Jun 21, 2024
30 min
Episode 79

TOP CMO: Kadian Langlais, Renfro Brands - 'Retro to Revolutionary'

Kadian Langlais  00:00

Basically the principle of marketing is being at the right place at the right time.

Ben Kaplan  00:05

This is the podcast where we go around the globe to interview marketing leaders from the world's biggest brands, fastest growing companies and most disruptive startups. Thomas outstand I am a CMO This is TOP CMO with me, Ben Kaplan. today I'm chatting with Kadian Langlais Chief Marketing Officer of Renfro Brands, known for its innovative approach in the socks and legwear. Industry, Kadian spearheaded and major rebranding effort and launched a new direct to consumer channel while at Renfro. Her experience also includes impactful roles in digital retail Consulting at Macy's, and Kayser Roth Corporation, where she significantly increased online sales as director of E commerce. So how does one successfully navigate the shift from traditional to digital marketing in a legacy company? And how does Cadian leverage consumer data to drive brand growth and customer engagement? Let's find out with Cadian legales. Cadian one of the things that is part of your mandate as CMO is to take a legacy or heritage brand and bring them into a digital age, the buzzword is digital transformation. You do that in a few different ways, because you have your own brands where you're making direct to consumer websites, but then you also have licensed brands like polo or Merrill that you might other brands you might make socks for, how do you think about that in sort of maintaining what has made the company a long lasting company, but also do this transformation now in your marketing

Kadian Langlais  01:38

team? Yeah, that's a really great question, Ben. I just want to take a little step back. So before we even tried to transform the company, it was important for us to signal that there was a change, right? And there was a cultural shift, and a change come in, not just within the industry, but for our employees. And so we rebranded the company, from Renfro corporation to Renfro Brands Renfro Corporation sound very manufacturing driven, right versus Renfro Brands, which is like a company with brand portfolios is really stewards of the brands. And so we had to set the tone. And Stan and I by our fearless leader, the CEO, really worked together to talk about the why, why it was necessary to transform the company, why can't we just do the same thing that we've been doing for over 100 years. And so that was the first thing that we had to do to really set the tone to transform the company.

Ben Kaplan  02:39

So you're thinking more like a portfolio of brands, you're thinking less like a historic textile manufacturer of items. What does that mean, then in terms of digital transformation as the next step now, so now you're a collection of brands, and some of those are your own brands that you've built from the ground up that you're going to market directly consumers, some of these licensed brands, you have to work more with the partner, licensee, and how does that impact how you think about things overall, in terms of digital transformation.

Kadian Langlais  03:06

So it's about where consumers are, it's about where consumers are shopping, right? And so Gara, the days the, you know, think about it back in the days, I'm gonna start aging myself here, where you have like your Sears and your Kmart, and you have like these really clear lines of like, retailers in distribution, and you had your catalogs, and that's how people, you know, you thought you got your Sears catalogs and you went to the store and you bought right, and you bought exactly what you needed. But now, obviously, fast forward many, many, many years, and the rise of you know, ecommerce and social media, it is important for us to be where consumers are now, right? It's make basically, the principle of marketing is being at the right place and the right time. And for Renfro, we've been doing, you know, really well, but kind of like doing the same thing. And just basically focus on manufacturing, and selling to our retailers. And so we in order to grow, and in order to stay, you know, relevant, we have to change with the times. And so social media and social media marketing, social media commerce became Uber important. When I first started with Renfro, we had a very old, archaic e commerce tool. We transformed and moved. Honestly, we moved to Shopify, because Shopify allowed us to be more agile. It allowed us to test things because I like to test as I go. So if you fail, you fail fast and fail cheap, right? And then you're able to grow and then invest and so we transformed our ecommerce templates. I mean, we transformed our E commerce platforms to Shopify. We also implemented salsify, which is our digital PIM that allowed us to really push products, all the different platforms to ensure brand consistency. What's

Ben Kaplan  05:04

interesting about your background is you have a background in E commerce, you have a background in E commerce sales, but also it goes even back in the industry to being a fashion and apparel buyer, one of the things that's important for all of that is having your finger on the pulse of how consumers are shopping, where they're shopping, what's hot, what's not, what's changing. So for our broader audience of CMOs and other marketing leaders, what are some of the insights you have now? And is there such a thing as like, you know, socks as a bellwether, for where maybe other items in fashion or the economy as a whole might be headed? Because socks are kind of a foundational item, relatively inexpensive compared to other things? What can you tell us about what's hot? And what the changes are in consumer behavior that you can observe?

Kadian Langlais  05:50

Yeah, so that's a great question. And so I would say you touched on this a bit, given the times that we're living in right inflationary times, discretionary spend is very limited. And I think for the consumer, she or he, they really want to spend money on things that's going to give them value, right. So even though you think it's just a sock, it's a low ticket item. But within the sock category, there's so many different socks, and thankfully, at Renfro, because we have this wide portfolio of novelty socks, and hiking socks and flocks to go on a job interview or socks to, you know, chill. You know, there's something for everyone. And people want things and people want apparel products and accessories that can last them a longer time. So it's not just about wearing it for that moment. And then like tossing it away, or hope to like wear it again. And the next few months, people want to make sure that where they're spending their money that's on something that's going to bring them value. And that's something that we really take pride in. Even from our novelty socks to those like higher priced socks are made for skin. It's value, its value driven. And also it will elevate your look

Ben Kaplan  07:06

in your experience then value. Some people use it as as sort of a proxy for inexpensive, but you actually mean like getting a lot for your dollar, however much you spend, you observe then consumers buying something that's more expensive, but will also last longer than something that is like us, because you just had a special occasion. That's it. Because when people are trying to like even in something like socks, they're trying to get more out of it than have a throwaway pair that you don't really care if it last year, a few years or not,

Kadian Langlais  07:34

right? Because like you can go to Amazon, right? And you can probably see one of those like, I don't know, novelty socks for $2. But if you look at the reviews, a lot of those socks, so people are complaining about fairy dust last them it's for one, it's for one wash and wear and that's it. And what we're seeing is this real nice trend. I mean, it works for us, right? Because our products are of really high quality, this nice trend and shift towards quality. But remember, like, we still have a low ticket item compared to like a cashmere sweater or like a designer bag. So it's still a form.

Ben Kaplan  08:09

And how do you think about something like that in terms of audiences, men versus women I know you and I have talked about before about men elevating their game with socks because trends we've seen is obviously like less occasions maybe with more work from home to wear the tie. I don't know if you're seeing even if you're going to the office, if you're seeing like less ties in general, even if you work in finance or something like that. And you use the phrase elevate your game men made me look at my socks, I think I've got basic black on now. So I need to elevate my game a bit. But what do you think about kind of overall trends and how pandemic work from home has some impact that you can see in socks or otherwise,

Kadian Langlais  08:49

you definitely touched on it quite a bit. Even men that I even know in consulting or finance, they're also moving away from ties, right? And they're looking for items that can like, you know, express their individuality a bit right not kind of like out there. But they can wear like all black outfit and maybe like a really nice red pattern sock and it allows them to make a statement and express their individuality. And then there are people who are like, You know what, I'm not really about making a statement, I'm more about comfort. And so I really want like the socks with the right cushions and so forth. And we have that sock for you. But little known fact like women are still buying the majority of socks for men. So I also think it's also what I want my husband or significant other person to look like. So we tend to also market men's products to women because we still know that women are buying men's product men's socks.

Tom Cain  09:51

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Ben Kaplan  10:50

If you could, I think this would be great if you could invent something that was when you have the one sock left, and you need that, where's the other sock, if you could somehow have that third sock that slides in there? I don't know how we're gonna invent that. But that would that would be super, super helpful for me, at least

Kadian Langlais  11:05

well, you know, it's actually a subscription model. When you think about it. That's something that's been on our roadmap, and I talk to a lot of men in my travels. And they all say the same thing, kind of similar to what you're saying, like, I just don't want to have to think about it. I know, like, after six weeks, I just want like a fresh pair of socks or, you know, maybe five and you kind of know my style, you know, what I want, and it just like magically appears that will be ideal, because a lot of men don't want to be stereotypical either. A lot of women want that as well. What about,

Ben Kaplan  11:42

you know, in terms of direct to consumer, for other CMOS listening, we work in our marketing agency a ton with whether it's CPG, consumer packaged goods companies, or other companies with brand portfolios, where they do a lot of consumer marketing, but historically, they don't own the consumer relationship. Because the retailer owns the consumer relationship. And they own the relationship with the retailer. It's always particularly when I talk to CMOS who've who've gone from like, CPG land, let's say to something where you have like, you're selling direct to consumers. It's like, wow, we thought we had great data and CPG. But now we were like we actually know, everything they're clicking on and everything they're looking at and how they respond to this, and it's different. So what is your advice for other CMOS? Whether they're direct to consumer or b2c? Or not? How do you start taking more ownership of the relationship? And what value does that provide you when you have a relationship with the consumer? No,

Kadian Langlais  12:36

it provides tremendous value. And, I mean, that was one of the reasons why it was so important for us to launch our direct to consumer business, is to really start owning that relationship. And that in the data and insights that we gather from the direct to consumer business, allows us to be better partners and stewards with our retailers. And so I always say this and those like, you guys, you have to start your own DTC business. It is you can't solely depend on the retailer. And I think some people think of it well, the volume is just not the same. I mean, what's the value there? But you you don't you hit it on the nail, Ben is the consumer relationship, it's the insights, it's a data that you're able to aggregate, and then internalize, right? Whether it's design, sourcing, supply chain, marketing, branding, how we go to market, you can then harness that data, package it and share it with your retailers, because you are your brand stewards, you're gonna own that brand relationship, you're going to understand, like, I always say, we are like the sock experts. I mean, I know so much about socks than I ever did. And guess what? Walmart's just not going to be that sock expert. Right? Now Walmart has tons of data and tons of information, right? But the more data that we're able to harness ourselves and get that first party data and that relationship, we can then be better partners with those retailers. Early

Ben Kaplan  14:09

on in your career. I mean, you were a buyer for Lord and Taylor, you worked at Macy's, and this is not on the marketing side. One of the things that is a recurring theme on this podcast is that what is the ideal background and Swiss Army knife of skills for a CMO? What do you draw upon for being in a very practical level part of the engine of merchandising that happens that impacts you now as CMO?

Kadian Langlais  14:35

Yeah, and I like to say that I'm a unicorn, a unicorn with

Ben Kaplan  14:39

great socks with I don't know what your sock claws look like, but I imagine it's impressive. Great socks and great style. Great style. Okay, socks and style. There you go. So what do you learn for those early buying experiences?

Kadian Langlais  14:49

It's really the holistic view. Right? And so, yes, I started my career as a fashion buyer Lauren Taylor in New York, going to fashion shows Learning about product learning about consumerism, learn about what's hot learning about merchandise it right. And now fast forward, I'm not going to age myself, but many, many moons later. You know, when you think about it when you go on a site, right? It's about merchandising. It's not just about the marketing, it's about the product. It's about the merchandise and and so what I'm able to do is pull the merchandise and the plan in the retail market in the consumer market and the brand in and the creativity and pull it all together to create a really great experience, not only on our DTC sites, but also when we're talking to our retailers and what they should do. And also social media, YouTube and all the different touch points that our consumers are interacting and engaging with today, if

Ben Kaplan  15:51

someone is new to, let's say, a CMO, listening who's new to direct to consumer marketing, maybe they're rolling out their own sites throw microsites, they're starting to have a ecrm database with consumers where they're starting to track things and all of that, what are the common pitfalls that you see that people who are new to the game can avoid is a what it is like blockers that are going to disrupt your direct to consumer efforts, whether it's on a site, it's an email, or it's something else,

Kadian Langlais  16:18

I think it's trying to emulate what another brand is still, or even a competitor. And I think a lot of us we do that, right? We look at what we consider to be best in class are our competitors. And we're like, well, if they're doing this, so this is their tech stack, well, then that needs to be my tech stack as well. But absolutely not. It's important to find the unique tech stack and the unique process and the unique strategy for you. Like, what is your brand's unique identifier, or your superpower? What is your reason for being and lean into that? Like, let's face it, right? We're all looking at very similar data where we all have Google Analytics, we all have very similar ecommerce platforms, right? But what we don't have that's different is our own unique story. So really lean into that story. And be consistent with that story. I know it's really hard, especially when you're just starting out because you're waiting for those wins, right? You're waiting for those wins to happen. And you spent X amount of money, you're expected to point five return the next day, but you're not seeing that. So it's really important to, you know, really stay true to the vision and lean into that story and not try to be something that you're not.

Ben Kaplan  17:38

And how do you approach it differently? If you have, let's say, on the brand side, a lot of brand equity and something like I mean, for instance, at Renfro, I mean you're making socks for polo, Ralph Lauren, Dr. Scholes Jeep Merrill chaps, but you have your other own brands, too, like Kay Bell and others. How do you think about things differently? Aside from the actual function of how it's sold being different, but how do you think about it differently? marketing wise, if you're leveraging some like brand equity, that's well known by consumers versus you're trying to build something up?

Kadian Langlais  18:11

Right? If you are leveraging the brand equity, which is great, it's a brand, but then it's about leaning into the product equity. Right? For example, Jeep is a great brand, but not many people know, that Jeep make sauce.

Ben Kaplan  18:26

Great. Yeah, sure. So you're talking of course, if you're listening like a jeep, like a car, like an automobile, right, well known but yeah, you might be in some nice talks when you're pressing the pedals on your car or something like that. So hey,

Kadian Langlais  18:37

hey, so you have to leverage subprime the product equity, meaning, the benefits and features, like all those different components of the Sox and why this sock is better than the other side? Right? So even with brands that have equity, you still then have to lean into that particular product equity. Right? And

Ben Kaplan  18:56

how do you think about something like Jeep which is interesting, because it's a brand that's clearly identifiable, clear point of view is sort of stands for this sort of rugged outdoor adventurism. So it stands for some things, but you just don't think about it in the category probably of socks that you operate in, right?

Kadian Langlais  19:12

And our design and merchandising team and that business unit that's led by Pete singer, my, my colleague, they've done an amazing job to really learn about the Jeep consumer and understand what are the Jeep values and what's important to the cheap consumer, right. But then our innovation team also has given us really great platforms and great product to move into. So it's a combination of both right? It's like you're leveraging that brand awareness, but it's so so so important that we really talk about the benefits and features of the actual product. What makes this product different from another brand that may sell You know, outdoor sock, right?

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Tom Cain  20:39

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Ben Kaplan  20:55

That's the jeep. So then how does the changing thinking about versus leveraging some of this equity, you're saying? Okay, it's not just the brand equity, you kind of kind of bring it to the product level, but then something that just doesn't have brand equity at all that isn't known. How do you think about that differently from a marketing perspective,

Kadian Langlais  21:10

or something doesn't have necessarily like our our own brands, right? Our own brands, I mean, there's some brand equity there, but it's definitely not on the same level. It's like a household name like Dr. Schultz, right. But we have a very niche consumer. And that's why this is so important. I always like to say this, we can't be everything to everyone, right. And we're actually going through a brand refresh for our own brands. So there's some you know, I'm gonna give you a little bit of a sneak peek by you'll see it more for spring 24. So we're rebranding our own brands, hot socks, and K Bell can really go back to what hot socks was intended to be, which was the fashion thought brand that allows you to make a statement, and really leaning into making a statement. So yes, it's about the brand, it's about the brand story. But ultimately, it will be about the product, it will be about how the product makes you feel, it's going to be about how the how you're able to walk into a room and really make a statement and elevate your socket. Right. And then cable, we're leaning back into those Soltau vibes about cable. And what the brand initially started this fall about the product saw about the material is soft to touch is feel good fashion. And with a really nice sustainability angle. So we're working on really differentiating those two brands, and focus in on the brand ethos, and how that transports into product and also a marketing strategy.

Ben Kaplan  22:46

I'm reading between the lines here a little bit, but when you have your own brands, and you put them aside, you know, let's say other very well known brands that you're creating socks for, and you don't have as deep a brand equity of a Jeep or you know, okay, it's gonna be rugged, and it's gonna be outdoors, you kind of have to keep focusing yourself back a little bit, or you can just start making, okay, this is a brand that's our in house brand that we just make socks, where, you know, we're going to have a higher margin, because we're not licensing someone else's IP to do it. And we can leverage our distribution channels, and it's just convenient for us to release Sox, it's kind of easy to start going down that slip. And I said a little bit sarcastically, right, because no one does it, how I just said it, but it's easy to start moving. And maybe Google losing a little bit of focus, especially when you have very high brand equity things next to things that are not as high. When you say

Kadian Langlais  23:34

yes, you're definitely reading between the lines here. But it also goes back to digital transformation, right? It goes back to doing things differently, and not necessarily relying on how we normally did business. And so it is super important that we do spend the time and resources investments in our own brands. But given today's, you know, modern ways of marketing, right, it's really important that we invest in social media is really important that we have really cool brand ambassadors and CO labs that helped to reflect the brand ethos,

Ben Kaplan  24:12

I know part of your expansion plans is to think of Renfro which has over 100 year legacy focused on the US but you're thinking about it in terms of more markets you're thinking about in terms of Europe, I know Japan is a focus for you, what parts do you translate from like the US model in terms of marketing? And then what parts do you you know, it's gonna be totally different in Japan, and it's in focus elevate their game differently there than in the US. And so we need to think about it differently. Yeah,

Kadian Langlais  24:37

I would say we have a really great team in Japan, and they would let us know this is not going to sell in Japan, you have to sell it this way. And so it is really important for us to be authentic to that particular area. And so, you know, high level the brand direction and brand strategy guess that's conveyed to our team, but how we market to the country Two words, the models we use the language, the copy the stories, the relevance, you know, environments and etc. It truly has to be authentic to that region.

Ben Kaplan  25:11

And how much are you thinking about whether it's in North America or Europe or Asia, the sustainability message, a lot has been made about the up and coming buyers with increasing buying power. That being a primary factor, how much do you think about sustainability, other environmental issues in your marketing, and how big a role is that play now?

Kadian Langlais  25:33

It's becoming a bigger role. You know, two years ago, I launched Project footprint footprint, which is our corporate social responsibility. And it's comprised of three pillars, planet, people and community, obviously, Planet is our sustainability act and action plan. And so from our supply chain, from our design concept to our go to market sustainability, is almost touched on every single product now. Especially we set some really aggressive goals, especially our packaging goals. And starting next year, all of our packaging will be comprised of some sort of recycled material. And that's a really big goal that we set two years ago, and I'm very happy that we've reached that goal. We also have lots of products now that's made from recycled bottles, and etc. But it is definitely the forefront like more we're thinking about materials and products as sourcing, we it's definitely top of mind. Finally,

Ben Kaplan  26:38

what would you like to be doing three years from now, five years from now that you're not doing now? Where do you where's this all going? You know, from a marketing perspective, where do you hope to play? What do you hope to be doing? And how do you hope to be doing it better than you're doing it now?

Kadian Langlais  26:51

Yeah, that's a really, really insightful question, Ben. You know, and I, and I hope it's not three years from now. But I've talked a lot about, you know, VR and gains, and really having thoughts and accessories being immersive. And it's a part of that environment. And I just want to add that we're no longer just socks for socks, and more, we have other product categories, like underwear, and caps and things like that, that we're launching with different brands. But what I would hope to be doing, and that was saved, maybe even one year to two year is really, really been more immersive with VR technology, really allow consumers to try on socks. And I know like, that's really big right now in home, I can't I go to Wayfair. And I'm able to see what that furniture would look like, in my living room. And for us who really want our consumers to see exactly how socks can elevate their game, right? Really try those socks on virtually really share it with your friends, or at least start to create a nice community around it. And then I think about my son who's a gamer and some of the things that they're doing with their avatar really dressed in their avatar, and also spending money on these outfits, which is amazing to me, right? It's so it's really leaning into the younger generation and really engaging with them with VR technology. What

Ben Kaplan  28:18

is your advice for someone who's on the CMO track? What types of experiences? What types of skills, if they want to be a stylish unicorn with great footwear? What? What is your recommendation to them of what they can do now to position themselves

Kadian Langlais  28:36

for success? You know, if you see something in your organization, where you think you can help do something about it, I think oftentimes, people take a step back and they see something and they complain, it's like, Oh, I wish I could do this, because being a CMO is not just being a marketing guru, right? It's been a leader. It's been a change agent. It's between being an influencer internally. And so it's really important to develop skill sets that allows you to present in front of high level executives, and also find solutions. Because when you think about it, we're finding solutions. We're finding solutions for our consumers. We're finding solutions internally. So if you see something, take it upon yourself, if you have a mentor or an ally or someone in your organization, say, hey, you know, I think we can do this better. I have an idea, you know, create, create a solution for it and present your ideas. It is so important to be persuasive and influential. As a CMO.

Ben Kaplan  29:41

Well, well said, Thank you so much, Kadian Langlais, CMO at Renfro, you've inspired me to go elevate my sock game. So thank you for that. And thank you so much for joining us on the podcast. Then.


Thanks for having me.

Tom Cain  29:58

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