Haggar -- Holding Tightly to its Heritage -- Leaps into Social Media

Founded in 1926, Haggar was the first apparel company to use EDI, the first to use bar codes and the first to advertise on TV. This year — though it won't be a first this time — the company is launching a social media presence as part of a larger campaign to re-energize the brand while also reaching out to new, sometimes younger, customers.

Since last year, the company has kicked it into high gear. In the fall, it rolled out a new TV ad campaign to accompany the launch of its new eco-friendly LK Lifestyle Khaki collection — each pair of pants, comprised of REPREVE recycled polyester, saves six to seven water bottles from landfills. The new collection has attracted a customer about 12 years younger than Haggar's traditional customer with its multiple fits and styles, and its message of sustainability.

The company also has been pushing heavily to get in front of consumers in less traditional ways, reaching out to men's fashion bloggers and other key influencers, developing brand microsites and holding pop-up events in parking lots of its retail customers.

Haggar's upcoming plunge into social media is just a natural progression for the company, says senior vice president of marketing, licensing & e-commerce Rich Honiball. "Power has shifted to the hands of the customer and we have to be there for them," he says. Next month, Haggar will take its message to Facebook and Twitter — where the company will launch its social media presence in partnership with The Marketing Zen Group.

In a Q&A with Apparel, Honiball shared his thoughts on the brand, social media and connecting with the consumer:

Apparel: Haggar is an iconic American brand, and coiner of the term "slacks," which is a term my mom and dad use, but not one that has taken hold with millennials. In reaching out to new generations who will most certainly wear pants, regardless of what they're called, how will you cater your message to a younger audience while still holding on to the essence of Haggar tradition?

Honiball: Interestingly, when you Google slacks, you will find the term used everywhere from traditional men's apparel brands all the way to high end women's designers. The term has come to mean different things to different people. Haggar created the category so I think that we have an opportunity to remind people of that — and even rethink it for a new generation.

Focusing on the overall brand though — it really isn't defined by age. Yes, our Haggar customer over the years has been traditionally older but our product mix is quite appropriate for all ages, especially with our slim and straight fits. It is one of the reasons that we engaged Shama Kabani and her team at The Marketing Zen Group; they will be able to tell that message to a wider range of customers, on their terms.

We also have a new brand, LK Life Khaki, and that is already registering with a much younger consumer. Again, appropriate for all age levels but the 30-something has really clicked with the quality and style of the product, loves the fit options and respects our stand on sustainability with the fabrics that we use.

Apparel: It's true that heritage brands tend to hold a lot of sway with consumers of all ages. How will you take this message to a possibly new, online audience?

Honiball: One of the beautiful things about working with a brand like Haggar is that it's always been innovative. It was at the forefront of separates, the first to coin the term 'slacks,' the first to advertise on national television. Unlike building a brand from scratch today, where you're trying to fake the heritage, we have all of these wonderful things in our history to go back to. So from a marketing and sales perspective, we're having a lot of fun exploring our archive, finding a pair of pants, and asking ourselves, 'How can we introduce this to a new audience?'

I think this type of interaction with our rich history will filter into our social media plans. The benefit to having that two-way communication is that we'll have the ability to share our archives and our history with the customer, and they'll be able to share with us what is going to be relevant and what is not. Sometimes a designer looks at something and thinks it will be a bit hit, but customers may think differently. That's one of the challenging but also great things about being out there with social media — the feedback is raw and immediate, and it allows you to connect more intimately with your customer and learn from them. In theory this isn't new — we used to have comment cards in the stores — but in practice, the technology takes it to an entirely different level.

Apparel: Can you tell me more about your social media strategy? Is there a plan to integrate it with those of your retail customers? Also, will you set up separate social media sites on Facebook and Twitter for your outlets, so that you can, for example, advertise special events or other promotions you might hold at those locations?

Honiball: Our primary goal with our new social media platform is to communicate with our customers, whether they shop through our retail partners or happen to come into one of our outlets or .com. We want to take the opportunity to have a real conversation with them and understand what they need from us, how we can better fit their needs.

It's interesting; decades ago, smaller retailers had a very direct and personal connection with their customers. Sales associates knew every customer by name, knew their likes and needs, knew what they wanted. Social media gives us that same opportunity — through the various platforms — to connect with our customers in much the same way. Of course today there are many different ways to reach customers — and customers don't use the same channels consistently so it is important to be where they are.

Apparel: When it comes to social media, there's a lot of buzz in the apparel industry relative to getting the customer involved, with several apparel brands gaining loyal fans by offering them interactive opportunities, such as voting for favorites or even designing or customizing apparel. Do you expect Haggar to take steps down this path? Does your new Life Khaki collection perhaps better lend itself to this type of crowdsourcing than some of your more traditional brands?

Honiball: Again, it's kind of funny. Brands and designers are discovering "crowdsourcing" or customer-centric design and talking about it as a new concept. We should say, "Welcome to the club!" We have always listened to our customers and have since 1926. Our customers have always influenced what we have offered so this concept is really not new to us. What is new is the technology that allows us to get the information in a different manner and we will definitely use that.

We love the idea of customized products and are definitely looking for ways to incorporate this into what we do. JM Haggar built this company on the belief that style and quality should be a right, not a privilege so shouldn't this hold true with customized products?

And I don't know if LK Life Khaki necessarily lends itself better to crowdsourcing or customization. I think that one thing we have learned is that you can segment your customer so much that you leave others out in the cold. Haggar and LK Life Khaki definitely have a different feel and use — but if a technology or idea works for one, it can most definitely work for the other. And when all is said and done — we think that every man deserves to wear Haggar and LK Life Khaki!

Jordan K. Speer is editor in chief of Apparel. She can be reached at [email protected]
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