Please use the player below to listen to Andy Gilchrist’s phone interview with Paul Grangaard, the founder of CircleRock.
You can also stream the CircleRock interview from our YouTube Channel!
[Text Transcript of the Phone Interview]
I’m Andy of askandyaboutclothes.com. We have the pleasure of talking to two gentlemen this morning, Paul Grangaard and Ross Widmoyer.
And they’re both launching a new concept in men’s fashion called CircleRock.
Paul, it’s really good to be working with you again. I was so impressed when we worked together before how you came on and interacted with the members of the Ask Andy forum.
I think you were the first CEO who understood the social media aspect and you fit really in well, and they’d really appreciated your input.
I’m excited about you, guys’ new adventure called CircleRock. Can you tell us a little bit about it and maybe, especially, the name. Where did you get that name?
Sure. Well, Andy, first of all, it’s great to be back in touch with you and have a chance to have this conversation. I always enjoyed the interaction with the members of Ask Andy About Clothes and learned an awful lot from them.
I’m a believer that leadership needs to be as close to the customers and to where the action is as possible, and I really learned an awful lot from your community, and had a lot of fun in interacting with them. So, it was my pleasure to be involved there, and it’s great to be back.
Our company, Circle Rock — Ross and I founded this company on the idea that — It’s a two-thrust founding.
One is that men still need a lot of help and a lot of opportunity when it comes to great fashion that fits well, that’s made from great materials, and importantly, that represents an outstanding value.
So, we wanted to work with our suppliers who we have known in the past and a couple of new ones who really on the clothing side and in leather bags. And also, Allen Edmonds and shoes will be a part of what we’re doing to deliver really high quality products at amazing values and amazing fits, by doing custom-made online.
The second thing that we wanted to do was really focus on American values. I don’t think our culture’s paying enough attention to our transcendent American values today.
And yet, there are a number of individuals who are doing amazing things living up to the promise of our country, and we want to get stories about them into the arena, and we wanted to make sure that people who wear our clothing feel like they are living up to these transcendent American values, and they want to represent them, they want to support them, they want to spread them, they want to pay it forward, so to speak.
Reason For Being
So, our reason for being, really, is twofold.
One is to do this great clothing, but two, to make the people who do it feel better about what they stand for and how they’re going to help in the worlds they live in.
We’re using the Teddy Roosevelt quote about the man in the arena, which starts off “It’s not the critic who counts –” And he talks about how there are a lot of people on the sidelines who sit and criticize the people trying to get things done.
It’s the people who — He calls them the doer of deeds, the people who are out in the arena.
So, we’re focused on a flow of content every week, not telling you necessarily just how to dress, but actually, we’re going to have major business leaders, other major community leaders talking about their leadership tenets, what drives them every day, how they’re working on inclusion, and in diversity, and their organizations―things that if you were going to business school or if you were out in the community and you heard that this person was speaking, you’d want to tune in and hear from them.
So CEOs of some of the major companies right now here in the Twin Cities but also out of Chicago. We’ll be working with the Northeast and the West Coast as well as time goes on.
So, it’s a two-fold strategy content and commerce.
And then, I would say the last thing we’re working very hard on, which as you know Andy has always been very important to me, is jobs in America. 0We can make great product in America.
We need to support the people who do and that’s a big part of what we’re all about at CircleRock.
I think you’re absolutely right on all those points. I read the Roosevelt quote on your website and it’s profound. It needs to be reread quite often, I think.
CircleRock, how did you get that name? There’s got to be a story there.
The Circle Rock Story
Yeah, there is, actually. When I was leaving my last role, I was thinking about what I do next. And rather than call it “Grangaard Enterprises,” which sounded pretty mundane to me, I thought I would think of something that meant not just something to me but meant something — looking outward, and I thought about my youth.
Curiosity and goal-setting have been two things that have always driven me in my life. I think my education, and actually, my friendship circle was really built around the fact that I’ve always been extremely curious about people, things, how do we get there, how did you get there, what’s your background?
And the first thing in my life that I remember being intensely curious about is this rock that was — It’s a big rock―big, red granite rock in the middle of a grassy circle across the street from where I grew up.
We would play all of our sports there in that circle. I played a ton of touch football there. Growing up, I learned to throw a baseball in that circle, shake my first flies in that circle. I hit my first pitching wedges in that circle.
But there was this rock that was in the way for a lot of those sports in the circle, and it was strange that it was there, I thought. And I wondered how did it get there and why did the people who developed the neighborhood, and the neighborhood was very new but we moved in a classic 1950s middle-class suburban development, and I wondered why they left the rock there or why they put it there.
And then, from a goal-setting point of view, the first time I stood in front of it with those questions, I was probably about three years old, and I wanted to climb up on that rock.
I wanted to be able to get up there and pretend it was a horse out in the West and all the things that young boys want to do when they’re using their imagination at that age, and I was way too small to get up on that rock.
I remember — actually, it’s one of my earliest memories, grabbing on to it and trying to get a leg over it, and I was not able to do that. And finally I was, and I felt like that was making progress in life when that happened.
So, the combination of the two caused me to think, “You know, that’s what I want to do now in the next phase of my life. I want to continue to be curious. I want to use my imagination, and I love design―the big part of why I’ve to come back to the fashion industry.
And I also have some goals not just for our company but goals for how we might have an impact on the world around us and all the good people who are out there working hard every day to do good things.
Sometimes, things that are in your way, like that rock, make you stronger. So, I think you probably had a good experience there.
I’d like to get back to, maybe, some details on the products that you’re going to offer. What items –? It sounds like you’re going first-class on everything, which I think so wonderful.
So, could you kind of talk a little bit about some of the products?
Yeah, we are going first-class on everything but the pricing is going to look like maybe we aren’t. And, the reason for that is the paradigm for pricing in fashion is based upon an old model, which is now being upended.
The old model is heavy investment in real estate by the stores that sold it, a middlemen between the producers and the brand developers and those stores, and then, sales commissions.
And when we go directly as we are online, we’re able to use a completely different paradigm and we’re going to pass savings on to our customer base. So, what you’ll notice on our website is we actually will lay out what the comparable market value is, and then, talk about CircleRock pricing.
We’re starting with custom-made suits, sport coats and slacks and shirts, because we think having a great fit makes a much bigger difference today, as people wear clothing that fits them a little more tightly, that’s a little bit more — It’s a lot more important if you’re going to wear a clothing that is more body fitting that it’s tailored to your body.
And we know that younger people are really interested in that kind of high-quality fit, and it’s not hard to take your measurements.
And you don’t do it yourself. You have somebody help you with it, but most of our customers are really smart, and they will have smart friends and smart spouses and smart partners who can handle taking these measurements and get them into our system so that they can have tailor-made clothing.
The CircleRock Products
The clothing is going to be made right outside Boston at the Southwick Factory―the brand new Southwick Factory. They opened this factory just in the last couple of years.
John Martynec, who’s the president of Southwick is a good friend, and he is eager to help us and making sure that we get first-class work every time somebody puts an order in.
We’re using Italian wools that are out of a woolen mill in Northern Italy that was founded in 1663. So, it’s been around a while and they make some of the best fabrics in the world. So, it’s great fabric.
It’s state of the art manufacturing done in the United States by a great guy or led by a great guy John Martynec when it comes to the sport coats, the pants, and also, the shirts. The shirts will be done in the Southwick plant in the Carolinas with the same kind of attention to detail.
We’re doing ties, handmade ties out of New York, but again, out of Italian silks. So, these are first-class materials that are being used.
And then, we’ve rekindled a really good friendship with Skip Horween at Horween Leather, and our leather goods will be made out of a specific leather that Skip’s doing just for us called “Legacy” through our close friend and great partner in Scottsdale, Arizona Remo Tulliani on the belt side, and through a company called Laulom [Coronado Leather] in San Diego that makes unbelievable messenger bags, backpacks, and duffel bags.
So, we’ve gone to some unbelievable manufacturers in order to get incredible product made right here in the United States.
That sounds fabulous. As a matter of fact, I really like your marketing philosophy― what’s the middleman and the different prices’ structures. Maybe you can get into cars, let me know.
That would be nice. I’ve noticed something on the website about a different way of measuring.
And you were mentioning tips, and it’s one of the toughest things to do, I think, is order something online and measure yourself, and hope that it comes out close to what you measured, if you measured right. But you’ve got a little different method of measuring, it sounds like.
10-Point Measuring System
Yeah, we’re more detailed about it. We’re taking ten measurements.
So, for instance, rather than just measuring your neck and your arm length, we’re also doing your measurement around the outside of your shoulders, at your chest level, and then, around the inside at the armpit of your chest, to get both of those measurements so we can be much more precise.
When it comes down to your waist, we’re measuring at belly button level because that girth is really important for the fit of the coat you might have.
It’s obviously above where most people are wearing their pants, but it’s a really important measurement to make sure that the coat fits you well.
And then, we do measure around the waist as well. We measure around what I’m calling the ‘caboose of the engine,’ so the seat, and then the thigh and the calf. So we have a lot of measurements to make sure that —
And we also are offering two different fits.
One is an updated version of traditional. It’s a little bit more close to the body than your old Gunny Sack fits of the start of my career or maybe if you watched Tiger Woods in his first major championships, you see the shirt he’s wearing looks like a small tent.
That’s changed a lot now, so we’ve got a traditional fit that’s a little bit narrower than the old traditions. And then, we have a slim fit, also, we call it a European style fit. That is for somebody who’s in great shape or for somebody who’s a little younger and hasn’t had to worry that much about how to stay in great shape.
So, it’s those two fits. So, we’ll take all these measurements, and then, you decide how you want the measurements to play out in terms of the two fits that we’ll offer.
And then, the last thing is, for tweaking — and there will be tweaking as it always is in custom-made clothing — we will want you to know a good tailor in your town and we’re working to put together a network of good tailors, and we’re eager to have suggestions for the best tailor in every metropolitan area around the country.
But we certainly know a couple of them in a couple of different markets, so you can go and get the final adjustments if you need a little adjustment because it can come out quite right.
But we have done a test now, before we’ve launched our site, with some 40 different suits, and only a handful of them didn’t come out right the first time. So, we’re feeling pretty good about the fact that these extra measurements that we’re having people submit will lead to fantastic fits right out of the box.
That sounds really smart. It’s a very, very good approach. So you’ve got the best products in the world, not at the highest prices.
You’ve got a wonderful philosophy of doing business. And also, within that philosophy, I noticed you were featuring charities that you approached already.
I just read in a newspaper survey that 41% of consumers would prefer doing business with the company that gave back.
What’s your thoughts on charities and working that out?
Yeah, we have partnered with a group that’s headquartered in Minneapolis but is actually a coast-to-coast group called “College Possible,” which helps high talent but low-income high schoolers figure out how to apply to college, how to takes a test, how to prepare for the test, how to do their applications, how to apply for financial aid.
And then, once they get into college, supports them in making sure that they hang in there.
There’s a lot of data about first-generation college attendees. Families are often not finishing college because it just is something that they weren’t quite ready for or was a different experience than they thought they were going to get since they didn’t have much of a background in exactly what College was all about.
So they support them and help them stay in college. They started very humbly with just 30 kids in their first class.
They’re now up to helping 25,000 students this year go through college applications and financial aid applications in order to be able to afford, be admitted to, and get all the way through, successfully, a great college education.
Well that’s something we really need. That’s fabulous.
And I think more companies should probably be doing that and not just leave it up to their educational folks, but I think that would work much better if the company is supporting those people in getting them the right education.
Yeah. As a startup, we’re not expecting to make profit for a while. And so, when it came to how do we give money away, we decided we’d go with five percenters of our sales.
There are a lot of companies that do five percent of profits but since we don’t have any, that’s not a very big number. So, we’re in this for the long run as a group―this group that we have working together at CircleRock.
So we’re going for five percent of our sales. Everything we sell will send five percent to College Possible.
And we’re also doing a couple of charity events for them.
As you may remember, Andy, I’m a huge music fan. We are going to sponsor a concert at a great venue here in Minneapolis that will be put on by the Steeles who are famous for their time on “A Prairie Home Companion,” and actually, were in that movie.
They’re a great family singing group―African-Americans who can sing across the entire spectrum of American music, from gospel, to soul, to American standards. And they’re going to be partnered with a great friend of mine, a jazz trumpeter named Charles Lazarus.
Chuck is one of the most unbelievable virtuosos I’ve ever heard, especially when it comes to versatility. He plays in a major symphony orchestra but he also backed up Frank Sinatra in his career.
He’s been with Canadian Brass. He’s an amazing trumpet player. And his keyboardist and music director who’s done some of the arrangements, this guy named Tommy Barbarella who played with Prince for many years and toured with Prince all around the world.
And when you hear Tommy play the keyboards, you’re blown away.
So, we’re doing this fundraiser in November. We’re hoping that a lot of our friends will attend and we’ll raise a lot of money for College Possible by doing that.
So, that’s also part of what we’ll do in our weekly email that we’ll send out. We’re going to do these interviews that I mentioned.
Also, we’re going to send out some music video clips with that kind of quality.
We’re going to send out some curated content in case you missed it―things that we think they’re interesting in the world of sports, world of history.
And we all have so many channels of information. It’s hard to manage it all. So, for our core customer every week, we’ll send a piece or two that you, maybe, didn’t see somewhere else, that you’ll find worth 15 minutes with us on a Sunday afternoon.
Or just you’re going to say, “Put me down for a CD,” sounds good.
You know, that’s a wonderful approach to the whole thing. And speaking of profits, I think by next Thursday you’ll be profitable just from what I kept hearing about the new venture. Any kind of specials?
But you know what?
Say it again?
I was going to say one of the big learnings I had at Allen Edmonds — because as you may remember, it was in financial difficulty when I went there and people always asked me if I worried about the financials and financial duress, it was 2008.
And I actually never did and our whole management team never really focused that much on the numbers.
I learned long before that and I really feel like we proved out if you focus on the customers, on a great experience for them, on a great environment for your employees, on terrific products, and staying true to your mission in life, the main reason you’re there, the numbers work out.
And so, we don’t worry much about profit, but when it comes to benefiting our College Possible, we want to make sure that they get the money they deserve right off the bat.
So that’s why we’re starting with percent of sales.
If you build it, they’ll come.
Any final thoughts? Anything that you’d like to pass on to our members at Ask Andy About Clothes?
Well, just a word of thanks. I really haven’t had the chance.
I tried to at the end of my tenure last summer, but I want to say thank you again to you and to the whole community for the interest, the support of American manufacturing, and what we were doing in those days.
And for what we’re now doing in a completely different way with different products before at Allen Edmonds, and now, at CircleRock.
When I joined Allen Edmonds ten years ago, I had never been in the fashion industry and I got a PhD education from your community, and I just want to say thank you for that.
I learned something every day.
Anyway. I wish you the best of luck. Even though you’re not going to need it. And it was a pleasure talking to you, guys. This was really fun.
Good to touch base again.
Yeah, good to talk to you. Thank you.
Please visit CircleRock.com for more information about their Made In USA Custom Suits, Dress Shirts, and Accessories.