A Bonobos evidence store stands in lower Manhattan on April 18, 2017 in New York City.

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Bonobos co-founder Andy Dunn returns to the retailer as a brand advisor as the company looks to return to its roots after being sold by Walmart Earlier this year, Bonobos and its new parent company, WHP Global, announced it on Friday.

Dan, who founded the menswear brand in 2007, will report to WHP Global CEO Yehuda Schmiedman but will work closely with Bonobos President John Hutchison and Express Inc. CEO Tim Baxter.

WHP Global and Express Inc. Inc., which operates the Express brand, acquired Bonobos from Walmart in a $75 million deal announced in April and closed last month. Walmart originally bought Bonobos in 2017 for $310 million while it was growing its online presence under former e-commerce chief Marc Lorre.

“It’s almost an unlimited opportunity, isn’t it?” Schmiedmann told CNBC of the decision to bring Dan back to the brand. “You get the opportunity to dig deeper into why the brand was created in the first place, the success it enjoyed in the beginning years and how that happened and kind of learn from that to inspire the next chapter of growth.”

Schmiedmann said WHP Global has no plans to change the Bonobos DNA and said the company’s decision to hire Dunn is part of its plan to focus the brand on its core identity.

“It’s very important to know that we don’t change. In fact, if anything, we’re doubling down on the same DNA that made bonobos successful in the first place,” said Schmiedmann.

One area that Schmiedman would like to change is Bonobos’ physical footprint: The brand currently operates Guideshops, where customers can try on clothes and then order them online, but only in the U.S. Under WHP Global, Bonobos can expand internationally, he said.

“What about bonobos in Dubai? What about bonobos in Hong Kong?” Schmidmann said. “How cool might that be?”

Dan said he’s excited to “get a seat at the table” and that this time around he’ll only be advising the brand – not managing it.

“I’m here to serve in any way needed and the way I think about it is staying really close to the customer. I’m much older than when I started Bonobos, you know, I’m 43 now, he was 28,” Dunn said. “So, I got a lot of perspective on the product and the customer and how we’re starting this new chapter and getting bigger.”

Bonobos started as a purely digital retailer in the early stages and has grown into a leader in the direct-to-consumer space after expanding to profitability and gaining national recognition.

When Walmart decided to acquire the brand, some thought the partnership didn’t make sense because the retailer giant’s focus on value didn’t seem in keeping with Bonobos’ identity as a premium men’s clothing line.

While Walmart sold Bonobos at a significant discount compared to what it paid, the acquisition wasn’t necessarily a loss-making for Walmart. The association helped boost its digital sales.

Online sales accounted for about $53.4 billion — or roughly 13% — of Walmart’s total US net sales in the past fiscal year, which ended in late January, according to company filings. That’s a jump from $15.7 billion, or roughly 5% of Walmart’s total net sales in the US, in 2019.

Andy Dunn, Co-Founder of Bonobos

Source: Brian McConkey

But how Bonobos has fared — and what he’s gained — since his time under Walmart’s massive tent isn’t black and white.

At the time of the acquisition, Den wrote in a blog post that the sale to Walmart gave Bonobos access to a broader ecosystem, arguing that the deal fit with its goal of “becoming the market leader in all luxury menswear.”

It also provided Dunn with the opportunity to work alongside Lorre, his longtime mentor whom he considered “the best in the world at building third-party brand e-commerce properties.”

Six years after writing that blog post, Dunn told CNBC that he stands by his decision to sell to Walmart and “vociferously” disagrees with critics who say the brand was weakened by the acquisition.

“From a premium positioning standpoint, the bonobo business is still up and right and growing,” Dunn said. “From a customer standpoint, I don’t think it’s changed much, you know, would be my reading, and I think the evidence lies in the candy of the continued growth of the brand.”

The Walmart umbrella offered Bonobos exposure to a broader customer base as well as protection from the pandemic-related headwinds that have plagued other independent retailers during the global health crisis.

“With the pandemic, and how hard it is for retail, that was the moment I stepped back and thought, wow, we made the right decision to put Bonobo inside such a strong house,” Dunn said.

These days, Bonobos are still generating double-digit sales growth, said WHP Global.


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