies who are reluctant to cooperate? If yes, why?
I. T.: All the brands involved in the launch were important to secure, and sure, our Buying Team had to put the legwork in to secure the best possible brands and that was achieved with great success. Launching with 80, we have now built a strong mix of over 300 brands in total. It is a broad mix of everything that the modern man should or could own. From the big designer names such as Tom Ford and Lanvin, to newer labels such as Casely-Hayford or Public School and not forgetting all of the other product areas we’ve expanded into, such as grooming, technology and lifestyle. Each collection we carry has its own identity that appeals to a wide variety of our customers.
On your website and in your regularly published newspaper ‘The Mr Porter Post’, you give charming tips about how to dress stylishly. What is this all about and why is the print business just as important as your online appearance?
I. T.: When we created our weekly digital magazine, The Journal, we had three objectives in mind – to entertain, to inform and to inspire. We wanted an editorial area that worked in tangent with our retail environment and one that would complement it, one where men (and the women in their lives) could feel comfortable to come, enjoy, shop and just as importantly – learn. The Mr Porter Post is also an integral part of the Mr Porter machine too, it helps us to engage with audiences in a physical space and encourage them to visit the site through engaging editorial.
Why do you specifically position style icons such as Andy Warhol, Steve McQueen or Bob Dylan, whose aura and attitude you really celebrate, in beautifully illustrated coffee-table books?
I. T.: We feature men that we feel embody the Mr Porter lifestyle. It’s not just about style, it’s about the car they drive, the holiday they plan, the music they listen to, the cologne they wear. And you don’t need to be rich or famous to be a Mr Porter man, this shouldn’t be some unattainable goal and we want to make sure that all men can really buy in to that philosophy. Our paperback means that you can have insightful advice and engaging editorial from the leaders of the pack at your fingertips, and not only that – it’s a beautiful book to show off on your living room shelf.
You devote yourself to the packaging and distribution with the same attention to detail. Each order which leaves your company resembles a Christmas present. It not only looks classy, it also has a personal touch. From the quality of the packaging, the careful wrapping in tissue paper, to the hand written card. What is the philosophy behind this?
I. T.: We go the extra mile to offer those extra special touches that we’ve become well known for because men should be able to experience the same level of quality, personalised service that they’d find in any bricks and mortar luxury outlet. If not even better. The instantly recognisable black and white box arriving at the doorstep, labelled with the customer’s name to add a personal touch, has become synonymous with Mr Porter. The beauty of online shopping too, of course, is being able to try on clothes in the comfort of your own home. Then if it doesn’t fit or you change your mind, you can arrange a free collection and we’ll pick it up. It’s that easy.
What logistical efforts are involved in this business principle?
I. T.: We have highly efficient teams based at two distribution centres in our UK and US territories to ensure that we can effectively serve our customers according to the high standards that our customers have come to expect.
For a fairly long time, you have been cautiously expanding your product range into grooming, tech-stuff and sports fashion. What are your plans for the future regarding this expansion? Will you expand more rapidly or continue to act cautiously?
I. T.: We know we don’t speak to one specific customer with our brand, nor should we – we are speaking to consumers in over 170 countries worldwide, all with different cultures and tastes. What we do know is that we deliver the best, most edited mix of luxury fashion and lifestyle products from selected designers, contemporary and formalwear brands across categories as diverse as home and tech, travel, grooming, and accessories. We are now home to over 300 brands and that is continuing to grow.
How will the future continue with Mr Porter? What do you think the needs of men will look like in five to ten years?
I. T.: Men are becoming more savvy when it comes to shopping and they have higher expectations when it comes to quality, both in the provenance of the products they’re buying and the customer service they experience when making their purchase. This is a trend that will continue to evolve and we regularly review feedback from our customers to ensure that their needs are considered when making important business decisions. Take the launch of Mr Porter Sport, for example. We asked our customers about their fitness routines and found that 90 percent of our customers do some kind of exercise every week and 79 percent exercise more than once a week. It was clear that there was an appetite for more performance-led products and this informed our choice to launch a dedicated sportswear destination and bring on a sizeable array of new brands.
What is more important for you – being present in all channels with perfect technology or passionately devoting yourself to the editorial preparation of content?
I. T.: It’s our dedication to both in equal measures that sets us apart from our competitors. To us, we don’t see why one should take priority over the other. We very much consider ourselves as much a technology company as we are a retailer and magazine, it is a significant part of our brand DNA. We are fully optimised for all platforms and have recently redesigned our app to ensure the experience was a seamless one. The Net-a-Porter Group culture is a restless one – we would not, and never could, sit back and enjoy our successes. We’d prefer to lead, and that involves continual refinement of the site and experience on mobile platforms, and we continue to adapt to the needs of our customers and how they want to interact with us. We are constantly evolving to ensure the experience on and with Mr Porter is easy and hassle free.
Ian Tansley is Managing Director of Mr Porter. He started his career within The Net-a-Porter Group with four years as Vice President of e-commerce before moving on to lead Mr Porter from its launch in February 2011.
Picture credits © Mark Sanders