When Andrew Blackmon went shopping for a wedding tux nine years ago, he didn't like anything about the experience. Neither did his groomsman, Patrick Coyne. So the two launched The Black Tux, a digital menswear company. After lean times during the pandemic, growth is surging again. Blackmon, chief executive officer, tells D2C Insider about the changing market and its decision to acquire Marke, a wedding-ring company.
D2C Insider: You have the classic D2C founder story. What was so aggravating about the rental tux market?
Andrew Blackmon: The customer experience is unanimously bad across the board, or it was at that time. You have to go to the store three times: once to get fitted for the tux, once to pick it up and again to drop it off. I didn't connect emotionally with any of the brands. They didn't have the styles I wanted, and the quality was low. Our concept was to focus on customer experience and take some of the stigma out of the rental industry.
D2C Insider: And your concept was entirely digital?
Blackmon: Yes, initially. And it's still mostly digital -- about 65% of sales. But we've got four showrooms now, and we're in 27 Nordstrom locations.
D2C Insider: What makes the Black Tux experience different?
Blackmon: The main difference is quality. We design, source and manufacture everything in a few facilities in Mexico. We want to make rental clothes as high-quality as you would buy, and combine that with convenience.
Even in our physical locations, it's easier. People who are a little anxious about fit can go to the store once, then we ship the tuxedo to them, and they can return it by mail, too.
D2C Insider: Can you say more about quality? My experience with men in tuxedos -- and I know I'm generalizing -- is that they wear them just once or twice in their life -- a prom, maybe, and a wedding. How discerning are they?
Blackmon: That's a fair question. But hand feel is one thing. Is it soft or like cardboard? They may not have the right terminology, but they'll say, "It felt boxy" or "It felt stiff." And fit is second. A higher-quality fabric adds some stretch. We spend a lot of time designing and investing in a bigger bell curve of sizes to fit people better.
D2C Insider: Who is your demographic? Prom kids who have met a cummerbund or a 30-year-old with a little sophistication?
Blackmon: The latter. We focus more on the wedding space, but these people don't know what they're doing. I didn't when I went through this. So we've done a lot to develop content around black-tie events and dos and don'ts.
D2C Insider: What are your annual sales?
Blackmon: We don't disclose annual revenue, but we've serviced between 1.5 and 2 million customers. We continue to grow in rentals, about 90% of our business, and sales of suits and tuxedos. The goal is to continue increasing that.
We've got one bigger competitor: Men's Wearhouse. But beyond that, it's a fragmented market with lots of mom-and-pops.
D2C Insider: Why the Marke acquisition?
Blackmon: There are many similarities between the two businesses. Men's wedding bands, in particular, are very fragmented. It's usually an afterthought of a women's jewelry brand. It also calls for educating the customer. We thought about building it ourselves, but found a brand with the same ethos. The founders understand things we don't about jewelry, and we can build that business, funneling customers from Black Tux. We'll help with ecommerce and branding.
D2C Insider: Will you change the name and merge the businesses?
Blackmon: No, and we'll keep them separate. The Black Tux works because we try to build emotional connections with the customer. We have a voice and make authentic connections. Marke does the same thing. The last thing I want to do is mess that up. So we'll share resources and best practices for marketing, customer acquisition, and branding, but it'll remain its own thing.
There's a temptation to merge things, but that becomes more corporate. One of the things customers prefer is authenticity.
D2C Insider: Clothing rentals, such as Rent The Runway, have gained so much steam due to concerns about sustainability. Is that driving growth?
Blackmon: If I'm honest, no. Weddings are a remarkably stable market -- about 2.1 million a year. We've not created a new market, we've just got a better mousetrap.
D2C Insider: What's your marketing strategy?
Blackmon: We invest as much as we can in the customer experience, with the assumption that the business will spread by word of mouth. We have a marketing budget and spend it in certain channels. But we overinvest in our garments, so we can delight customers.
D2C Insider: What are the tux trends? Has the casualization of fashion crept into your business?
Blackmon: No. In fact, since COVID, people have been a little more interested in black-tie events.
D2C Insider: What's your favorite kind of tux?
Blackmon: Midnight blue, which is classic with a twist. We recently came out with one that's dark emerald green with a shawl collar that I love. And, compared to 10 years ago, men are a little more willing to want to express themselves and take a risk on color, which is a lot of fun.